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Does Your Ape Index Make You A Better Rock Climber?

LAST UPDATED: 2nd November 2023

Ape Index Calculator

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Well, hello there you beautiful ape, and welcome to the world of rock climbing, where size doesn’t matter. (Or does it?🤔)

The ape index subject has split the climbing world since the day it appeared. Some believe that a positive ape index gives you a clear advantage over other climbers while others claim that it makes no difference and you just need to adapt your climbing.

But what does the term ape index mean, how can you measure it, and is it really that important?

Let’s take a look!

What Is The Ape Index?

A philosophy that traces back thousands of years to the Roman Empire, what we know now as the ape index, is the idea that came from Vitruvius, an ancient writer, and architect who came up with the idea of the “perfect man” or the anatomically correct man. In his conception, later portrayed in Leonardo DaVinci’s work “Vitruvian Man”, the perfect man would have a 0 ape index.

Vitruvian Man Ape Index

But what does this mean in climbing? 

The ape index is a correlation between a person’s height and arm span. Some people consider that the greater the ape index, meaning that if your arm span is longer than your height, the better climber you’ll be. But, as you’ll find out later on, your ape index doesn’t really matter.

Average Ape Index

The average ape index in humans is neutral, meaning it’s zero or a ratio of +1, meaning the length from your fingertips is longer by one centimeter than your height. This is referred to as having a positive ape index.

There are cases where even the greatest climbers have a negative index, meaning their arm span is shorter than their height. This happens pretty rarely and is minus one or two centimeters at most. 

Adam Ondra ape index
Adam Ondra’s Ape Index

Also, keep in mind that if a person is very tall, it doesn’t automatically mean they have a higher ape index than you. Short people can have a positive ape index too.

Whatever your case is, you shouldn’t worry or blame your climbing skills on this value because, in rock climbing, a lot of factors contribute to your performance, the most important one being how good your technique is.

How To Measure The Ape Index

You can measure your ape index by either dividing your wingspan by your height or subtracting your height from your wingspan.

Method 1: Wingspan ÷ Height

The first method is by division where you divide a person’s wingspan by his or her height. This method is the most useful way to do it as you’ll end up with the same value whether you’re using the metric or imperial system.

Let’s take Daniel Woods as an example. Woods measures in at 170cm in height and has a wingspan of around 182cm.

182 ÷ 170 = 1.07 (approx).

As a ratio, Daniel Woods has a positive ape index of 1.07.

Method 2: Wingspan – Height

Most of the climbers will probably use the subtraction method as it’s the most straightforward method. To measure your ape index subtract your wingspan from your height. In this case, the values will differ depending on the scaling system you are using.

Daniel Woods: 182cm – 170cm = 12cm

That’s some ape index! No wonder this guy is one of the best boulderers in the world.

Method 3: Bonus Method!

I recently saw this method on Instagram and thought this would be a fun way to check your ape index with your friends at the gym. This is what you need to do:

  • Lie down on your back with your head touching the wall.
  • Get a friend to mark your height with a shoe or chalk.
  • Now lie down 45 degrees on your back with one arm touching the wall and the other arm touching the marker. 
  • If your fingertips pass the marker, you have a positive ape index.
  • If your fingertips don’t quite make it to the marker, you have a negative ape index. 

This method isn’t exactly foolproof and doesn’t give you any metrics, but if you don’t have a measuring tape on hand (I mean who goes around with a measuring tape anyway) then this is such a fun way to measure your ape index! It’s definitely become my favorite method!

Ape Index in Rock Climbing

As well as the height index, the ape index has always been considered very important for climbers but how valuable is it really? Does the fact that you have a positive ape index mean that you have an advantage in climbing? 

Not really.

Us climbers are inherently prone to coming up with excuses (guilty as charged). I’m too short is an excuse you’ll hear being thrown around the crag and the gym regularly. But, being short has nothing to do with you not being able to do the climb. 

Lynn Hill, the baddest female climber who free climbed The Nose is 157cm with a negative ape index. Did that stop her from becoming the first female climber to conquer The Nose? Absolutely not. 

Lynn Hill on the Great Roof section of The Nose
Lynn Hill free climbing the Great Roof on The Nose of El Capitan, 1994 ©Helnz Zak

It’s not about height but strength and technique. You could be the tallest climber in the gym, but without strength and technique, you will really struggle. Of course, being tall is an advantage and some moves will feel easier but that doesn’t mean someone short can’t do the same climb.

Being short is actually an advantage too. Shorter people have smaller fingers making it much easier to hold smaller crimps and pockets. Smaller people fit better in cracks and are better at moves that are close together. Underclings feel a lot easier when you are smaller too as you are closer to the wall without having to bring your arms in as much as a taller person would.

Take the route La Planta De Shiva, for example. It was first ascended by Adam Ondra who has an ape index of 187cm. Angy Eiter who became the first woman to climb the route and the first female to climb a 9b has an ape index of 158cm. That is a significantly shorter ape index than Ondra, but Angy didn’t let her height and ape index stop her from making history.

9b climbs - Angela Eiter on Planta de Shiva
Angy’s interesting drop knee on La Planta De Shiva ©Javipec

Understandably so, beta will change slightly depending on the climber’s height. Some moves will be easier for short folks and some will be harder for the tall ones. The first example that pops into my mind is the way Will Bosi and Jana Švecová approach Terranova (V16/17) boulder. They are both able to make the moves but they need different beta because of the height differences.

Check out this video from Mani The Monkey climbing the same route side by side with his friend. His friend has an ape index of +10cm while Mani has an ape index of +1cm; that’s quite a difference!

Pro Climbers & Their Ape Index

Speaking of pro climbers, statistically, most pro climbers male or female have a +2 ape index which is not that much. although we all faced that moment when an extra 2 cm would have made the difference between life and death, right?

Here’s an Ape Index Chart of some of the best climbers out there:

Climber WingspanHeightApe Index (W-H)
Kai Lightner208.3 cm190.5 cm+17.8 cm
Daniel Woods182 cm170 cm+10 cm
Dave Graham188 cm177.8 cm+10.2 cm
Chris Sharma189.2 cm182.9 cm+6.4 cm
Sasha DiGiulian162.6 cm157.5 cm+5.1 cm
Angy Eiter158 cm154 cm+4 cm
Magnus Midtbø176 cm173 cm+3 cm
Nalle Hukkataival174 cm172.7 cm+1.3 cm
Adam Ondra187 cm186 cm+1 cm
Alex Megos173 cm173 cm+0 cm

As we can see, even Adam Ondra and Alex Megos have an ape index close to zero so it’s pretty clear now that it doesn’t mean that much. 

What’s more important than height is developing your climbing skills and technique. If you feel like your height is stopping you from climbing hard, try to overcome this by working on your strength and technique.

Speaking about strength, start incorporating hangboard sessions in your training. This will help strengthen your fingers and you’ll become a better climber from it.

Here is Adam Ondra talking about whether ape index is important:


Born and raised in Jiu Valley, Romania, I am a true mountain enthusiast, absorbing knowledge from each sport the area offers. Snowboarder in the winter and a hiker and climber in the summer, I love spending my days up in the Carpathians. I have had a passion for writing ever since I laid my hands on my first keyboard, and I always have a curiosity for gear and great stories. I split my time between various jobs and hobbies, including being a full-time psychologist, repairing skis in the winter, and working with kids at my local gym whenever I have time.

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