A Short Treatise on the Art of Falling Gently
(Especially for Ice Skating)
and Other Methods of Injury Prevention

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Table of Contents

Falling is the Most Natural Motion in the World For Any Two Footed Beastie
Basic Principles
Pain as an Indicator
Art Falls and Combat Rolls
The ISI Fall
The USFSA Fall
The PSA Fall
The Back Roll
The Forward Roll
The Forward Slide
The Sideways Roll
The Sideways Slide
Twisting Falls
Range of Motion Injuries
Split Falls and Controlled Tension
Learning New Moves
Falling As a Child
The "Evil" Adult
The Adult Athlete
Begin Your Study
Why You Can Injure Yourself
The Classic Ankle Sprain
Injury Prevention as a Core Skill of Athletics
Iron Body vs Willow Tree
Other Methods for Injury Prevention
Biology and Medicine as Soft Sciences
Learning to heal your individual body
Cool Down
DOMS (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness); Progression
A Good Book on Diet and Exercise
Rules of Balance
The goals of sports medicine
Controlling Inflammation
Bandaging and Taping
Protective Gear
Modifying boot and shoe fit and balance
Proper Hygiene
Walking and running
Finding a good coach
Related Links
Further Reading


This is my personal approach to the art of falling gently and injury prevention in general. I have no medical training or other formal background for this. It is largely based on personal experiment and intuition, not epidemiology or numeric modeling. I am a middle aged adult attempting to learn athletic skills without the benefit of a childhood athletic background, and have had injuries as a consequence. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes.

To some extent my approach to injury prevention is unconventional. There is a general medical consensus that most injuries and deaths occur as a result of falls, especially in the elderly:
  CDC: Preventing Falls Among Older Adults
  Falls (in Colorado)
  Falls Among Older Adults in Colorado
  Fall Injuries Among Colorado Children Ages 0 to 14

There is at least one academic study suggesting specific techniques can prevent injuries:
  Analysis of movement strategies during unexpected falls
  (Above link discontinued: see his resume)
and a few that show that Tai Chi practice (which may or may not have included falls) can remove most of the fear of falling in the elderly.

More significantly, there is extensive training available on the art of falling in those sports where falls are most frequent, such as the martial arts, football, wrestling, gymnastics, and skydiving.

I believe fall-associated injuries often happen before you hit, from the forces you create inside you when you try to fight the fall too hard, and are almost completely preventable if you practice falling gently. I have become a serious fanatic of fall practice, and some friends find this quite humorous. (Laughter is good!) Nonetheless, I hope that my gentle readers find this essay useful.

Most of these falls were refined while ice/figure skating, and won't work on rough surfaces or terrain. Modification is also required when wearing anything that restricts your range of motion, like downhill skis, even if it is itself designed to prevent injuries, such as the helmets, wrist guards, knee and elbow pads that roller skaters use, or if you have a history of joint dislocation or other condition that restricts your range of motion, such as the ability to lift your arms high.

I ignore the falls and collisions that occur in contact sports, where you can be injured by the weight or impact of an opponent.

These methods may not work for you. Use at your own risk. There are no guarantees. Like all athletic activities, fall practice can hurt you too. I simply believe it will prevent more injuries than it causes. I believe not practicing falls is the main reason adults become seriously injured.

I believe in taking responsibility for your own safety. Find the inner balance to make your own decisions to maintain it; you know your own body better than anyone else. But if you have any doubts, especially if you are elderly or you are unusually fragile, consult with your personal physician, trainer or coach. For example, if you have a history of spinal injury or the inability to bend or straighten the knee.

Falling is the Most Natural Motion in the World For Any Two Footed Beastie

It has to be. Humans are designed to fall. There are easily learned body part trajectories which allow a safe and gentle descent to the surface.

Once you master it, falling is not a means of injury, but a means of preventing it. Falling safely is a basic component of the human design.

To me this came as a fundamental life changing revelation that made it possible to gain at least some of the athletic skill I lacked. Some people have religious revelations. I learned to fall.


The most important step towards injury prevention in falls is the knowledge that it can be done. An amazing number of adults think they can not possibly control their motions in the limited time required to fall to the surface. It is a problem of elementary physics to estimate the minimum time to reach the surface, from a standing position. For a typical height adult, this is approximately 0.6 to 0.7 seconds, far more than the 0.3 to 0.4 seconds required to respond to the danger using a well-practiced motion that involves a decision. (Reaction times of 0.1 to 0.2 seconds have been cited for reactions that require no decision, such as your preliminary attempt to recover balance.) But you do not have the time to figure out what to do during a fall; fall practice is the best response to this problem.

I lack experience with death spirals, head bangers, lifts and throws, and will not attempt to give advise on such matters. They clearly present special challenges, due to lower time to impact or greater force.

Falling gently requires practice to the extant that the motions become almost instinctive. Good athletes develop a vocabulary of practiced move sequences that can be executed with little thought. Falling reactions should become a part of this vocabulary.

I am too much a coward to snow board. Falls on snow boards can be faster, because the edge can catch on the snow, causing the body to rapidly rotate in the air, bringing the top of the body down faster then gravitational free fall. A fast snow boarder may only have .3 to .4 seconds, on the boundaries of achievability. To a much lesser extant, catching a figure skating toe pick on the ice has some of the same effect, but there is still plenty of margin for practiced responses.

In response to my remarks, some people have pointed out that if you are moving forwards fast enough, skating spirals (arabesque positions) also have short times for response, if you hit your toe pick or a bump, because your upper body rotates around about your center, driven by your forwards momentum, and you are lower to the ice to begin with.

Basic Principles

It is important that you also use the techniques mentioned in the section on Other Methods for Injury Prevention. For example, warm up prior to practice, to make injuries during the practice itself much less likely and to ease the effects of joint inflammation and imperfect freedom of motion. Again, you should use a gradual activity cool down after practice.

