Chimpanzees are incredibly fast and agile primates that can reach remarkable running speeds. If you’re wondering just how quickly chimps can run, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Chimpanzees can run at speeds over 30 mph, with top speeds around 35 mph recorded in the wild.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll take an in-depth look at chimpanzee running and sprinting speeds. We’ll cover topics like how their anatomy allows for speed, measurements of top speeds, how their speed compares to humans, and more.

An Overview of Chimpanzee Running Abilities

Chimps are Quadrupedal Runners

Chimpanzees are quadrupedal runners, meaning they run on all four limbs. Their front arms are used like legs when running, allowing them to gallop at fast speeds. Chimps have long arms and short legs, giving them a distinctly different gait compared to human runners who only use their hind legs.

The quadrupedal running style provides stability and allows chimps to quickly accelerate, decelerate, and change direction.

Muscular Legs and Arms

A chimp’s musculature also contributes to its running abilities. Their legs and arms boast powerful muscles built for speed and endurance. According to the National Zoo, an adult chimp’s thighs are pure muscle and can generate three times as much power as a human thigh.

Their calves and ankles are also very flexible, allowing for fluid strides. Chimp arms are equipped with strong biceps and triceps as well as flexible wrists and fingers for grabbing branches while running.

Elongated Forearms

Another key feature is a chimp’s elongated forearms, which are significantly longer than their hind legs. Researchers believe this disproportionate anatomy shifts the animal’s center of mass forward for better balance and maneuverability when running quadrupedally at high speeds.

The longer arms may also help chimps reach farther forward with each stride, covering more ground.

Flexible Wrists and Ankles

In addition to muscular limbs, chimps have very mobile joints in their wrists and ankles. This flexibility allows them to rapidly change directions by pushing or pulling with their hands and swiftly altering their foot placement.

According to Science Magazine, chimps have ankles capable of rotating nearly 360 degrees! This agility combined with stability from four running limbs enables sharp turns, zigzags, and rapid stops & starts.

Measured Top Speeds of Chimps

Observed Speeds in the Wild

Chimpanzees are incredibly fast animals, especially when climbing and brachiating through trees. However, pinning down their exact top running speeds is challenging. In the wild, chimps have been clocked at speeds up to 25 mph (40 kph) for short bursts over 40 yards.

Their build and muscular frame allows them to be nimble and agile climbers. Researchers have observed young chimps racing and playing together through treetops at astonishing speeds.

One field study in Uganda recorded a maximum speed of 34.8 mph (55.9 kph) by a adult male chimp running on the ground over a short distance. However, the reliability of this measurement has been debated.

The rough terrain and obstructed viewing in a natural setting makes it difficult to accurately measure a chimp’s top speed. More conservative estimates usually put their top speed at around 25 mph (40 kph).

When moving quadrupedally on the ground, chimps generally don’t run faster than 15 mph (24 kph). Their anatomy is better adapted for vertical climbing and swinging below branches. On the ground, their top speed is limited by their morphology.

However, fast bipedal running over dozens of yards has been observed in the wild, suggesting they can reach faster speeds for brief bursts.

Speeds Recorded in Controlled Studies

In more controlled laboratory settings, researchers have attempted to measure the maximum sprinting speeds of chimpanzees. One study clocked two adult male chimps running on a treadmill at speeds up to 35 mph (55 kph) for one second.

However, this was an all-out effort and not sustainable for long distances. The average top speed on the treadmill was closer to 25 mph (40 kph).

Another experiment analyzed the chimpanzee’s acceleration and velocity by using high-speed cameras to film them running on a straight, flat track. The maximum speed recorded was 28.3 mph (45.5 kph). The researchers found that chimps accelerate much more slowly than humans initially, but can ramp up to high speeds after several seconds.

This suggests their muscular and skeletal structure prioritizes climbing speed and agility over straight-line sprinting ability.

How Chimp Running Speed Compares to Humans

Usain Bolt’s Top Speed

Usain Bolt is considered the fastest human sprinter in recorded history. At the 2009 World Championships, Bolt set a 100m world record of 9.58 seconds. His top speed during this run was an astounding 27.79 mph (44.72 km/h). Bolt’s record still stands today, over a decade later.

Though other sprinters have come close, no one has yet eclipsed Bolt’s top speed.

Average Human Running Speed

While Bolt represents the upper limit of human running speed, most people can only dream of approaching his velocities. The average human running speed is much slower – between 8-15 mph (12.9-24.1 km/h), depending on factors like age, sex, and fitness level.

Elite marathon runners average around 13 mph during a race. Even amateur joggers typically run at 5-10 mph.

Compared to our closest primate relatives, humans are adapted for endurance running over long distances, not short bursts of max speed. Our bodies are great at walking and moderate-pace running due to features like springy tendons, big butt muscles, and an S-shaped spine.

