Beast Mode - The Muscle PhD
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Beast Mode

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Table of Contents

Introduction

Have you ever gone beast mode in the gym? I know I have. I know just about every bro who’s ever donned a tank top has definitely flipped the switch to beast mode. What does beast mode even mean? I’d have to guess it means that you’re training like a beast; a wild animal that cannot be tamed. So majestic.

Let’s stop and think, though. How beastly are humans, really? This question got me thinking about how accurate “beast mode” truly is. Therefore, I’ve delved into the animal kingdom and gathered some of our top competitors for athletic traits like strength, speed, endurance, etc. Are you truly ready to be crowned king of the jungle when you’re mid-beast mode? Or should you sit down and stay quiet? Let’s get into it.

Lean Mass

Obviously, we have to start out with seeing how humans stack up in regard to muscle mass. There are a few ways to look at this, but most animal-related reports are simply in “lean mass” or “fat free mass” as it can be pretty tough to stuff some of these critters in some sort of body composition analysis device to truly isolate muscle mass. Additionally, we have to control for differences in total body mass here for a true apples-to-apples comparison. Therefore, we’re looking at % lean/fat-free mass and/or % body fat. Let’s list ‘em out.

  1. The average lowland gorilla is around 37% lean mass (Zihlman & McFarland, 2000). For a 400lb gorilla, this results in about 149lbs of muscle mass. Sounds pretty jacked right? However, the average adult male is actually around 42% lean mass whereas the average adult female is right about 36% lean mass. If you calculate that into the average weight for men and women, that results in 82.7lbs of lean mass for fellas and 61.2lbs of lean mass for the ladies. Additionally, trained humans can be much higher than the averages here, obviously. In my last DXA scan, I weighed in at 206lbs with 163lbs of lean mass – or 79% lean mass. Technically, we’re more jacked than lowland gorillas. Woohoo!
  2. So we have gorillas handled, what about something like a racehorse? Yikes, these ponies are around 50% lean mass, and the average racehorse sits around 1000lbs – therefore, it has around 500lbs of lean mass. Yeah, we’ll avoid competitions with racehorses. I got these figures from a handful of horse racing websites – I won’t bother citing those, but the 50% figure was pretty consistent.
  3. A full grown tiger typically reaches around 450-650lbs in weight and sits around 60-65% lean mass. Therefore, a typical 550lb tiger would have around 330-350lbs of lean mass. Yep, the jungle kitties are something worth staying away from, too. This is another one gathered from multiple non-peer-reviewed sites.
  4. Lastly, just for fun – what about elephants? Surprisingly enough, elephants are actually shredded. One such study used underwater weighing and found that a typical male elephant is around single digit body fat. The average male in this study weighed 9,222lbs and had 8,646lbs of lean mass (Chusyd et al., 2021). Who knew that elephants were basically physique competitors?

So, humans definitely aren’t jungle royalty when it comes to muscle mass. However, we are absolutely more jacked than gorillas, so that’s a pretty exciting victory.

Strength

Strength is a tough figure to compare between species since virtually every other animal lacks the coordination and skill to perform something like a bench, squat, or deadlift. Therefore, most of this information is based off of muscle fiber analysis, mechanical modeling, or odd forms of comparison – more on that in a minute. Let’s discuss.

  1. Our closest relative, the chimpanzee, is somewhere around 1.3-1.5x as strong as the average human (O’Neill et al., 2017). This is based on both isolated muscle fiber studies as well as strength “tests” performed by chimpanzees. Some previous studies have shown even higher figures, but they’re not necessarily the best apples-to-apples comparison with humans. Either way, you don’t want to arm wrestle a chimpanzee.
  2. The classic animal kingdom reference point, the ant, can carry some serious weight. Mechanical models in one study found that an ant should be able to carry 5000x its body weight on its neck (Nguyen et al., 2014). When’s the last time you lifted 5000x your bodyweight?
  3. A very interesting master’s thesis (discussed here) compared humans and grizzly bears via a, for lack of better terms, device shaking test. Essentially, both bears and humans were analyzed while shaking and swatting a research device that was slathered with honey and other delicious snacks to pique a bear’s interest. Even in pure curiosity mode, bears were 2.5-5x stronger than humans. Now, imagine an angry bear…
  4. The gross dung beetle just might be the strongest critter in the animal kingdom. This little guy has been shown to be able to drag 1141x its own bodyweight (Knell & Simmons, 2010). The closest example I can think of is World’s Strongest Man competitor, Eddie Hall, pulling a plane (with help from a rope, of course) that weighed about 44,000lbs. Eddie probably weighed around 375lbs at this time, which means he was tugging around 117.3x his bodyweight. Almost as strong as a bug there, buddy.
  5. When it comes to human strength, we’re at a tough crossroads of not exactly having a skill-free and reliable test to compare humans to animals. One easy point of reference could be the occupational lifting limits set forth by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These folks recommend that people at work lift no more than 51lbs in normal settings (no twisting, bending, etc.). Or, in relative terms, about 26% of the average man’s weight and 30% of the average woman’s weight. Yikes, we’re pretty weak. Obviously, we have powerlifting, strongman, and Olympic weightlifting records that would blow the rest of the animal kingdom out of the water, but those are far too skillful to compare to animals.

