Why Do Cheetahs Run so Fast? The Science Behind The Speed

August 19, 2021

Before you begin reading this article, grab your best running shoes and make a quick sprint for three seconds. Now measure how far you got. Not very far, is it?

Just like you, cheetahs are land mammals. But they take the title of the “fastest land mammal” in the world, beating all the humans (including champions like Usain Bolt) and other animals.

Confused about whether the creature in sight is a cheetah or leopard? One of the most apparent ways to differentiate between the two big cats is to learn the difference between the spots on their fur coats. Another way is to look for a “tear” line that runs from the inner corners of a cheetah’s eyes down to the mouth. If absent, the cat would be a leopard.

Catch both the cheetah and leopard on an open-vehicle safari here.

Ever wondered why cheetahs can run so fast? If you’re looking to better understand the impressive superpower of the cheetah and what makes it so fast, you’ve come to the right place. This article will discuss facts and details on what makes a cheetah run so fast, their highest speeds, and how they sprint through the jungle.

How Fast Can a Cheetah Run?


Think of some of the best sports cars in the world and how fast they can accelerate. The Ferrari Enzo goes from 0-60mph in just 3.5 seconds, a McLaren in 3.2 seconds, and the Lamborghini Gallardo in 4.2 seconds. Even the movie car hero, Lightning Mcqueen, goes from 0-60mph in a swift 3.2 seconds.

Impressive… but still not as fast as the cheetah.

These marvelous cats can go from 0-60mphs in just three seconds.

The fastest cheetah in the world, named Sarah, ran 328 feet at a speed of 61mph in 5.95 seconds in 2012. Sarah was 11 at that time and passed away at the age of 15 in 2016.

The average cheetah can accelerate at 32.8 feet per second and can cover three strides at a speed of 40mph. In the past, recorded top speeds of cheetahs have ranged between 68mph and 75mph.

Check out this list of fast animals in Africa besides the cheetah.

How Do Cheetahs Run so Fast?


So these cute cats are as fast as lightning, but how?

A cheetah was built for speed. This beast has special body adaptations to enable effective acceleration, quick turns, and balance when sprinting through the high grass.

Here’s a breakdown of their biological parts to explain how it aids them in running so fast.

1.   Weightless Weight

To charge through the jungle, cheetahs are light on their feet. Meaning they don’t weigh much.

On average, adult cheetahs will weigh anywhere between 44 to 143 pounds. Cubs usually weigh between 5.3–10.6 oz, but those born in captivity may weigh more.

2.   Height and Long Tail

Cheetahs are small, usually only 3 feet tall and approximately 4 feet long. They have a flat, wide tail that generally measures 23-35 inches, taking up more than half of their body length. Its flat shape and size provide balance when steering and maneuvering a 70mph sprint. The length acts as a counterbalance to the rest of the cheetah’s body.

3.   Flexible Cheetah Spine


A flexible spine allows cheetahs to quickly turn at high speeds. Their spine is an extraordinarily long vertebral column that can recoil like a spring allowing cheetahs to stretch their legs out and take great strides. In spine flexion, the scapula and hip can rotate at such an angle that the cheetah’s front and hind legs overlap.

4.   Enlarged Heart and Lungs

If you tried to run even half as fast as this big cat, you would be holding your chest, panting for breath on the floor. The higher the speed, the more oxygen needed. So to facilitate a cheetah’s speed levels, they have a deep chest with a big heart and lungs. This enables more blood with oxygen to be pumped to their major organs. When sprinting, the cheetah can take up to 150 breaths a minute.

5.   Feet and Claws

Their feet don’t have much toe-webbing. This allows them to spread their toes widely and gain a firmer grip on the ground when running. Cheetahs have semi-retractable claws that function like soccer cleats and further aid them in having a powerful hold over the ground.

6.   Long Legs

A fused tibia and fibula give more stability when speeding, but this makes climbing more difficult. Cheetahs have an impressive strength-to-weight ratio. Their leg muscles are huge, strong, and expand faster to promote rapid running.

Unfortunately, these big cats are nearing extinction, with only around 7100 cheetahs left in the world.

Why Are Cheetahs so Fast?


Out in the wild, it’s survival of the fittest. Just like other predators, cheetahs have to make full use of their skills to outlive their predators. Speed is their biggest strength, their specialization, and what makes them so famous.

Zooming through the grasslands, like a blur, cheetahs chase birds, rodents, hares, impalas, small wildebeests, medium-sized antelopes, and gazelles to satiate their hunger.

The chase for prey is fast-paced and short-lived. It usually lasts less than 30 seconds because cheetahs cannot maintain their speed for long periods. The big cat will chase its prey, tackle it from behind, trip it over, and then attack the neck taking a bite out of the fleshy area.

Not so cute any longer now, is it?

Cheetahs are quick to devour their kill. They don’t waste time relishing in their feast because if a lion comes along, the cheetah has to abandon the carcass and run to save his life.

Book a trip to the Lion & Safari Park here to meet these big cats.

Concluding What Makes Cheetahs so Fast


Small, lightweight, and featuring other body adaptations, the cheetah can run 20-25 feet in just one stride. As a cheetah, you would never be late for a meeting, lecture, date, wedding, or any significant event. These flash-like kittens are a source of envy for humans but also a source of wonder.

Their speed isn’t just essential to catch their prey but also to escape from predators.

Planning a trip to the Kruger National Park? Check out these 9 best Airbnb for accommodation.

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