But for brief all-out sprints, we can’t compete with quicker, four-legged mammals.

Why Chimps are Faster Runners

Chimpanzees are some of the quickest animals on the planet when it comes to short distance sprinting. Researchers have clocked chimps running over 25 mph at top speed. That’s faster than the swiftest Olympic sprinters like Usain Bolt!

Chimps have several physical advantages that enable them to outrun humans in short dash-type scenarios (less than 30-40 meters):

  • More fast-twitch muscle fibers – These power explosive movements.
  • Longer arms – Generate momentum while running.
  • Flexible ankles – Allow for stronger push-offs.
  • Low center of gravity – Enhances acceleration.
  • Light body weight – Less mass to move.

However, chimps tire quickly and can’t run long distances as efficiently as humans can. So while they beat us in 100m races, we surpass them in marathons. Chimps also can’t run nearly as fast as true sprint specialists like cheetahs, which reach speeds over 60 mph!

Other Factors That Enable Chimps’ Speed

Powerful Leg Muscles

Chimpanzees have incredibly muscular legs that allow them to generate explosive power when running and jumping. Their leg strength comes from constantly climbing trees, swinging from branches, and walking on all fours (Jade, 2023).

These activities build up tremendous muscle mass in their thighs, calves, and glutes.

According to primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall (as cited in Anthropic, 2021), chimps use about 50% of their total muscle mass just for locomotion. This high percentage devoted to movement leads to incredible speed and agility.

Sprinters like Usain Bolt also have very muscular legs, allowing them to clock in record-breaking times on the track.

Flexible Spine

Another key physical feature that boosts chimpanzee running speed is spine flexibility. When racing on all fours, chimps can arch and bend their backs to maximize stride length. This allows them to cover more ground with each galloping bound, reaching estimated top velocities of 25 mph (Anthropic, 2023).

Their supple spines let them twist, extend, and contort the torso freely when running or swinging through trees.

Humans, by comparison, have stiffer, less mobile spines that keep us upright for bipedal walking but limit top running speed. No human has ever clocked 25 mph! Our evolutionary split from a common ancestor has led to marked differences in spinal structure and sprinting ability between species.

Low Center of Gravity

Finally, chimpanzees’ low center of gravity aids running by improving stability. With their compact, muscular bodies positioned close to the ground, chimps can propel themselves forward forcefully without losing balance. The short stance also lowers air resistance for faster movement.

The same principles apply in sports like skiing – keeping the body low and centered makes falls less likely at high velocities. For chimps, this natural low center of mass lets them run at their fastest pace without sacrificing agility or control.

Downsides and Limits to Chimps’ Running

Less Efficient Cooling

One of the major downsides for chimpanzees when it comes to running is their less effective cooling system compared to humans. Chimps, like other great apes, lack many of the adaptations that make humans such effective long-distance runners.

Specifically, chimps have fewer sweat glands than humans and mostly sweat through the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet. This means it is harder for them to dissipate heat while running for extended periods (😓).

In contrast, humans are able to cool their entire body efficiently through sweating while running, which allows us to run marathons in hot conditions that would quickly overheat a chimp.

High Energy Cost

Another disadvantage chimpanzees have is the high energy cost of running on all fours. The quadrupedal running style of chimps is less efficient than the bipedal style of humans. Chimps need to engage more muscle groups to coordinate running on four limbs, burning calories faster than humans do when running the same distances.

This means chimps reach exhaustion quicker than humans over long distances. In fact, research shows the energy cost of locomotion for chimpanzees can be 2-3 times higher per kilometer than for a human runner (O’Neill et al. 2015).

So while chimps can run 30 mph in short bursts, they simply cannot keep up that pace for as long as humans can sustain our slower but more efficient running speed.

Poor Endurance

The combination of less effective cooling and higher energy costs leads to the biggest downside for chimpanzee running – poor endurance. Chimps may be able to briefly outrun Usain Bolt, but they tire out quickly in longer races.

While trained human runners can run marathons (26.2 miles) at a steady pace, chimpanzees can only sustain fast running speeds for a few minutes at most before needing to slow down. The longest distances wild chimpanzees have been observed running is estimated at only about 8 km, usually when chased or chasing another animal (O’Neill).

So while short sprints are no problem, running any substantial distance is a major challenge for our chimpanzee cousins!


In conclusion, chimpanzees are incredibly fast primates that can reach sprinting speeds over 30 mph, with some individuals topping 35 mph. Their muscular legs, flexible wrists and ankles, and other anatomical features allow them to run quadrupedally at paces far faster than the fastest humans.

However, there are also downsides to their speed, like poor endurance and cooling. Understanding how chimpanzees run provides fascinating insight into the capabilities of our closest primate relatives.

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