Are Gorillas Really Stronger Than Humans?

Yes. Yes they are … very much so.

In addition to being extremely intelligent, gorillas are closely related to humans by sharing 95% to 99% of human DNA. With two pairs of arms and legs, five fingers, five toes and faces with similar features, gorillas and humans are both members of Hominidae – one of the two living families of the ape superfamily Hominoidea (the other being the Hylobatidae – gibbons). Hominidae includes the great apes:

  • Orangutans (genus Pongo)
  • Gorillas (genus Gorilla)
  • Chimpanzees and Bonobos (genus Pan)
  • Humans (genus Homo)

Formerly, humans alone were placed in Hominidae, and the great apes were placed in a different family, Pongidae. However, morphological and molecular studies now indicate that humans are very closely related to chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. Since classification schemes aim to depict relationships, it is logical to consider humans and great apes as hominids, that is, members of the same zoological family, Hominidae.

Within this family there are considered to be two subfamilies. One (called Ponginae) contains only the orangutans, and the other (Homininae) contains humans and the African great apes. Subfamily Homininae in turn is divided into two “tribes”: Gorillini, for the African great apes and their evolutionary ancestors, and Hominini, for human beings and their ancestors. Following this classification, members of the human tribe, that is, modern human beings and their extinct forebears (e.g., the Neanderthals, Homo erectus,Homo habilis, and various species of Australopithecus), are frequently referred to as hominins.

Like humans, great apes can laugh, show affection, grieve, have rich emotional lives, develop strong family bonds, have spiritual feelings or religious sentiments, make and use tools, have cultures in different areas revolving around different methods of food preparation, show individual color preferences, and think about the past and future.

Now that all having been said, there is really no comparison between gorilla strength and human strength. Adult gorillas are more than nine times stronger than the average adult human and are one of the strongest animals on the planet. According to the Guinness Book of Records, a mature silverback gorilla can easily lift 1800 pounds (815 kilograms) of deadweight repeatedly. The average human male can squat 125 pounds, bench press 135 pounds and deadlift 155 pounds. Showcasing the incredible strength in their arms, adult gorillas can throw with almost 990 pounds (450 kilograms) of force, while an average human can only manage a maximum of 220 pounds (100 kilograms) – almost five times less than a gorilla. Gorillas can run at speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour, tear down full-grown banana trees, easily break mature bamboo stalks, quickly climb to the top of massive trees, and gracefully travel through the forest by swinging or jumping from one tree to another. Humans aren’t good at any of those feats.

The lack of similarities continues when we look at physical characteristics. Silverbacks are very large. When a male stands upright, they easily surpass 6 feet tall and can weigh as much as 500 pounds. Females average around 5 feet and weigh upwards of 250 pounds. The average human male stands 5 feet 9 inches in height and carries a bodyweight of190 pounds. Human females average 5 feet 4 inches in height and weigh in at 164 pounds.

There are a number of reasons for the significant difference in strength levels between gorillas and humans.

  • Gorilla muscles are much larger than humans in absolute terms.
  • They have a much higher proportion of fast-twitch, type II muscle fibers – especially on their back muscles and arms.
  • Gorilla muscles process lactic acid much faster and more efficiently than humans.
  • Gorilla muscles attach in the tendons in positions that maximize leverage (especially for pulling), whereas human muscles attach to the bones in positions that maximize fine motor coordination.
  • Gorilla tendons are four times thicker and several times denser than a human, which allows them to lift and move significantly larger weights than humans.
  • Gorillas lack the strong neurological inhibition that humans have when it comes to exerting strength. Their brains are primed for generating extreme exertions of strength.
  • Gorilla adrenaline levels reach several times that of humans when they are enraged; adrenaline increases the mobilization of muscle fibers.
  • Gorilla bones are 10 X denser which results in less skeletal stress than compared to a human. For example, a gorilla’s wrist is so thick and dense that it can hoist 800 pounds by itself. It would take a human’s entire skeleton to lift that same amount.

These and other physical differences emerged over the course of the past seven to eight million years, as humans migrated away from forests and towards bipedal life on the ground. The resultant losses in maximum force and power output were offset by gains in endurance and the ability to perform repetitious, low-energy movements – such as fashioning stones into tools. Additionally, as humans transitioned into a hunter-gatherer mode of existence, selection pressures for cognitive skills emerged, resulting in bigger brains and a decreased reliance on physical strength.