Updated: Aug 28
I am disheartened when I look at the articles out there about injury prevention. It's full of rhetoric such as "falling is dangerous", "how to avoid losing balance", "how to stay standing". It strikes me as very fear-inducing, viewing falling as a opposition to your well-being, rather than a part of your life.
Rekindling the Relationship
Perhaps the reason we are so afraid of the ground is because we never spend any time down there! Human beings in indigenous communities who still live as their ancestors did, get up and down from the ground over 200 times per day on average, and the elderly do it more frequently that the young. We can infer that this action has been a major influence in the way our body has developed and been shaped during the course of our species' existence.
In our modern society, we sit in elevated chairs and lay down on elevated beds. People could go years without getting down to the ground if they live a life where other people clean up after them.
The Perils of Living on a Pedestal
So what happens when we stop getting up and down from the ground on a daily basis? Well, people suffer from back pain, hip mobility issues, knee, and ankle issues, digestive difficulty (yes, squatting and compressing your abdomen through movement is part of your digestive process), just to name a few of the obvious problems.
Anything that affects the hips, affects the whole spine and neck, and the way the spine and head is held affects the tension and position of the shoulder. People get problems like neuromuscular problems like Sciatica, postural misalignments like sway-back and lumbar lordosis, and that's just scratching the surface. Many elderly people break their hip when they fall because the Sacral-Iliac joint becomes fused, not from old age, but from disuse. If this joint could move, it wouldn't break during such a fall.
Okay, this article is supposed to dispel the mindset of expressing a fear of falling, and that all sounds pretty foreboding, I admit. However, These are not problems that result from falling, they are problems that result from long-term neglect of an integral aspect of human movement: getting up and down from the ground. Safe-falling is really just about getting comfortable transitioning from a standing position to a lying-on-the-floor position.
Cultivate the Skillset, Progressively
When we start practicing these skills, we first introduce the end-position of the fall. If we can really reinforce these positions with consistent practice, it will become our default, replacing whatever arm-dislocating, hip-breaking nonsense you're body has set as it's default falling reaction!
From here, you can start building up. You can try transitioning to these falling positions from a crawling position, then progress to a kneeling position, then a deep lunge, and finally from standing. This isn't going to happen in a 2-hour workshop, but when you go home and start practicing a few days per week, then attend another workshop when the opportunity arises, you'll likely be ready for the next progression.
The Components of Injury Prevention
Injury prevention is about more than just safe-falling, though this is a major component, and the other components can be developed through the safe-falling practice alone. We also have to look at building resilience in our joints, as well as developing our balance and proprioception.
Safe-falling gets you down to the ground in the safest and most efficient way; joint conditioning reinforces our joints to prevent injury when we do end up in funky positions; and proprioceptive training is what prevents imbalance and the fall in the first place. From our perspective, preventing injuries is a three-fold path:
Mobility & Joint Resilience
First and foremost, we must build resilient joints. That means both strong and flexible, like young bamboo. With joints that are strong and flexible in every direction, we can sustain impacts without sustaining injuries if the need arises. This training involves joint mobilization exercises like stretching, hanging from our hands, and joint rotations. We target the key areas most people in modern society need to improve: our hips, our ankles, our shoulders, our wrists, our spine, and the way they all coordinate with each other in the real world.
Think about the full range of motion of one of your joints. In the middle of that range of motion, your joint in pretty safe, but closer to end ranges is where injuries most commonly happen. Building resilience is about improving the integrity of the end ranges of your joints, so that the "safe-zone" middle range becomes wider than before. The wider that range, the more likely you are to just walk-it-off when you roll over your ankle instead of nursing a sprain for 3-4 months.
Balance & Proprioceptive Training
When it comes to balance and proprioception, this is where the meat and potatoes of actually preventing a fall comes into play. This is about improving your stability on your feet, being able to lower into a crouch or lunge with control, and building the body-awareness of your feet and the stability of what's supporting you.
This expands our responsiveness to the world around us and improves our ability to stay balanced and the strength and awareness to control our descent when we do lose balance. This training involves refining the techniques of walking on balance beams at standing and crouching levels, a few single leg balancing and strengthening exercises, and other relevant natural movements.
Ukemi: Receiving the Ground with Safe Falling Techniques
Thirdly, we nurture our relationship with the ground by cultivating the techniques of falling safely. The word for this skillset, in Japanese martial arts, is "Ukemi" and means "to receive the ground", so it's more like the ground is catching you, than you fighting against and defeating the fall. This skillset mainly includes techniques of transitioning quickly from standing to lying face down, face up, or on your side, then getting up again.
To begin learning these skills, we first practice lying down in the end-positions, then we "fall" from a crawling position, and when we are comfortable, we can try from a crouching position, and then eventually build up to falling from standing in way that protects you from injury. These are vital skills that everyone should cultivate, especially if you feel intimidated by the thought of falling.
Personal Development for Longevity and Quality of Life
Improve the way you move and grow more confident, competent, and resilient through the improvement of your body awareness, movement skill, and physical capability. Bulletproof your joints, bolster your balance, and learn to fall with grace, because everyone is going to fall at some point, and whether you bounce back up to your feet or end up nursing an injury can be largely affected by the content of this program.
People shouldn't be afraid of falling. The fear often evokes the reaction to throw out arms out to prevent ourselves from landing, but the floor isn't lava, and you don't have Winter Soldier arms. When you find yourself in that moment when you realize that you have lost your balance and you're going down, if you've practiced safe-falling, it will be a welcome break from standing, and you'll be proud of yourself after getting up without so much as a bump or bruise.
In my mind, injury prevention is all about cultivating our relationship and familiarity with the ground. It's about becoming confident in our ability to fall as a human movement skill, and using this practice to reintegrate the evolutionary action of getting up and down from the ground more regularly. No other form of training will enhance your quality of life and prevent major setbacks to your health, freedom of movement and well-being like one focused on Injury Prevention. It's something that should be a part of everyone's life.