Wear gloves during practice, to avoid minor abrasions. At early learning stages wear thicker clothing, such as sweatpants and sweatshirts [U.S. "Pants" = U.K. "trousers"] and/or use padding (e.g., computer mouse pads or bubble wrap cut to size) under your clothing at hips and knees, or wherever you feel vulnerable.

A general rule of thumb for most athletics is to use the minimum necessary muscle tension to properly guide the body part trajectory. Excess tension wastes energy, reduces actual control, and causes injury. Good athletes do not try to gain precise trajectory control through excess tension. Instead, practice the motion sufficiently until you can create an acceptable motion without using much tension.

Only once you can execute the desired motions with minimal tension, or just that amount needed to cushion impact, does it make sense to use classic strength and flexibility training, and bandaging and taping techniques.

For the most part: Without tension there can be no injury. Few people are genuinely "injury prone", some just move wrong. "Go with the flow", "Let the force be with you", and the pulled muscles, ligament sprains, muscle strains, and broken bones will mostly go away.

This is a primary distinction between young children and typical adults. The athletic young child doesn't even have the muscle strength needed to create "strong lines" and "precise movements". They move with more finesse than effort. I think this is one of the reasons they learn things more quickly than adults. Some motions, such as spins, jumps, and other moves where balance is difficult, require mostly relaxed muscles when executed at full speed. The adult attempt to learn the motions at slower speed requires greater muscle use, and often requires muscle tension in the wrong direction, relative to what is needed when performed at full speed (e.g., weight support when none is needed). When that motion is sped up to full speed, the practiced muscle patterns are all wrong.

This adult learning pattern is exacerbated by the adult fear of falling. Athletic children often practice by blending a spin, jump, or other move requiring balance into a planned fall. This allows them to end the motion without significant tension. They learn the beginning motion at full speed, adding little bits and pieces until it is complete. When the skill is mastered, they learn to adjust the point of balance by shifting the base of support (e.g., moving their feet and legs under them), with very little tension. The adult tries to end all stages of learning by forcing themselves into proper pose and balance, which requires a great deal of muscle. This can lead to injury, practices improper muscle use, and causes incorrect muscle memory and inability to master the motion.

Ballet dancers and some elite skaters also learn to use internal muscles - those closest to the bones and joints - in preference to external muscles. This cuts down on the friction associated with the sheer - sliding of layers of tissue over each other - which is necessary to extended motion, and thereby makes motion much easier. I think children learn this trick much easier, which may partially account for how easily they learn complex motions like axels. Of course everything has its price: the contraction of external muscles over the internal muscles creates frictional forces between them, stabilizing the joints. People with high levels of flexibility, including ballet dancers, sometimes need to stabilize joints to prevent dislocation. My coach says I use too little internal tension. Some stabilization is needed to create good artistic form. But too much external tension increases sheer stress, because no slippage occurs.

If you would master athletic skills as an adult, learn to learn and move as a child learns and moves.

Once you have stopped wasting your strength compensating for improper technique for a given move, you can add the use of strength to create stronger lines if you wish, then abandon it if something goes wrong.

Use motions that look and feel graceful. It is perfectly logical that we judge beauty partly by functional criteria. It is attractive for body part alignment and motion to follow those lines that minimize the forces which waste energy or lead to injury. The perception of motion safety and engineering efficiency as handsome or beautiful is a desirable trait for any species which is to survive.

Falls are mastered and maintained through practice. Lots of practice.

Begin your study of falls on soft mats or rugs. Start falling from a sitting position, then advance to kneeling position, then a standing position. These precautions and positions give you a greater margin of error, and help remove the fear. Once you have mastered the art of falling with complete gentleness under easy conditions, you are ready to practice falls from a standing position, or advance to harder surfaces. Likewise, to practice safe stair falls, start your practice on the very last step, in a location such that there is adequate space after the steps to roll without impact.

When practicing a jump, practice falling safely first from all the positions and in all the directions that a mistake could possibly push you into.

The best falls are whole body falls. Spread the impact onto as much of your body as possible, sequencing the partial absorptions onto a series of body parts, though rolls or slides. The roll or slide must start in the air, before you hit, so that the initial impact is soft. Never try to take the whole force of the impact onto one body part, such as the arms or elbows or hands. If possible, roll or slide through the body parts that are best cushioned with muscle or fat, avoiding the bony parts such as elbows, knees, chin, top or back of the skull, or the base of the spine. Any of those body parts safely can be part of a roll or slide, but no body part is strong enough to safely take the force of an unplanned fall in of itself. Determine which parts of your body can safely and softly bear the most weight by careful experimentation. Use these parts to bear initial impact and try to flow through them, but even those parts should not take more than a few pounds of pressure.

The safest falls also spread the absorption of energy and momentum through as many body parts and mechanisms as possible. Compression of soft tissue and bone, stretching against the tension of muscles and ligaments, sheer between tissue layers, production and dissipation of sound and vibration (physicists say pressure, sheer and boundary layer waves), flow of fluids within cells - anything you can think of.

I believe that selective flexibility plays a large part in injuries. For example, I did Yoga style flexibility exercises for a couple decades. I had limited success. Only some muscles, as well as my ligaments and joint capsules stretched much. Certain leg and core muscles limited all my motions. This is because muscles don't stretch well unless they are warm - which mostly happens if you exercise them shortly before trying to stretch them. I didn't have much awareness of different muscles, and simply wasn't using some of them - so they never got warm enough to stretch. My interpretation of the injuries that followed is that those tight muscles were then quite vulnerable to injury for two reasons:

  1. The entire force of stopping the bodies motions at the limits of flexibility fell on those muscles. It is better to have many muscles, ligaments and joint capsules simultaniously limit flexibility, to spread the stress. For example, if the activities you perform are limited by your flexibility in straight leg stretches, do not do bent knee stretches. Bent knee stretches release tension on the muscles, but still stretch your ligaments and joint capsules. Activities like Yoga that stretch everything to its limits unselectively often causes injuries.
  2. Without much use, those muscles were relatively weak. Strength training of all your muscles is an extremely important form of injury prevention.

