Your Fists Were Made For Punching


Fist puncher! iStockphoto

Yep, as it turns out humans are natural born punching machines -- a species of bare-knuckle primates intent on uppercutting their way to the top of the food chain.

Or at least that's what I'm learning from the work of biologist David Carrier. Sure, we all know human hands provide the sort of manual dexterity necessary for culture-building, world-shaking too use.

But in his 2012 study, Carrier says we also evolved to punch suckers in the face.

See, the proportions of the human hand allow us to make a fist that protects all its delicate bones, muscles and ligaments during a jaw-shattering right hook. No other primates (or any animal for that matter) can throw a punch. Meanwhile, our earliest ancestors may have benefited from an evolutionary advantage if they could punch hard without injuring their five-fingered murder weapons -- thus winning mates, resources and tribal honor.

And Carrier's study showed that yes, a punch is always better than a slap or a chop.

The peak strike force is always the same no matter what manner of hand blow you're using, but the fist delivers all of this force to a smaller area. So, according to Carrier, the force per area is up to three times greater with a punch versus a slap.

Not convinced? Think back to the last time you were angry or threatened. Did you reflexively ball your fists?


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.