Jumping

An impressive jump is one of the main signs of true athleticism. Typically, we examine jump performance with both a vertical and horizontal (or broad) jump test. The typical human will hit a vertical around 16-19 inches for men and 12-15 inches for women and a broad jump around 7-feet for men and 5-feet for women. There’s not much universally accepted data on either jump, but most sources settle around these ranges. Elite athletes will certainly have a vertical near 40-inches and a broad jump in excess of 10-feet. Regardless, to keep things apples-to-apples, the average male jump height is around 25% of their actual height whereas their broad jump distance is about 125% of their height. How do we compare to the rest of the jungle?

  1. Depending on the exact species, frogs can jump anywhere from 2-10x their height and somewhere in the range of 30-50x their body length in the broad jump. Frogs would 100% ace the NFL combine.
  2. Not just a cute farm animal, goats are also incredible athletes, with a typical vertical of around 4-5 feet. This corresponds to about 1.38x their body length. Interestingly enough, I got these figures from several websites that sell fencing specifically for goats since they can jump over most normal fences. Bah!!!!
  3. Have you ever seen a chinchilla? It’s kind of like a super-sized gerbil. Super cute, and freakishly athletic, too. These little fuzzballs can jump up to 6-feet, which is at least 6x their body length. Here’s a video of a chinchilla jumping, but it’s definitely not 6-feet. This little guy needs to work on his plyometrics before he gets to the bigchilla leagues.
  4. The typical bunny rabbit is good for about a 3-foot vertical. That doesn’t sound crazy impressive, but when you consider the fact that rabbits are around 16” long (depending on breed), they’re actually hitting 2.25x their body length with their vert. Next time you vert over 12-feet, you can make fun of bunny rabbits.
  5. Our friend down under, the kangaroo, has a vertical of around 6-feet and typically covers about 25-feet per bound while running. Since these pouched-pals are usually around 5-feet tall, their vertical is around 1.2x their height while their running bound is 5x their height. Interestingly, though, the world record long jump for humans is actually 29-feet, so our top Olympians might be able to compete with kangaroos. Well, once I guess. The kangaroo keeps bounding while the long jumper is wiping sand off their butt.

Basically, humans have trash verticals and NFL teams should stop wasting their time scouting people in the NFL Combine. Head to the jungle, farm, forest, or Australian outback to see some real athletes.

Running Speed

Ah, yes – another great measure of athleticism. How fast can you run? Again, below are figures that are averaged from multiple sites, mostly National Geographic and other similar sites that don’t just seem like your Aunt Karen’s conspiracy theory blog. To keep things simple, let’s just list a sampling from the top few and then we’ll chat about it.

  1. Cheetahs – top speed around 60-70mph.
  2. Greyhounds – top speed around 40-45mph.
  3. Racehorses – top speed around 40-44mph.
  4. Tigers – top speed around 40mph.
  5. Grizzly Bears – top speed around 40mph. Yikes!
  6. Domestic cats – top speed around 30mph. Our cat’s zoomies 100% confirms this; she flies.
  7. Usain Bolt – recorded a top speed of 27.78mph in 2009.
  8. Chimps – top speed around 25mph
  9. Gorillas – top speed around 20-25mph.
  10. Average human male – top speed around 15mph.

Again, NFL teams are definitely wasting their time scouting humans. Certainly, quadrupedal animals have quite the advantage when it comes to speed. But man, even chimps and gorillas are faster than most people. Think if you could have a gorilla as a pulling guard on your football team? 400lbs running at 20-25mph as a lead blocker? No, thanks. I’ll quit on the spot.

