Monday, December 12, 2011

Gorilla Strength



Every now and then, I like to remember my place in nature.  My strength, my diet, my bodily abilities, they're all highly evolved traits that have manifested themselves over thousands of years.  Darwinian nature at its finest, right?  And to see us humans in comparison to other creatures really puts in perspective that, wow, is all this evolution really.....evolution? I mean the term evolution implies that we are evolved, more advanced, newer, more up to date version of our animal friends.  But if you compare our fellow human beings to our more native brethren, the jungle apes and monkeys, what we've gained in smarts, we've lost in functionality.

Before I get into my real animal comparison, let's first look at our nearest cousin, the chimp.  A full grown male chimp is said to be nearly three times stronger than an adult man.  And even the adolescents can have their way with just about any zookeeper.  I remember watching shows of "wildlife specialists" playing with the little toddler chimps (which could already walk, climb, swing, and do other things no human toddler, or adult for that matter, could ever dream of doing).  The little guys were practically ripping the arms off of these animal loving humans.  And they're just tiny little babies!  Seriously, that's pretty amazing.

And to get to my main point, let's examine the gorilla, probably my favorite creature of all time.  These guys are massive, the largest males weighing over 400lbs!  Yet they can still swing from one arm at a time, and have extreme intelligence and dexterity.  And just wait until you hear how strong these guys are.  It's been rumored that an adult male gorilla can be anywhere from 6-16 times as strong as the strongest human male to ever have walked this earth.  16 TIMES STRONGER!  WOW!  That's probably the most amazing thing I've heard in a while, and one of the hardest to fathom.  Can you imagine snapping 2 inch steel rebar, or thick bamboo stalks, with your bare hands?  Both have been done by gorillas, the latter on a regular basis.  That's just phenomenal.

And what's more, look at a gorilla's diet!  They're herbivores!  We spend so much time worrying about protein intake, and getting massive amounts of lean meat in our diet just to put on a little bit of measly muscle.  The gorilla is basically eating raw salads all day, and consuming nothing but plant protein, which doesn't quite add up as fast.  And yet they still could toss a washing machine around like a beach ball.  So what's the deal, how are gorillas able to complete such incredible feats of strength?  Well, there are a few key reasons that may help to explain why gorillas are the beasts that they are.

First, let me put a disclaimer down that all my research has led to possible theories, and shouldn't be taken for absolute fact.  

Type II fiber:  Remember when I went over this subject?  It's mostly in my "Strength v. Size" article here: .  Read up!  Gorillas are supposedly composed of much more type II "fast twitch" EXTREMELY DENSE muscle fiber, which is drastically more efficient at creating vast amounts of immediate force.  This extreme density results in having a LOT more fiber per unit area than a human could ever dream of possessing.  

Muscle Recruitment:  It's quite possible that gorillas, through their own specific evolutionary processes, have transformed themselves into much more efficient muscular beings as a whole.  That means that they can use more of their total muscle fiber whenever they put their mind to it.  An average male who does NOT work-out is said to only be able to recruit around 20% of their muscle fiber to use at any one time.  That's so inefficient it upsets me to be of the human race.  When working out, you eventually increase the connections between your muscles and your brain, and after years of training you can increase this figure significantly, however you'll never reach 100%.  I doubt you'll even come close.  I'm not sure of a gorilla's exact muscle recruitment percentage, but I'm willing to bet it would be much more than even the most experienced weightlifters.  

Brain vs. Brawn:  Believe it or not, a lot of our daily caloric intake goes toward thinking!  Approximately 10-20%.  That's a pretty decent amount, and can explain why you're physically tired after a long test.  Gorillas, while very intelligent, don't have our kind of mental capacity, and therefore a lot more of that food energy goes right to those giant muscles.  This is the same for chimps and other monkeys as well, and helps to explain why they're so much stronger for their size.  

Diet Volume:  Sure, gorillas are MOSTLY vegetarian.  But don't forget that a full grown male gorilla can consume nearly 40lbs of vegetation a day.  No-matter what the heck is in all that, there's got to be plenty of every nutrient you could ever need for muscle growth.  

Body shape:  If you didn't know anything about a gorilla's strength or physiology in general, it'd still be easy to guess at their massive muscular abilities just by their body shape.  I mean just look at them!  They have massive chests, short legs, giant shoulders, and a fantastic set of core muscles.  All their muscle fiber is in relatively efficient positions compared to that of a human.  We're lanky, and not built for brute strength.  Our legs and arms are too long, and our core is relatively pathetic.  We can't compare with the pure physical nature of the beast.