I now play with a particular form of PNF stretching, which you are welcome to try: Start by doing a gradual general warm-up, using gentle aerobic exercises to warm the muscles. In the course of the warm-up, increase your range of joint motion to where it can easily go, without trying to stretch that range. Do a brief test stretch that you require for what you want to be able to do - e.g., I want to be able to bend forward in standing position more, and to come closer to acheaving a straight leg split position, so I try to do that. Try to feel which muscles are under tension and are limiting the range of motion. This may be harder than you think - you have very little sensation in your "deep muscles" (not next to the skin), unless you exercise them to the point that they become sore. Then use strength training (e.g., push ups, pull ups, sit-ups, weight lifting) that specifically use and tire-out the muscles that limit your range of motion. Pay attention to what muscles you are using - the human body can do almost any given motion using any of a number of different sets of muscles. Then stretch, gradually and without bounces. The strength training both selectively warms the muscles you need to stretch, so those muscles are more ready to stretch, and also makes them too tired out for the stretch to be limited by the stretch reflex (the instinctive reflex for muscles to fight stretches). Be careful - the stretch reflex is usually desireable, and supressing it in a non-gentle stretch could injure you.

The need to roll or slide through the fall is so important that it is probably safer to fall moving fast than standing still. Partly because "static friction" is greater than "sliding friction", partly because motion spreads out the impact. Sliding falls are more gentle on smooth surfaces like ice and snow, but are dangerous on rough surfaces - so martial artists and skydivers emphasize rolling falls.

After mastering falls on soft surfaces, smooth polished floors are ideal for practice and can be found in aerobics rooms, basketball and racquetball courts, ballroom dance studios, or your kitchen. Some dance floors designed for ballet look smooth, but have small scale roughness to prevent slides. If you try to slide on them, they feel sticky and may abrade skin. Sliding falls require more care on such surfaces, and smoother surfaces are better for initial practice.

Impacts on fully straightened joints (e.g., elbows, knees, shoulders, hips, fingers) are very hard on the body. For example, if you fall forwards, instinct may cause you to throw the arms forwards, a reasonable motion that helps you form the arm wheel I will discuss later, and which tends to push you back into balance. Fear may accentuate this into a taut straight arm position that dislocates shoulders and shatters bones.

A key element to gentle falls is to begin the roll or slide that spreads out the force of impact before the actual impact. A slight push off of your feet as you start to fall helps to give you the back, forward or sideways momentum to spread out the impact. This is the only real muscle use you should feel in safe falls (except the range of motion falls discussed later). Most of these falls should feel like a gradual progressive relaxation of muscle tension. By the time you end on the surface, you are completely relaxed.

Make the falling motion a continuation of the balancing motion, so you will have time to complete the action. Ideally, it should mostly just be a muscle relaxation.

E.g., When most people start to fall fowards, they rapidly push there arms straight out in front of their bodies (which pushes their body back, and helps re-establish balance, but which is dangerous if it continues into the impact), bend their knees a little (lowering the center of gravity), and take a half step forwards (which broadens their base of support, and helps re-establish balance). If this does not restore balance, just relax, which rebends the elbows a little and allows the arms to continue to raise above shoulder level, the arms slide gently forwards against the floor, gradually absorbing the impact. In contrast, retucking into a forwards sommersault may work, but takes much more time, because it is not a continuation of the balancing motions, and because it takes you through a position where your head is exposed to impact.

Likewise, when most people start to fall back, they bend and thrust their elbows rapidly back (which pushes the rest of the body forwards, but exposes the elbows to impact), bend their knees a little (lowering the center of gravity), and maybe take a half step back. If this does not restore balance, just relax, which lets the arms and elbows swing forwards out of the impact zone, lets your head and neck tilt forwards so the head doesn't smash hard against the floor, and you will just roll back a little, but stop as your legs pitch backwards. In contrast, a full backwards sommersault may work, but takes much more time, and if you don't complete the full tuck, your head will again be in a dangerously exposed position, and your neck may get injured too.

If you swing your arms forward at full length, that has the opposite effect of thrusting them forwards from close to your body - it rotates your body into a forwards fall, or out of a backwards fall. That is because the arm swing absorbs some of the body's "angular momentum" - a measure of the motions that tend to make you spin. Likewise a backwards arm swing pushes you into a backwards fall, or out of a forwards fall - but be careful, because it is easy to place your arms backwards into a position where they can easily dislocate if you land on them.

A sideways fall can be similar to a forwards or backwards fall. You need just one arm forwards, or roll diagonally backwards

Regardless, you need to find motion sequences which regain balance well and naturally for you, and practice using them to regain balance.

One last comment. At the time most of this was written, I spent a great deal of time practicing falls. For perhaps a couple years I suffered no athletic injuries of any note. I have now lost some of my enthusiasm for such practice, and that is probably the reason I have had a couple ankle sprains, a bruised hip and one pulled muscle over the last 8 or 10 years. That is still down from my former habit of about one ankle sprain / week, and none of the injuries have been severe, but is disappointing. This is typical of people who practice exercise designed to prevent injury. Only the most dedicated athletes have the enthusiasm to keep it up.

