How to fall safely
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
featuring Shie Boon and Charis, movement arts coaches and directors at MOVE Academy Singapore (@movesingapore / https://moveacademy.sg/ )
"Feeling comfortable on the ground can make falling, which will inevitably happen to all of us at least once in our lives, feel less scary."
Many people see parkour as out of this world. They never believed that the human body could be capable of things like leaping from building to building or climbing over high walls. To them, parkour is cool. Parkour is intimidating. Parkour is dangerous. But at the end of the day, parkour is essentially just using human movements like crawling, rolling, running and jumping to get from one point to another. There’s nothing exceptionally special or unnatural about these movements, either. These are movements that we are familiar with; after all, we all started out crawling and rolling as babies before progressing to running and jumping as kids.
Crawling and rolling are actually basic conditioning exercises in parkour. Even though we crawled and rolled a lot in our younger years, we sadly become less comfortable with being on the ground as we get older, especially in our modern society where chairs are everywhere. Being older also means that our joints are less mobile, so movements like squatting, which gets us closer to the ground, become harder and less accessible to us. People who first join our parkour classes are not used to being on the ground, even if we’re just making them lie on it. Feeling comfortable on the ground can make falling, which will inevitably happen to all of us at least once in our lives, feel less scary. Most times when you fall, you land on the ground. If you have good ground sense, you can safely break your fall. You may still fall, but the impact will not be as bad. You can’t prevent unforeseen accidents, but you can learn to mitigate its effects.
Aside from the fact that crawling helps you feel comfortable with being on the ground, it is an excellent way to develop upper body strength. Upper body strength is important because many people tend to use their hands to break a fall. If you’re older and frailer, using your hands to break falls may lead to fractured or broken wrists. Rolling, meanwhile, plays a part in the art of safely breaking falls. The basic idea is that rolling distributes the impact of the fall across the body, minimising the full force of it, especially on vital joints and organs like your head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, spine, hips, knees, ankles and heels that need to be protected.
For instance, some people who slip and fall backward try to break their falls using their hands with their fingers pointed backwards. But pointing the fingers backwards actually locks out the elbows so it cannot bend, resulting in their wrists being jammed into the ground, which can lead to wrist strains, sprains and shoulder dislocations. How freely your elbows can bend when you’re using your hands to break your fall actually determines how much impact your arms can absorb before it reaches its physical limit. When falling, always ensure your fingers are pointed forward instead of backward so your elbows can bend. Additionally, for a lot of us, our legs are stronger than our arms - so we should use our legs to absorb some of the impact of the fall before using our hands. If you feel yourself falling backwards, try to squat your hips low before shooting your hands out towards the ground to break your fall; this disperses some of the impact of the fall to your legs. And finally, as soon as you hit the ground, stick your chin and elbows to your chest, tuck your knees in and roll into a ball. This lessens the exposed surface area of our body and protects our vital organs and joints. Once the momentum of the fall has run out naturally and your body has come to a stop, roll onto either side of your body and push yourself up.
Learning the foundational skills of falling safely is crucial, both within and outside parkour. It prepares you for any movement you want to attempt. The reason parkour is perceived as dangerous, and the reason people have gotten injured and even died (yes, it’s happened) while doing parkour is because they weren’t fully prepared and properly trained to make those movements. Parkour is a ground-up sport - literally. Before you can start jumping, you have to learn how to crawl, roll and fall. There are no dangerous movements in parkour, only ones that you weren’t prepared for. Learn to fall before you try to fly.