What's Your Ape Index?

Here's something interesting on our current theme of individuality in swimming:

Climbers call the difference between your arm length and your height your 'Ape Index'. The difference is normally expressed in inches. So if your arm span is three inches wider than your height, then that gives you an ape index of +3. If your arm span is 2 inches smaller than your height, that gives an ape index of -2.

It's very easy to quickly find your ape index, just stretch up against a wall or post and find your arm span, then keeping your top finger in place, stand up and compare it to your height. You don't have to be too precise with this, you can look at the difference and estimate it in inches:


We can see there that Paul has an Ape Index of +3.

But what's this got to do with swimming? Well if you have short arms for your height (an ape index of zero or less) it's very unlikely you will be able to make a long stroke work for you. Swimmers with short arms will become slower and less efficient by trying to match the strokes per length of long-armed swimmers.

If you have shorter arms don't despair, you are capable of swimming at a higher stroke rate than other swimmers without fighting the water. A shorter stroke with a faster turn-over is your route to swimming speed and efficiency. Copying the style of elite swimmers (who nearly all have long arms) really won't help much.

You might like the analogy with bike crank length. Cyclists with shorter femurs tend to favour a shorter crank length that allows them to turn their legs over faster.

Ape Index is just one of the many physical and psychological attributes that construct your swimming individuality. If you've found that following a particular piece of swimming advice hasn't improved your speed (or even made you slower) then question if this was good advice for your stroke. In swimming always remember: one size doesn't fit all!

Swim Smooth!

PS. If you have an ape index greater than +7 or less than -4 inches then we'd love to hear about your experiences of swimming and the stroke style that works for you. Send us a quick email to: feedback@swimsmooth.com


KonaBoy said...

Ape Index +2

Richard said...

I have an ape index around +4.5, and I have an extremely slow turnover but pretty competitive times (just shy of Division III Nationals when I was in college). In fact, my turnover is so slow that I frequently have coaches, timers, and spectators comment on it after my swims. After reading your post I was wondering if my ape index might be especially high.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. I have arms like a gibbon, but when I measured my ape index, I discovered that actually it was -1. I worked out that in actual fact my arms are long in relation to my chest width, which is very narrow (which is included in the measurement of the ape index). Overall, therefore, my ape index is not a large plus digit, which i thought it would be. Either way, I'm a hopeless crawler, but I persevere!! I'm much faster at breast stroke.

JamesBoH said...

I have an ape index of -1 and I over glide. More evidence I should speed my stroke up.

Anonymous said...

This was very interesting. I checked my index and it was +3.3 (I am 1.92 with 8.4 cm ape index. Moreover, my stroke somehow clicked in place yesterday morning, when I TOTALLY straightened out (thought that I had done it before)!


DavidRokkedahl said...

My Ape index is +3 - +4

Anonymous said...

Loved this article. I've always considered my arms almost freakishly long but have finally found a sport where this might be a benefit. I'm 5'7 and change with a wing span just short of 6'2...so very close to a +7 ape index (+6.5). I'm 40 yrs old and new since October to competitive swimming (triathlons). I believe I'm realizing decent results for a newbie. I cover 25m lengths comfortably with a stroke count of 17-18 (no push off) or 15-16 stokes with a push off the wall. My swim times in open water for 2km are just under 1:40 per 100m. Hopefully still lot's of upside to this. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, I'm -3 :-(

Adam Young said...

Don't despair, having shorter arms needed mean you can't swim fast. It simply means you need to adopt a faster stroke rate to swim quickly. The good news is that you can reach a higher stroke rate than other swimmers without fighting the water!


Oscar said...

My ape is around 0 ... wow!

Anonymous said...

My ape index is -5 (almost 6 feet with a relatively short torso, yikes), and I think I am a cross between a Bambino and an Overglider. I've only been swimming (off and on) for about a year and I'm 53 and female. The fastest I've done a mile is about 73 minutes.

At least I don't have any more fear of the water as I don't seem to be able to sink! I also can tell that I spend too long breathing and rotate more to the right.

Thanks for giving me something concrete and pretty easy to try. I'll get those arms moving and let you know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Im 0 and also a Bambino, can I be good in open water???

Unknown said...

Hi, I've an ape index of +7 and I used to wonder why I drag my knuckles accross the floor when I walk - duh! When I swim front crawl I feel like I want to increase my stroke rate to avoid deadspots but I find it very difficult to do so, almost like I have to rush the stroke. I'm not sure if it's lack of power or my ape arms that are limiting me. Can it actually be a disadvantage to have extra long arms?

Adam Young said...

Thanks for the posts guys! Any of you guys at the extremes have any pictures of you performing the ape-test we can show on the site?

Raul, no I don't think it can be a disadvantage! The key to lifting stroke rate is to remove the deadspot and keep everything else the same. However, the tendency is to keep the deadspot and try and speed up the rest of the stroke - this is when it feels like you are hurrying things. I hope that helps.

Cheers, Adam

James Peet said...

Found this yesterday after doing some research as I'd invested in a wetronome.

Turns out my ape index is about +8 (I'm 183cm tall).

It makes sense that I have a very slow stroke rate. Anything over 60 feels too quick.

Hoping that by increasing it, my times will drop. Off to the pool tonight with the nome for my first session so let's see!

Raghuvaran said...

Ape Index of +5~+6 yay !!!

Jon H said...

I have an ape index 2 of +6.5 inches and the only weird thing I noticed different for me is that I can't bench press barely 100 lbs. That's really low for my age and activity level.

Unknown said...

Hi Jon,

Wow thats some long arms you've got there- I guess your talent is length rather than strength!

priyamjeet mohanty. said...

I have an ape index 6.5 Inches.. Yeh !!!

Anonymous said...

My ape index 1 is: 1 and my ape index 2 is: 0in

Anonymous said...

Is that possible? I am 160,5 cm and my arm length is 160,5 too

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