UPDATE as of 11/2017: I developed another injury, potentially much more serious, one I didn't know enough about to avoid. Specifically, I developed an inguinal hernia, which means something inside the abdominal wall protrudes through a hole in the abdominal wall. Apparently, hernias often appear when you work out too hard - e.g., weighted squats, some lifts pull-ups. I had been pushing my strength training to my physical limits. I had even over-trained a bit. I did a lot of strength training, without much aerobics (cardio) or abs training. My surgeon isn't willing to say that caused it - he even claims he sees no correlation between weight lifting and hernias, though the hospital literature claims otherwise. Some people claim abdominal training can help prevent hernias. Other people claim the whole often occurs in the connective tissue rather than the muscle tissue, and cannot be prevented. Regardless it is pretty common, affecting almost 1/3 of men. The surgeon says I can now return to full level training now that the pain is gone. My doctor says I should take it easy for now, and that exercise should emphasize aerobics and possibly some core training, and avoid weighted squats. I'm lucky that the repair surgery went well, and that the rather minimal pain (from the surgery - it never hurt, there was just a bulge) went away after about 12 days. But I'm very puzzled as to how to proceed in resuming training. I guess the safe approach is to take it easy on all forms of strength training for now, and not to push it too much in the future.

Pain as an Indicator

My rule of thumb: If a practice fall generates any pain, it is bad. The total absence of pain during planned practice falls is the indicator that there is enough margin of error for use in unplanned safety falls. Your practice falls should be completely comfortable, and you should be able to repeat them tens or hundreds of times in a session without harm.

(Taking pain medications gets rid of the sensation of pain, but not its cause. It can prevent you from realizing you are hurting yourself.)

These rules may change for people with arthritis, for whom any motion is painful, though a proper warm-up may alleviate this.

More discussion here on preventing pain in relation to cool downs and DOMS.

Art Falls and Combat Rolls

This is in direct contrast to the pain that sometimes occurs in the planned art falls of dance or the combat rolls of the martial arts.

Falling is taught by many coaches for many purposes. Baseball players seek a rapid slide with a low profile so that they will not be tagged "out". Martial artists seek a fast recovery to fighting stance. Some planned modern dance falls, such as percussion back falls and push up falls, also seek a fast recovery, so deliberately accentuate the tension at the bottom of the fall. Theatric (stunt) pratfalls are supposed to look dangerous, and are. Falls done for artistic or competitive advantage are often not very gentle, because of such constraints. Unplanned safety falls need a larger margin of error than planned falls, because body part placement and timing are not as good. In artistic and sports specific falls, careful timing, combined with extensive physical conditioning, are used to make falls safer. In the case of the martial arts, many thousands or tens of thousands of hours of practice, including exercises to strengthen all elements of the body, are required to achieve a good margin of safety.

Some masters of dance and the martial arts may be able to use those inherently more dangerous falls fairly safely, but most of us do not choose to spend the thousands of hours of continuous training and practice required.

The ISI Fall

There are two major organizations to which ice skaters in the USA belong, the ISI and the USFSA [which has in some contexts been renamed to the USFS]. Many coaches also belong to the PSA. At last check, the instruction manuals of both organizations teach falls that I consider dangerous, perhaps because they want something easy to teach in 60 seconds to a group, perhaps because many who write manuals for athletic organizations do not participate in the sport itself, or because the volunteers who write them are not always the best authors and teachers.

The ISI Skaters and Coaches Manual advises you to fall back directly onto your rear end and then roll. This places a tremendous stress on the sit bone and lower spine. If you skate or engage in other dance-like sports for a few years, you will meet people who have long-term damage to their back and spine because of such a fall. If you mess up and continue the fall flat onto your back, you can damage the upper back too, and are likely to hit your head hard on the ice, one of the most common serious injuries seen on ice.

Changing this to a gentle fall is rather easy. As you begin to fall backwards, you should tuck and roll. Gymnasts and martial artists are taught to tuck their chin into their chest, to prevent whiplash, and to keep the head in a safe rolling position. A full tuck is not really needed for most ice skating, but does no harm. You may want to try the Aikido modification, in which you role diagonally across the back, so that the head never comes near impact. In any event, always begin the rolling motion before you hit.

In other words, the fall I already mentioned here.

The USFSA Fall

The equivalent USFSA book advises you to land backwards onto your hip, then roll. A perfect way to shatter the spine or hip. You can make this somewhat gentler by beginning the roll before you hit. This is more a dance fall than a safety fall, because proper timing is needed to do it without injury.

The PSA Fall

The PSA Snowplow Sam instructor's course advises you to tuck, then land sideways onto your hip. A nice gentle fall, when it is practical.

But I still prefer the fall I mentioned here.

Relaxation is key to the safe implementation of both the ISI and USFSA falls. Good athletes almost always use only that minimum amount of tension needed to guide body parts into a proper and safe trajectory.

Both of these falls are backwards falls. Many accidental falls are forwards, and a few are sideways. You should practice all directions of fall, and nearly all points of initial impact.

The Back Roll

The basic concepts were already discussed in connection with the ISI Fall.

As you fall backwards, tuck your chin into your chest, curve your spine forwards a little (as though you were starting to touch your toes, but do not extend your arms), and bend (tuck) forwards at the hip to begin the roll mid-air. Impact on your butt, rolling onto your back. Your legs stay fairly straight, and your hips allow the legs to come closer to your chest to absorb the momentum. The hips then straighten to land the legs more or less flat on the surface.

A gymnast might do a full backwards somersault, but that is unnecessary, and places the head at some risk, especially on rough surfaces.

I generally keep my arms forwards of the body to avoid impacting the elbows.

