Let’s face it: at some point, and more than once in your life, you will fall down.
I have one client, a former adrenaline junkie, who ended up in a wheelchair after attempting a handstand on his skateboard. My 99-year-old grandmother broke her hip last year while going to bed. Don’t worry, he’s now strength training regularly and even learning to love (ahem) hill sprints, and she’s back home now, although using a walker.
Of course, the better shape your body is in, the better the fall will probably go. (And this “general preparedness” idea is part of why we trainers are always preaching about strength training!) But the big takeaway is, the same principles apply to help the fall go better, and they can be practiced at any age and stage of life.
Accept You’re Falling
It’s completely against our instincts, but once you realize you’re going down no matter what, it’s best to relax into it.
I still remember a cop telling us after a family member had been in a car that did a 360-degree roll: “I probably shouldn’t be telling anyone this, but they were all okay because they were drunk and just bounced with the car.”
On the way down, get as close to the ground as you can before the moment of impact. Bend those legs! Hopefully the eccentric (down) portion of your squat training will kick in now.
Protect your Head
Normally, I’m all about neutral spine. In this case, though, we definitely want spinal flexion, or curling the spine inwards.
One of the things that’s always stuck from my “Raw Meat” roller derby days (alas, they are now defunct) was when they taught us: “Fall small; fall in a ball.”
Spread the Impact
The larger the surface, the less concentrated is the impact. Admittedly, my knowledge of physics may be a little suspect, but the equation is: Pressure = Force over Area… so basically we want to increase the area available to spread out the force.
This means that you are hopefully not stretching out your arm to break your fall. Instead, rolling through larger and meatier areas is better. If you go down forwards: calf, thigh, glutes, lats (which are along the ribs and back). If you go down backwards: shoulder, lats, glutes, hip.
Did I Mention Going with the Flow?
Speading the impact combines best, in my own experience, with staying as relaxed as possible.
I’ve taken two similar workshops that addressed falling. One was taught by a stage combat director. His style of breakfalls involved a forceful strike against the ground with an outstretched arm to absorb impact. For myself, at least, this has left me a wrist that years later is still just a little wonky on a good day.
The other workshop, on medieval grappling, was taught by the inimitable Devon Boorman at Academie Duello. He focused on a relaxed “crumple” to the ground. This worked much better for me.
We want to let the momentum dissipate. This means staying balled up with your head protected, and rolling out rather than trying to force a quick stop. Again, the laws of physics apply to us, whether or not we know the equations well, and we won’t be able to force a quick stop.
Practice Makes (Closer to) Perfect
I’ll be honest, I’ve realized that fear of falling is holding me back from some rollerskating goals, so I’ve actually committed lately to practising my falls for five minutes a day, five days a week. I feel that this would be beneficial for everyone, because hey, it’s gonna happen sometime anyway… Might as well improve the chances of it going well!
Start by sitting on the ground — yes, literally sit on the ground — preferably on a well-padded surface. Tuck in tight, then start with a small pendulum diagonally/sideways, and return.
Depending where you’re starting from, even this may be immensely challenging, so don’t push yourself too quickly! Easy does it. No somersaults until that first step feels good, and don’t even think about letting your head anywhere near the ground until you’re comfortable with that step. And of course, baby steps can go a long way with this. I hope that you will eventually be able to work up to falling from standing or even from being in motion… personally, I’m not ready for that one yet! In the meantime, a low crouch is the best place to go after being seated.
After some experimenting, my own “fall small, fall in a ball” technique involves pulling my elbows together at midline (no chicken wings) and quickly placing my fingertips at the top of my ears so that my hands can cup my temples and cushion any potential impact on the skull.
I’m nowhere near Louise Lecavalier yet (oh, my, the barrel jumps of La La La Human Steps!), but I intend to get comfortable enough to try a three-point rollerskating turn without needing to hold on to something.
What would you do if you felt more comfortable falling? Please let me know!