Among the wide range of climbing lingo, slang, and acronyms, what is your ape index is near the top of the confusing ones. Most climbers go quite a while before hearing about the ape index, and when they do they have no idea it was even a thing climbers measure!
It’s actually not just climbers who like to know their ape index. Both professional basketball players and swimmers are known to take this data into consideration.
In this article, we’ll answer the question of what is an ape index, tell you how to calculate it, and discuss its importance to climbers and other athletes!
What is a APE Index?
The Ape Index is a measurement that compares your wingspan to your height. Your wingspan is measured by holding your hands straight out horizontally from your body and measuring from the tip of one middle finger to the other.
According to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,’ this ratio should be 1, meaning that a person’s height should be the same as their wingspan.
Amazingly enough, da Vinci wasn’t far off and many people have an ape index of 1. This is considered a neutral ape index, or an ape index equaling 1.
Several sports, including rock climbing, basketball, boxing, and swimming believe that having a high ape index is beneficial for those sports. This means that a longer-armed athlete has an advantage over an athlete of the same height with shorter arms.
How Do You Calculate it?
Ape Index calculators are fairly common, but it is also very easy to do with just a calculator. There are two ways to calculate this number, but both start with measuring your height and wingspan.
Method #1: Wingspan: Height Ratio
The first method just involves dividing your wingspan by your height. The average person will get a 1 here, but slight deviations in each direction aren’t uncommon. If you come up with a number that is less than one it means your wingspan is shorter than your height.
I am 5’10”, or 70 inches tall. My wingspan is 72.5 inches. Thus, 72.5/70 is 1.03 or 1.04 if you’re rounding up.
This ratio has the benefit that the number will come out the same, regardless if you’re using inches or centimeters for your measurement.
Method #2: Difference Between Wingspan and Height
This ape index calculation is even easier than the last one. Simply subtract your wingspan by your height. So, for me… 72.5-70 = 2.5. Normally, when people ask me for my index I’ll tell them I have an ape index of +2.5.
This way is more common for climbers to keep track of, it’s both an easier calculation and it’s easier to tell someone you’re a +2.5 than a 1.04 and to have it mean something. The only drawback is for anyone used to using centimeters your ape index will be much different than it would be in inches.
What is considered a High APE index?
Generally speaking, an ape index of 1 (or of 0 if you’re using the difference method), is standard. Technically, anything higher than that is a high ape index.
For climbers, it seems like many of the worlds best have ape indices between 1.03 and 1.06 (+2.5 and +4.0). The highest ratio we know of is that of Kai Lightner, who has an ape index of 1.09 (+7)!!!
If I had to draw a line in the sand, I would say anything over a +2 index is a high ape index.
Do You Need A High Ape to be a Great Climber?
No. There are some elite-level climbers than have ape indices of 1 (or 0) and even a few, most notably Babsi Zangerl, who has a negative index (.99 or -0.8).
Intuitively it makes sense that a high ape index will help a climber. The extra reach you get from a longer wingspan allows you to reach holds a shorter armed climber wouldn’t be able to get. Often there are other routes though!
Think of the crux problem on Freerider in Yosemite. In the documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold really has to stretch to make that move work. A climber with longer arms might make that hold slightly easier, while a shorter climber may not be able to do it at all.
The argument a shorter climber may have is there are other ways to complete that pitch. In the Freerider example, there is a downclimb into a traverse to pass the crux problem that Honnold struggled with.
A high ape index might help with your climbing, but it is certainly not a guarantee and a low ape index doesn’t eliminate you from being a great climber.
The Last Pitch
Now that you know how to calculate ape index, you can figure out yours! This is a number that is used often in the sports of climbing and basketball. While a high ape index may help you, don’t give up on climbing if you have a smaller ape index.
In the end, an ape index is just a number and if you have fun climbing, that’s all that really matters!
Growing up in Fresno, CA, Yosemite has always called to Robert. From camping trips as a kid, he quickly became a regular to the parks granite walls.
His favorite, and most difficult climb to date is Serenity Crack at the Royal Arches in Yosemite, rated a 5.10d. Robby spends most of his time bouldering these days, and loves the Camp 4 Boulder area.