The Forward Roll

Forwards rolls are also modified somersaults. Tuck and roll. Make it gentler by forming an arm wheel on one side of the body: join your hands together into a wheel and twist your spine and upper body to one side, as your spine and hip tuck forwards, starting the roll. In my example twist to the left. Initial impact is on the (right) forearm. This causes you to roll diagonally (right to left) across the spine, and miss the head altogether, instead of somersaulting more dangerously down the spine and over the neck. In an Aikido roll the arm wheel would stay rigid, allowing a rapid roll back to standing pose. In our gentler fall, the arm wheel collapses to absorb momentum, and you do not have to return to standing pose. If it pleases, you may still want to end with your weight on your (right) foot, with your (right) knee bent as though you were going to return to standing pose by straightening it.

Some people believe falls should never use the arms, because the risk of falling forwards on straight arms, or backwards onto your elbows, is too great. But if you practice these falls, using the arms along with other body parts helps spread the impact to extreme gentleness. A key is to use the arms to guide the body trajectory, but to take very little force.

As mentioned earlier, a forwards fall becomes gentler if you push gently against the surface with your feet as it the fall starts, to throw yourself into greater forwards motion. Also as mentioned there, this is the only part of the fall in which you notice any muscle use.

The Forward Slide

There exist a few milliseconds during a forward roll in which improper timing could lead to a head impact. Therefore a forward slide is gentler, on smooth surfaces like snow and level ice. Done properly this is a gentler fall, at least on smooth surfaces. Sliding falls on rough surfaces like asphalt or loose rock are much harder, unless you are wearing protection, as do some inline skaters. (With practice you can slide on asphalt with nothing more than long pants [U.S. "Pants" = U.K. "trousers"], but there is little reason to do so.

In other words, the fall I already mentioned here.

The fall described here requires that you have the shoulder flexibility to reach your arms over your head.

As you fall forwards, bend forwards at the hip and roll forwards at the spine while folding you elbows and shoulders. The elbows are parallel, aligned with the shoulders, and more or less rest against your sides. Just before you hit, you start to slide them forwards. Impact lightly on the forearms, which continue to slide forwards on the surface as the arms and shoulders straighten and your hip and spine straightens. The arms end up extending fully forwards (would be over your head, if you were standing) when you are fully extended on the surface, while your whole body slides forwards.

The fall becomes gentler if you push against the surface with your feet as it starts, to throw yourself into greater forwards motion. And remember to use the arms to guide the fall, not to take much of the impact.

Some women worry forward falls might bruise their breasts. If done right, as with all these falls, the impact should be no more than a few pounds per square inch, but if the fear persists, use the sideways slide, mentioned later, instead.

The Sideways Roll

In many cases that you start to fall sideways you can modify it into a backwards or forwards roll or slide, or a sideways slide. But practice doing sideways rolls too, for rough surfaces. Falling sideways, you move somewhat towards a kneeling position, and push off feet to accentuate the sideways motion, then straighten your body as you hit, going into a longitudinal roll about your central axis (the line that goes up and down your spine.)

The arms stay straight down your sides, or straight over your head. Or they form a slight arm wheel across your body, which collapses as you hit.

The otherwise similar Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) does not use the arms against the surface, because parachute jumpers use a chute to make their descent gentler. Instead, their arms hang onto the control lines to slow the body's fall and avoid entanglement. Most athletic activities are performed without parachutes, so using your arms can be very helpful, provided they don't take too much of the whole shock.

The sideways roll is a great way of dealing with many accidental collisions and partner falls. You and your collision partner push off and to the sides of each other, giving yourselves the momentum to go into gentle sideways rolls. For example, if your partner falls backwards on you, push back against them to provide separation (at the expense of increasing your rate of fall), then push them to the side, so you both end up with gentle falls. Several people emphasize that letting go of your partner (e.g., of hand holds) is paramount, because it allows her/him to control their own fall. Unfortunately, it is hard to find people brave enough to practice deliberate mutual collisions, so most of us must practice against walls.

The Sideways Slide

On smooth surfaces, sideways slides are sometimes gentler. My preference is to use a modified forward slide. Roll a little to one side (say, to the left), fold the (left) elbow into the body as in the forward slide. Just before you hit, start extending the (left) forearm. Impact on side of the (left) forearm and continue sliding it forwards as you slide forwards.

In other words, the fall I already mentioned here.

Twisting Falls

Twisting falls, in which you spiral down to the surface, are probaby the gentlest way of falling on smooth surfaces. They also represent an initial practice technique for ending spins and jumps.

As you collapse to the surface, bending knees and tucking forwards, twist your upper spine around (e.g., to the left). Impact on your (left, then right) forearms, and spin around on the surface (to your left) as you straighten your body a little.

Twists can be a fun way to combine rolls and slides. I have been playing with a forwards slide in which I use an arm wheel to twist my body around (to the right), ending in a slide down my back and spine and rotating 360 degrees around until my right foot steps forwards and I stand up.

Spiral moves are probably too complicated to be anything but a choreographed dance-like move for most falls. But done right, they are very gentle, spreading the impact everywhere. And they are a perfect way to fall out of rotational jumps, ending in a very safe low impact fall.

Range of Motion Injuries, and related falls

We have focused on injuries occurring from direct impact, and from excess internally generated tension. Another common type of injury occurs if your joints are forced beyond their normal range of motion. For example, if you fall into a partial split position, or onto an open hip, the momentum may force you into a full split, or a fully open hip, which you may not have the flexibility to safely achieve. Some knee ligament injuries may be in this category, though I suspect most of those are complicated by internally generated tension. The falls you will need to safely deal with these situations may be very sports specific. For example, an open hip or knee injury is most likely if you are wearing equipment that constrains your motion in other ways which could otherwise absorb some of the force. Instead of full relaxation, you will need controlled tension. Perhaps some people with extreme flexibility need controlled external muscle tension to prevent dislocations. (Recall the prior discussion of internal vs external muscles.)

We have already discussed balancing the flexibility of various body parts, so all the force of the excess range of motion doesn't fall on just a few body parts.