Swimming Speed

The trend continues for figures to simply be amassed and averaged from multiple decent-looking sites. I didn’t think humans would do too well here, given our general design for land-dwelling. However, we were even slower than I thought. Let’s list everyone out again:

  1. Sailfish – top speed nearly 70mph. Probably the fastest fish on the planet.
  2. Great white sharks – top out around 20-25mph, but usually just cruise at 3-4mph.
  3. Dolphins – top out around 20mph, but generally frolic around 7-8mph.
  4. Humans – top Olympic swimmers may see 5-6mph, but most of us swim around 2mph.
  5. Dogs – depending on the breed, most dogs are somewhere between 1-2mph.
  6. Goldfish – A classic study found that goldfish top out around 0.86mph with intense training (Davison & Goldspink, 1978).

Needless to say, we’re toast if we’re in the water with anything but a goldfish. Good thing we left the sea billions of years ago.

Endurance

The last, but definitely… least. Let’s face it, we all hate cardio here. Regardless, in the jungle, you’re probably going to be running from just about everything since us humans are weak and unathletic compared to pretty much every other animal out there. Therefore, let’s see how our endurance stacks up with a handful of critters by comparing our VO2 max. The VO2 max is, essentially, a measure of how much oxygen you can use. This figure is normalized into milliliters of oxygen per kg of bodyweight per minute (mL/kg/min) so that we can truly compare apples-to-apples.

  1. First, us humans! The average man has a VO2 max around 35-40 mL/kg/min whereas most women are somewhere in the 27-30 mL/kg/min range. Elite athletes usually span the 50-70 mL/kg/min range while some reports have freak humans reaching into the 90s. I’d put most high-level non-endurance athletes in the high 40s or low 50s; endurance sports like soccer, cycling, running, etc. are going to spill more into the high 50s and low-mid 60s. Ultramarathoners, cross-country skiers, and triathletes might be touching high 60s and low 70s.
  2. Buttttt, not so fast. A typical racehorse has a VO2 max in the 104-169 mL/kg/min range, depending on the horse’s training level and racing events.
  3. Sled dogs can have VO2 maxes up to 240 mL/kg/min. Even untrained sled dogs sit around 175 mL/kg/min.
  4. Hummingbirds are the true kings of the animal kingdom, with a VO2 around 1000 mL/kg/min. It takes a lot of oxygen to keep those little wings flapping.

You’d think after getting smacked around in every other category, humans might have a chance in endurance. That’s obviously not the case; we’re terrible at everything.

Conclusion

It’s pretty easy to see that claiming “beast mode” during your next workout probably isn’t the most accurate thing to say. “Chinchilla mode,” doesn’t sound particularly cool, either, but it’s definitely more accurate.

Just be happy we’re the smartest animal on the planet. Well, on paper at least. It can be hard to believe that after scrolling through social media for a few minutes…

References

  1. Chusyd, D. E., Nagy, T. R., Golzarri-Arroyo, L., Dickinson, S. L., Speakman, J. R., Hambly, C., … & Brown, J. L. (2021). Adiposity, reproductive and metabolic health, and activity levels in zoo Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). Journal of Experimental Biology, 224(2), jeb219543.
  2. Davison, W., & Goldspink, G. (1978). The effect of training on the swimming muscles of the goldfish (Carassius auratus). Journal of experimental biology, 74(1), 115-122.
  3. Ellig, T. (2006). MSU researcher tests grizzly bear strength for National Geographic documentary. Retrieved from: https://www.montana.edu/news/3827/msu-researcher-tests-grizzly-bear-strength-for-national-geographic-documentary
  4. Nguyen, V., Lilly, B., & Castro, C. (2014). The exoskeletal structure and tensile loading behavior of an ant neck joint. Journal of Biomechanics, 47(2), 497-504.
  5. O’Neill, M. C., Umberger, B. R., Holowka, N. B., Larson, S. G., & Reiser, P. J. (2017). Chimpanzee super strength and human skeletal muscle evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(28), 7343-7348.
  6. US Department of Labor. (2015). OSHA procedures for safe weight limits when manually lifting. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2013-06-04-0
  7. Zihlman, A. L., & McFarland, R. K. (2000). Body mass in lowland gorillas: a quantitative analysis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology: The Official Publication of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, 113(1), 61-78.

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