Primates Do Not Have The Same Throwing Strength As Humans
June 26, 2013

Humans Can Throw Much Faster Than Chimps

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online

Baseball fans on occasion will become frustrated with even their most beloved pitcher. Balls tossed in the dirt or that get above the umpire may even illicit catcalls and insults, perhaps comparing the ability of the hurler to primates who are notorious for flinging their own feces. A new study from the George Washington University (GWU), however, disputes these opinions and finds our ability to hurl a fastball stems from an ancient survival instinct. In fact, this ability is just one of the many ways in which humans are different from our closest evolutionary cousins, the primate. GWU researcher Neil Roach lead the study which is published in the journal Nature.

According to Roach, the origins behind the human ability to throw a fastball stem from our instinct to hunt and kill, either for protection or food. It’s a skill which chimpanzees and other primates have not been able to develop over the last few million of years.

“Chimpanzees are incredibly strong and athletic, yet adult male chimps can only throw about 20 miles per hour, one-third the speed of a 12-year-old little league pitcher,” said Dr. Roach in a press statement.

The key to the fastball, says Roach’s study, lies in the energy released by the tendons and ligaments across the shoulder. When this energy is released, it creates a catapult-like effect, whipping our arms forward and delivering a baseball (or as it was in ancient times, a spear) at high speeds. According to the research, the key components needed to whip our arms around at great speeds appeared in humans some two million years ago in the Homo erectus species.

In order to understand how the body works when it throws a fastball, Roach and team set up an array of 3D cameras and pointed them at some college hurlers as they pitched their fastest fastballs.

“When humans throw, we first rotate our arms backwards away from the target. It is during this ‘arm-cocking’ phase that humans stretch the tendons and ligaments crossing their shoulder and store elastic energy,” explained Roach.

"When this energy is released, it accelerates the arm forward, generating the fastest motion the human body produces, resulting in a very fast throw.”

Though our arms are delivering the speed necessary, Roach says our torsos are just as important in this action. The energy stored here can be delivered through our arms. Moreover, the study suggests it may have been the stomach behind our torsos that drove us to develop this ability.

“We think that throwing was probably most important early on in terms of hunting behavior, enabling our ancestors to effectively and safely kill big game,” explained Roach.

“Eating more calorie-rich meat and fat would have allowed our ancestors to grow larger brains and bodies and expand into new regions of the world—all of which helped make us who we are today.”

Though we’ve developed this ability over millions of years, Roach also claims throwing fastballs too often can end up destroying the body, something which has been evidenced before in pitchers who have spent several years in the big leagues.