Split Falls and Controlled Tension

Consider the accidental split falls that sometimes occur while downhill skiing. Downhill ski equipment is designed to reduce the body flexibility in order to enhance control. But this stops the natural motions and flows needed to prevent injury. The problem is complicated by attachment to heavy boots which add gravitational and inertial force to internal tension, and to the skis which further restrict your normal motions. The situation can only be worsened by the non-releasing bindings used on trick ski boards. If you roll forwards or back, with each leg to its own side, the fall will pry apart your legs and hips. In such case, insufficient internal tension can also cause injury, because the stretch continues until the end of the range of motion, at which point the motion stops abruptly. Some internal tension is needed to cushion the final impact. Still better would be to use initial muscle tension to throw both legs to the same side of the body, and prevent the problem altogether.

If you do a split jump wrong, you can be forced by impact with the ground into a wide open split that may do harm. A possible solution would be the same controlled tension techniques as that mentioned above. Ideally you would attempt to get your feet back together as much as possible before the impact. My knowledge of deliberate split falls is severely limited by my lack of flexibility, so find another teacher!

The balance required to use enough tension to control the motion, without using so much that you injure yourself or interfere with the motion, is an athletic skill that must be learned through a great deal of practice.

Another approach is would be to avoid split falls and other large range of motion falls altogether. For example, the greater flexibility allowed by cross country ski equipment avoids most of the injuries that downhill ski equipment causes. But some people love downhill, and some skaters and dancers love split jumps.

Learning New Moves

Laura Cox (the dance kinesiologist mentioned later) notes that newly learned moves pose a special danger because you may use excess muscle tension to over-control the motion.

Always make sure that you can safely fall out of every position in a new move, before attempting to master the move itself.


You should learn to adapt these gentle fall techniques to preventing injuries in other situations, such as collisions with walls and other people, and you can learn to try not to hurt other less well trained individuals in such collisions.

Falling as a Child

Young children are the supreme masters of falling gently. It is one of the very first mastered motor skills. At least the more athletic toddlers joyfully struggle to their feet, then plummet back down, usually taking little hurt. They learn such skills very easily, and have little fear.

(Caution: This is my impression, based on kids at ice rinks. But (statistics say kids can get hurt a lot. Perhaps because they fall more often?) Further, having now volunteered to help teach kids at a local rink, it is clear that some children are not so adept.

I do not know whether these childhood skills are genetically instinctive, or learned by experiment. It is of no consequence. When a motion is practiced enough, it becomes instinctive, for all intents and purposes. Many parents of young children take this process in stride, and encourage their children's experiments.

The "Evil" Adult

At some point in your young life, perhaps as an early teen, you encounter The Evil Adult. They see you fall, rush over, and worriedly ask whether you are all right. In that moment you learn that falling is bad. So begins your lifelong fear of falling, with the majority of life's injuries as a direct consequence.

Or perhaps some of your peers laughed at you after a fall, the most feared experience of a young teen's life.

Learn to be unaffected by the well meaning comments of The Evil Adult. If you learn nothing else from this page, at least learn not to be The Evil Adult. Instead, applaud those displaying the gentlest falls, and seek to emulate them. Sometimes it's fun to copy the fall, landing beside them with a smile of your own, or to ask them to show you how it's done.

Even if they may be hurt, don't crowd too close around them. Watch to see if they can't get up because of the pain. If they can't, making them get up can hurt them more.

Some people, like ice skating rink guards, are taught professionally to be The Evil Adult. Such a shame.

The best example I have seen of dealing with The Evil Adult was by a lovely young lady who had just completed a fabulously perfect split fall. She slid slowly into a full box split, landing with great and deliberate gentleness on the entire bottom surface of her legs. I envy the flexibility that makes that possible! The young rink guard skated over and asked if she was hurt. She showed no trace of annoyance. She smiled a beautiful smile, reached up her hands, and allowed him to pull her to her feet, in perfect motion reversal. She used the opportunity to practice dazzling young gentlemen. Such poise.

I believe being hurt while falling is not a biological requirement. It is a cultural error. If we taught people to practice falls throughout their lives, most injuries would never happen.

The Adult Athlete

Some smart people are athletic throughout their lives. They often learn early and well the skills of moving safely and effectively, and never forget them. Those of us who begin athletic activities later in life, after forgetting those skills, face more difficulty.

A visit to the ice rink is an excellent opportunity to watch and learn from athletic children. Let the children be your guides.

Some children are more athletic and better at falling than others. Copy them. You sometimes find them joyfully playing and competing at falls. (Who can slide the farthest? Who can be the greatest nuisance?)

Many adults without a childhood athletic background believe they no longer have the potential to move as well as these children move. I believe our best chance at learning to move as athletic children move is to analyze how they learn to move, and to learn as they learn. One of the basic keys is eliminating the fear that creates excess tension. Falling practice can eliminate the fear of falling, and teach you how flow through other impacts without harm. It also provides a way of completing imperfectly executed moves like spins and jumps at full speed without injury, by blending the end of the move into a harmless fall.

Children have some advantages. On average, they learn faster and more fearlessly. If they do get hurt, they heal faster. They have faster reflexes and a relatively lower center of gravity. They have soft cartilage many places we have hard bone (but cartilage hurt too badly makes the child grow wrong). Their bodies are more resilient in general. Their muscles, ligaments, joints and bones are more flexible (but extending flexibility too far too young, like forcing them into splits, can cause permanent harm). Most young children have not yet lost their whole body physical fitness. For example, they have the leg and torso strenth to raise their leg to waist or higher level, in any direction. Adult muscles are stronger, but not enough to cope with the greater relative weight and lesser flexibility. Finally, if you start learning dance-like moves young enough (perhaps by age 5 or 6), your muscles, ligaments and bones will all shape themselves so as to create smooth flowing graceful motions - this happens more slowly and less completely in adults.

