How Strong Are Chimpanzees? Strength Compared to Humans and Other Animals

Chimpanzee open muzzle mouth
© Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Written by Thomas Godwin

Updated: October 26, 2023

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How strong chimpanzees are in comparison to humans is a somewhat fair comparison. A full-grown chimpanzee is incredibly powerful and far more aggressive than most apes. As studies suggest, chimpanzees have a natural tendency towards sudden and vicious violence, fueling their strength.

Thanks to a half-a-century-long study, we know that chimpanzees are a highly aggressive species, entirely unrelated to the interference of humans. Most of it comes from the fierce competition among them, and when that strength is on display aggressively, it’s incredible.

In fact, according to researchers, chimpanzees and humans are the only two species on the planet that organize and attack each other. It makes sense from the perspective that we share 98.7% of our DNA.

How Strong Are Chimpanzees in Comparison to Humans?

While there are claims that chimpanzees are 5 times stronger than average humans, other, more critical examinations place chimp strength at a more reasonable 1.5 times that of humans.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences place chimpanzee strength on a more moderate scale, anywhere between 1.3 and 1.5 times that of humans. Of course, when it comes to how strong chimpanzees are in comparison to humans, there’s more to it than just physical strength.

For instance, chimpanzees have about twice the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers that humans do. They move twice as fast, can turn on a dime with lightning quickness, and are capable of moving their legs, arms, and upper body at inhuman speeds. All of this is thanks to those fast-twitch muscle fibers.

This leads to a general understanding of massive strength. If you placed a chimpanzee in a cage match versus a human being, with the latter being at the peak of physical fitness and strength, the chimpanzee would make very short work of him. It would do so mostly based on those fast-twitch fibers.

A smaller, weaker human can overcome a bigger, stronger human with quickness and innovative thinking. However, in a cage match, with nothing to innovate with (such as, hey, I better grab this toaster oven here and try to bash its head in), it’s no contest and the chimp wins every time.

The point is, that liquid speed contributes to the illusion that the chimp is immensely strong in comparison. The truth is, they are stronger to a noticeable degree, but that’s only a quarter of the impression.

Chimpanzee Skeletal Muscle

Chimpanzee Skeletal Muscle

Chimpanzees are very strong, estimated to be up to 1.5 times stronger than a human of a similar size.

©Afandi Teguh Afriyanto/Shutterstock.com

Again, it boils down to the fast-twitch fibers. They are much denser in chimpanzees, and the 1.3 to 1.5 times strength advantage that chimpanzees have over humans is a result of that density.

A study, conducted by Dr. Matthew C. O’Neill, writing for the PNAS Journal from the University of Arizona College of Medicine, concluded that the 1.5 times factor comes into play when chimps are pulling or climbing.

The fast-twitch fibers activate when a chimpanzee moves, but especially when pulling force is a requirement. Back to the cage match (still without the toaster oven), there is one advantage that a human being may have. As it turns out, having fast-twitch fibers that are twice as dense as those in humans is also a disadvantage.

That’s because those excessive fibers tire quicker. Survive the first five-minute onslaught, and you just might stand a chance. Fast-twitch fibers contract quickly, allowing chimps to explode into sudden movement, cover ground quickly, and scale a tree like a trunk lying on its side.

Strong chimpanzees, in comparison with humans, tire more quickly. While humans have fast-twitch fibers, we are dominated by slow-twitch fibers, giving us more endurance. We have the same type of slow-twitch fibers found in slow lorises, another order of primates.

Chimpanzees Versus Humans: Size

The average male in the United States stands 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 198 pounds. An average female is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighing 171 pounds. The average male chimp stands close to 5 feet tall upright and weighs around 100 pounds.

An average female chimpanzee stands a shade under the male’s height, weighing roughly 85 pounds. For the most part, chimpanzees don’t stand all the way upright, unless they have a reason to do so.

Chimpanzees have canines that are bigger and sharper than humans. Those canines supplement a biting force of around 1,300 psi, compared to a paltry 162 psi in humans.

It’s often easy to fall into the general assumption that the larger of the two will always win. However, an unarmed human probably stands very little chance against an enraged, healthy chimpanzee, despite the size disparity and assuming the human is at the peak of physical perfection and capability.

Chimpanzees Have a Lower Center of Gravity

Chimpanzees Have a Lower Center of Gravity

Chimpanzee chilling in the sun.

©Darren Hopping-Mills/Shutterstock.com

How strong chimpanzees are in comparison with humans falls into a very narrow window of details, such as the fast-twitch fibers. However, having a lower center of gravity certainly helps. While it doesn’t make the chimpanzee stronger, it does allow them to leverage more weight because of the extra balance.

When fighting or running, chimps stay low and that’s highly beneficial. Where a human has to think quickly to leverage his body for a feat of strength, a chimpanzee doesn’t have to. Combine the lack of foresight necessity and denser fast-twitch fibers, and you have a powerful and explosive animal that stays close to the ground.

They’re also fearless, known for taking on silverback gorillas. A silverback is capable of lifting nearly a ton, yet chimpanzees will attack them head-on, feasting on the younger gorillas in victory. A silverback is one of the most intimidating animals in the wild, but chimpanzees are completely unfazed by the gorilla’s brute and violent strength.

Final Thoughts

Though chimpanzees aren’t immensely strong in comparison to humans, their fast-twitch fibers and low center of gravity provide them with an immense advantage over human beings. They’re lightning-quick and could take on the strongest man and woman on the planet with ease.

If chimpanzees are capable of looking a silverback gorilla mother, fiercely determined to defend her young, in the eyes and charge her without hesitation, then it’s not an animal you want to mess with. At least, you don’t want to get on its bad side. That’s not hard to do, either, since chimpanzees have a predilection towards explosive violence when feeling aggravated or slightly out of sorts.

While their strength advantage isn’t the athletic prowess most people assume, they’re still stronger, faster, leaner, and more brutal than a human, any day of the week.


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About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.

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