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Assume that average Joe dies in a zombie outbreak and is revived as a zombie pretty much immediately. How strong could that zombie be, assuming that:

  • Zombification is done by "taking over" the brain, meaning that the zombie moves by transmitting signals over the same neural paths as a live human. It's just something else giving the commands now.
  • Practically no decomposition of tissue has happened in the meantime.
  • The zombie shows no constraints regarding pain, self-preservation, or the intensity of neural stimuli (meaning it can always go at maximum muscle power).
  • It really wants to eat your guts.

With that in mind how much force can such a zombie exert to, for example, lift a boulder out of the way? It would try to reach the heroes and it does not care that it snaps its spine in half when doing so. The boulder just needs to be moved so the zombie (or another) could crawl through. How heavy could that boulder be at most?

And how would this ability compare to alive average Joe?

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    $\begingroup$ Your post contains several different questions, which could make it too broad. Could you concentrate on one single question like "how much force can the muscles of a zombie exert under these prerequisites?" and later translate the results into specific actions like pushing/pulling wheights or running? $\endgroup$ – Elmy Apr 25 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe you should focus on the very last question (with the boulder) first. $\endgroup$ – Argemione Apr 25 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ This post could be the key to an answer. $\endgroup$ – Argemione Apr 25 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ This is indeed one of the key points why the zombie would be stronger. $\endgroup$ – And Apr 25 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ Zombie boi cannot punch through a stone/brick/metal or otherwise solid wall, because a hand is more fragile than a wall. Hence the hand will break before the wall does, resulting in a gross crushed zombie arm but minimal damage to the wall. Now if the wall is made of a more breakable substance, like wood, it may be possible, depending on the structure of the wall $\endgroup$ – MarielS Apr 25 at 9:33
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A very fresh zombie will be stronger than a normal person, somewhere around twice strong based on extreme stress hysterical strength response. However their strength will decline very fast, within hours it will barely be able to move.

Every time you push a muscle past about 70% of its normal (non-hysterical) maximum you get micro-tears, these tears take several days to heal under ideal conditions and the more tears the longer healing takes, continuously generating tears will wear the muscles away to nothing within days. Worse your zombies are going all out, his brain is not limiting his muscle output to protect his body. That is Hysterical strength (estimates range from 2-3 times maximum output) But our brains limit the use hysterical strength because it is literally more than the body can handle, it does serious damage to body. they are generating fractures in bone as well as tears in tendons and ligaments, these take even longer to heal. Within days there will not be enough muscle, tendon, and bone to hold your zombies upright. But it will never get that far.

More importantly as SZCZERZO KŁY pointed out muscles require fuel and your zombies are not going to be refueling efficiently once the body runs out of glycogen (a couple of hours at best), their muscles will fatigue much faster. But even more importantly is oxygen, pushing our muscles puts us in oxygen debt (really a depletion of all kinds of cellular resources not just oxygen), our bodies can't replenish this as fast as it can use it, and without rest they will not recover from it either. Within minutes they will running entirely anaerobic, pushing them at that point will result in all kinds of extra damage to the point the cells will quickly start to die, after an hour of strenuous exertion your zombies will not have any muscles left.

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Exactly what would Regular Joe be able to do. Or less with your given example.
Even if we equal brain override with ammonia sniffing and adrenaline rush then Average zombie can do what Average Joe did. With the exception of Joe can think not to tear his muscles and when to give up.
Regular Joe could use his brain to best utilize his available strength with best approach (so leverage, lifting from legs, using back and so on) while zombie would just push using legs.
I think the best example would be farmers walk. When strongmen go for time they hold the weight in the way it would try to pull them forward. So the gravity and weight do the "pushing weight" part. Their core hold posture, the forearms hold the weight, legs just keep up the pace.
But when they go for weight carried they put more emphasis on shoulders, back and legs being able to hold weight.

Next thing - Glycogen. It's a carb stored in our muscles and liver (which would explain why zombies like to eat it). But it's estimated it storage is depleted around 30 minutes of workout. Strongmen going on low carb diets are reporting drastic drop in strength and dexterity. So without any change to muscle size or calories intake their ability to move weight is crippled. Same thing would happened to zombie. Without carbs their Glycogen level would be low so their power would be lower than the human before turning.