As an example, when most adult learners jump, they cautiously spread their legs fairly wide and put lots of tension into their legs and hips so they stay locked in that position. This is bad because the tension and straight leg position break bones or overstretch muscle and ligament when you hit. It also makes rotational jumps difficult, because you need to move your legs together, even bend and cross one over the other for a fast spin. It is hard to overcome, especially in poor balance situations, like on the ice.

But rejoice! Much of this can be overcome. As an adult you must work hard to return your muscles to that level of fitness. The fear component can be partly overcome through practice.

One last point. When you watch a kid learn a freestyle move in one lesson, remember that they are not typical. Out of the kids who come to an ice rink at least once, maybe one in ten thousand or a hundred thousand or less gets to that level, due to a combination of determination, support, and raw athletic talent. On the other hand, many of us adults stick with it regardless of innate talent. So the difference between typical kids and adults isn't as large as most of us think - if we try to compare extraordinary kids with more typical adults like the majority of ourselves, it is not surprising that we come up short.

Begin Your Study

Begin your study of the art of injury prevention by understanding the source of injury. You can impact the ground or other surface so hard that bones shatter, due to the force of impact. Contrary to popular assumption, relatively few injuries fit that description. Those that do mostly occur because fear hardens the body.

Most injuries are caused wholly or partially by unnecessary internal tension of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Those injuries that do occur from impact are usually augmented by internal tension, and would not have occurred if the impact was not countered by internal tension, or if the party had chosen another motion trajectory.

I once believed I had weak ankles, bones, ligaments and tendons, and was therefore injury prone in general. This was incorrect. Being injury prone mostly just means not knowing how to move. Knowledge, practice and training can eliminate nearly all injuries. Those injuries that remain can be mostly limited to minor league bumps and strains (pulled muscles), whose effects go away after a few minutes. These are a normal part of the athletic training process, and should be used to learn your current limits.

Why You Can Injure Yourself

Some people believe well designed machines cannot injure themselves, and that the human body should be similarly designed. This is a complete misunderstanding of the environment in which your ancestors had to survive.

Humans are designed to fight predators, prey, and, unfortunately, each other. So you have strong enough muscle to break bones and tear ligaments and muscles, even your own.

I believe this means that when a bone breaks during a fall, it often happens before the impact actually occurs. This is seldom realized, because the pain is not noticed until the victim tries to get up.

It may also be why breaks fractures and tears and dislocations often occur in the "wrong" direction. For example, if you fall forwards onto outstretched straight arms, the most common form of shoulder dislocation is forwards, not backwards, which suggests that the dislocation occurs as a result of your excess muscle compensation, rather than as a result of the impact itself. (In fairness, bone structure also makes backwards dislocation of the shoulder harder.) Likewise ankle sprains frequently injure the ligament on the opposite side of the foot from where it seems it should.

The effect is worsened because range of motion is severely lessoned by excess muscle tension, for two reasons:
(a) The muscle length itself is shortened.
(b) Sheer (sliding between tissue layers) is curtailed by friction caused by external muscle tension. In other words, the external muscles tighten, then press down on all the inner layers so hard they can no longer slide against each other.

To see this, try rotating about your waist with relaxed muscles. Now tighten the muscles near your tummy and lower back - you won't be able to rotate much at all.
An alternate explanation to the aforementioned shoulder dislocation is that the range of motion is so lessened that the only way for the arm bone to move is for it to lever itself out of the shoulder socket.

As you know from Halloween, everyone has a skeleton made of hard bones. Bones can bear a lot of weight, when you consider that they only weigh a few pounds themselves. But they can be crushed, if they are squished too hard or too fast. More often they get forces in the wrong direction: they are easily broken or fractured if you pull, bend or twist them, or any part of them (engineers speak of tension, sheer, torsion).

So you must have soft tissue, like ligaments and muscles. It helps cushion the bones from impact. Ligaments are like rope or webbing - they hold things together. Tendons are like ligaments, but have muscle tissue which pulls the strands from each end together more when you tell them to. (In this essay, "muscle" refers to the combination of tendon and muscle tissue.) The extra pulling forces that ligaments and muscles create help the bones to shape and support the body. They can reduce the pulling, bending and twisting forces that hurt bone so easily. They are analogous to the steel tensile elements in steel-reinforced-concrete (SRC) construction.

Ligaments and muscles get hurt too, if they get stretched too much, by external forces, or if the muscle is used to strongly. Sometimes the bones are pushed out of proper position into a "dislocation". An over-stretched or torn ligament is a "sprain". An over-stretched or torn muscle is a "strain". (Caution: in physics and engineering, stress is force, and strain is the distortion it creates.)

It is apparently quite common for iigaments and muscles to be injured because they are strongly compressed or experience sheer forces, which they are not well designed to take. For example, if when you flex your foot forwards or back, the top of the boot presses strongly againt the back or front of the ankle or leg, if the boot fit is too tight at the top front or rear. The muscle or ligament may then burst. For example, this is an obvious way to burst an achiles tendon, a somewhat common skating injury that requires immediate surgical attention to avoid the permanent death of the burst tissue. Many people never fully recover from such injuries, in spite of immediate surgical attention.

Most joints between bones are lubricated by soft tissue and the special fluids it makes for that purpose, so they don't scrape. Hurting that soft tissue makes bones scrape and grind together, one form of arthritis.

When you fall, try to do so in a way that the forces on your bones are very small, by relaxing most of the usual "muscle tone" that helps support the body. You need just enough muscle to provide just enough control that you land on and flow over soft cushioned body parts, instead of hard ones like knees, elbows, the hard parts of your skull, and the base of your spine. You also use just a little muscle to fight the bad forces that pull and bend and twist bone, but give in gradually as you complete the motion. This spreads out the force of the impact, in time, and over many body parts, like muscles, ligaments, and fluid pressure against the skin.