So there's some food for thought this Monday morning.  Remember your place among the wild creatures, and remember that no matter how much you lift, or how clean you eat, the gorilla eats cleaner and lifts more weight than you could ever imagine, and usually does it on a daily basis.  Pretty funny how evolution works, isn't it?

Stay strong, be the beast, and good luck!

3 comments:

  1. You put down the human race too much our physical nature. Yes we are by far the weakest species in terms of strength, and we're fragile so we're defenseless against other primates in direct brute combat.

    But you forget that as a species we beat out the Neanderthals who were way more stronger than us as well with about the same amount of intelligence as well. We spread more rapidly than any other animal out there. Yes it has to do with our brains but there's something you're missing that sets us apart from the rest of the primates and other animals...Our Endurance.

    Humans can outrun any species, no we are not fast but we are able to last longer because of how we're designed. Unlike other animals our body's sweat all through out our skin allowing for us to cool faster while working. Our whole body is designed to run long distance, from our butts, to our core, upright posture and our tendons. This is why we were able to hunt down any prey because we would outrun them, outnumber them and outsmart them.

    Are we at our peak physically at the moment? No we're not but unlike our primate cousins we can afford to be because our survival instinct brought us to this point.

    So here are the stats of each:

    Gorilla -

    Strength -+++
    Speed -+
    Diet -++
    Brains -+


    Humans -

    Strength -+
    Speed -+++
    Diet -+
    Brains -+++


    I say of course we're weaker as a species but we make up for that in survivability, only ones I can safely say beats us in those categories would be insects, fish, and the Dinosaurs (if there was no meteor then this would be a different conversation)

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  2. I am 305 pounds of unabated muscle. I've been known to bench press 505 pounds and squat 825. Though I'm 6 ft 3 inch tall and can avidly do 20 chin ups , easily.
    My point is despite all of my girth and power it's conspicuous that I'm defenseless against the gorilla. The great ape is unprecedented in power and size. I'm 29 years old and in my physical prime as a Power Lifter.
    Hence the Gorilla has my respect out of fear.

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  3. Evolution, evolution, evolution....while a gorilla's size and strength are very impressive they evolved for a primarily sedentary and grazing lifestyle. They need massive digestive systems to process a low nutrient diet. Their size and strength make them a very intimidating prey target.

    Humans evolved to be primarily (before the invention of agriculture) to be hunter / gathers, searching for a very high nutrient diet. We would starve on a gorillas diet and our teeth and jaws would likely wear out over a few years. Our vision, ability to cover large distances, intelligence, communication and social structure all evolved to support this. Our tiny jaws evolved to allows to communicate verbally (great for hunting and sharing information) but limiting us to eating fruit, nuts (cracked with something other than our teeth), and meat (butchered with tools), and vegetable matter (that we processed by cooking).

    While being able to squat press 825 lbs is a great achievement, it would be impractical and even fatal in a hunter / gather existence. It would be much more advantageous to be able to run 26.2 miles in 2 1/2 hours, or even better walk all day over rough terrain while consuming as little energy as possible.

    If you compare human long distance endurance, VO2 capacity, relative heart size, and efficiency of gait we are in the top tier of the animal kingdom. As an ex-collegiate middle distance runner (well past his prime) I can see this every time I take my 4 y/o collie / lab mix (also one of nature's greatest long distance runners) for a run. Over a 100 m he SMOKES me, over a mile were are closer in performance (he is probably just having fun and I am running my a$$ off), but over 12 + miles we do about the same. On a warm day I can easily run at nearly the same pace as I would on a cooler day (all our sweat glands allow for very efficient cooling), while most animals can easily stroke out (pup stays in the A/C cooled apartment).

    At the end of the day, humans, in all environments, from arctic to rain forest to desert, are apex predators not because we can bench press 505 lbs (I don't even know what sports that is much of an advantage for...O-Line gridiron?) but because we are smart, work well in groups, are very hardworking, and have top shelf endurance.

    - Track and Field, Soccer, Boxing, Swimming, Triathlon, Cross Country, Snowboarding, Surfing...and lifting weights when the weather sucks.

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