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    $\begingroup$ Alternate Zombie lore: "Oh no! the Zombies broke into my house and ate all my bread. RUN!!!" $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 25 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki: They wanted your ALL BRANS not ALL YOUR BRAINS $\endgroup$ – Stormbolter Apr 25 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ GRAINS!! - said the vegan zombie. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Apr 26 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ "can do what an average joe can do" is misleading, the average joe can not consciously induce hysteric strength, they will be able to do all the time what joe can do only under extreme circumstances. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 26 at 15:26
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If you assume the Zombie always goes at maximum capacity, it seems likely that it will do a few incredibly amazing and powerful flops before having shredded all muscle fibers and tendons into useless... Not to mention, bone density is improved from exercise, so the bones themselves might not handle the load even if the muscles can carry it.

In many cases, the correct posture, pose and coordination of muscles mean more than just brute strength in regards to the force and motion that can be generated. Anyways...


Assuming that we indeed only utilize ~20-30% of our muscles as mentioned here, then scaling up average Joe based on values presented here result in the following stats for big compound movements:

  • Bench Press: 205-305 Kg
  • Deadlift: 235-350 Kg
  • Squat: 190-280 Kg

Which is quite impressive, but in lack of proper nutrition and recovery of the muscles, probably not for long...

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  • $\begingroup$ These sources are a bit suspect when put together. The first link is associated with an ad to sell bodybuilding which probably used sustainable instead of maximum strength statistics to intentionally mislead readers. Less partial sources such as bbc.com/future/story/… puts muscel utilization at 60% in non-athelets, and 80% in athletes when attempting to max out, and your second source is definitely max-weights, not sustainable. Your actual figures are probably closer to: 95/102/117kg for a man, and less for a woman.. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 25 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki True, the two links were only a quick search without heavy validation. However, sustainability isn't really a criteria in the question, and I do clarify that in the last sentence, that it won't last long. $\endgroup$ – Spoki0 Apr 26 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, what I mean is that 20-30% is what a person can sustainably do, but 60-80% is where we normally max out. Since the second set of figures are based on max out, not sustainable use, you can not accurately use the first figure to support the second one. I'm not saying that a zombie can sustainably do 95/102/117kg. I'm saying that is what it can absolutely max out at with all safeties off. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 26 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Right off the bat, those numbers don't sound like average Joe at an absolute 100% maximum. $\endgroup$ – Spoki0 Apr 29 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ That may be because you are used to thinking in terms of high school athletes. A highschool athelete should be able to rep any of those numbers with little problem, but you take a 40 year old desk worker and ask them to bench press, and you'd be surprised how many can't break 100 lbs. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 29 at 17:14
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How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? As many as wanting...

It's your story, Zombies can be as strong as you want them. From the perspective of human limitation, you have the following problems.

  • Muscles can only provide a limited amount of force before tearing.

  • Bones, cartilage, and ligaments can only absorb a limited amount of force before breaking or tearing.

  • Your elbow (or any joint) and the length of your arms (legs, digits...) can only allow provide so much of a moment arm.

Therefore, from the perspective of humanity, you are limited to what strength the natural body can provide. Strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson can bench 250kg and deadlift 410kg (dang... I mean... dang...). He certainly has the basic tools to pop my skull open like a beer can and gulp my brains like the slurpee that they are!

But if you want shear rip-your-head-off punching power, there's always Francis Ngannou, who holds the record for the hardest punch. That, of course, is if your zombies want to take my brains along for a travel snack.

But, can my zombies be stronger?

Of course they can! You can use whatever voodoo brought your zombies to pass to strengthen muscles, bones, ligaments, and cartilage and to swell the joints to provide greater moment arms. They can be as strong as you want to rationalize them in your story (a function of narrative necessity).

So, the real question is, are you simply looking for a way to limit your zombies (who, naturally, must be less strong than the original body, of only for the balance problems involved with dragging one's feet along in a dead-eyed stupor), or do you simply want to make them as strong as you want (and kinda need some legitimization from us, which we're always happy to give!)?

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