Although the main function of ligaments is to hold joints together, and the obvious function of muscles is to move and support, these tensile elements have another very important bio-mechanical function relating to the specific strengths and weaknesses of bones. The primary stiffening and support material in bone is a combination of calcium, calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and other calcium compounds - i.e., bone is more or less limestone. Limestone bears compressive load (stresses that squeeze the bone together) fairly well, provided they don't occur too suddenly, but bears tension (stresses that stretch the bone) quite poorly. It bears sheer (sideways stresses, such as if you push on one side of the middle of a long bone, that tend to make one layer of tissue slide against another) somewhat poorly, torsion (twisting stresses), and abrasion (rubbing). The design and shape of bones, and the need for and amount of reinforcement by tensile elements (ligaments, tendons, muscles, and internal fibers) is in large part a direct consequence of these properties. These tensile elements, when functioning optimally, generate forces to reduce or spread out tension, sheer and torsion, and transform them into additional compression.

(Aside for science fiction fans: The shapes and tensile reinforcement would be substantially different if God or Nature had used other materials [e.g., wood, aluminum or steel] in animal skeletons. If skeletons were made out of steel, aluminum, or even wood, bones could fit together closely, the way the parts of a metal mechanical device do. Unfortunately close fits force joints to absorb substantial tension, sheer and torsion at the joint. So bone joints fit together much more loosely, and slide to a position where the force is absorbed into the tension of ligamentous tissue or tendon/muscle fiber.)

(More for science fiction fans: Our limestone skeletons use a series of recurved arches, which tends to compensate tension with added compression, and create extra attachment points for ligaments and tendon/muscles. I think a skeleton made of wood, aluminum, or steel might have sufficient strength against tension, sheer and torsion to allow muscles to pull on them in the most efficient direction. Instead, many or most muscles are oriented or combined in such a way as to act at 5-10% efficiency, because a typical muscle must pull almost inline with the long access of the bone, instead of perpendicular to it, to create compressive load, and another muscle on the opposite side of the bone, where the bone may comes under some tension in response to the compression of the opposite side, may be used to eliminate that tension, at the expense of fighting the first muscle a little. In fact, since much of the mass a muscle must move is the muscle itself and the supporting ligamentous tissue, a wood, steel or aluminum skeleton would allow effective movement with much less muscle fiber. Perhaps alien or engineered biologies based on such materials may be substantially more efficient, and have body profiles which appear intuitively impossible to earth-borne eyes. We are based on a composite bone/ligament/tendon/muscle composite structure, and must align and move accordingly.)

Excess tension, sheer or torsion creates characteristic breaks and fractures and "avulsions" (a tendon or ligament tears away a section of bone). This is particularly important when using motions where alignment of body parts is sub-optimal, so that forces do not compress straight down the axis of long bones, creating tension, sheer and torsion in bones. If you use too much or improperly balanced ligament/tendon/muscle tension, these stresses will damage bones. In addition, excessive force on the tendons and ligaments can destroy themselves, whether generated externally, or by internal contraction.

When many joints are in good condition, bone abrasion is reduced by the membrane that surrounds the bone, by cartilage and by synovial fluid. Sometimes prior injuries have damaged those structures and make future injuries more likely.

The Classic Ankle Sprain

My best guess is that it is more common to break a bone or tear tissue during an attempt to prevent a fall than during the fall impact itself.

Consider the classic ankle sprain, the most common reported athletic injury. The foot is placed on the surface in a turned out or turned in position, which provides inadequate support. You begin to fall, but probably prevent it by muscle tension. Then you notice a stretched muscle, tendon or ligament. You believe it happened because you placed weight on the turned ankle. Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost everyone has enough flexibility to fall to the surface without excessive stretching of anything internal. The strain is precisely in the opposite direction for any kind of impact injury, which compresses rather than stretches. If you had stayed relaxed and embraced the fall, nothing bad would have happened. The strain on a relaxed ankle is insignificant (n.b. that I ignore contact sports, in which another person may fall across your ankle), and can not damage any but the weakest bones. The strain was not caused by weak ankles, though strengthening exercises like ice skating can certainly help, nor was it caused by some genetic disease or some mystical tendency to injury.

Injury was caused by the tension that fear of falling produced. The correct way to respond to stepping on a turned ankle is either to relax and embrace the fall, or to change the point of balance using minimal muscle tension so that your weight is centered directly over your foot.

I believe that most other athletic injuries, such as broken arms and legs, injuries to the shoulder, most ligament sprains, and so forth, follow the same principles.

Of course no single mechanism accounts for all injuries. Other methods of injury prevention will be discussed later.

Not all tension is bad. Controlled muscle tone must be used to cushion the internal impacts against the ends of the range of motion, as well as against direct impacts. As mentioned earlier, carefully crafted muscle tension also helps transform tension, sheer and torsion into compressive load. We have already mentioned that people with excessive flexibility sometimes need muscle tension to stabilize joints. The most common impacts do not have to be dealt with by controlled muscle tone. First practice motion trajectories that reduce those impacts, and learn to give in to impacts as much as you can.

Injury Prevention as a Core Skill of Athletics

All athletic activities involve moving under conditions of enhanced risk. Therefore injury prevention is a core skill at the heart of all athletics. It is best to learn first to prevent injuries, before spending time to improve secondary athletic skills like balance, strength, or speed of response, or you will waste much of your time waiting for injuries to heal, and give up the attempt.

A person with common sense would purely use gentle falls as a means of preventing injury. Common sense, like all things normal, is no fun at all. I was born with a genetic defect: I lack the gene for common sense. Many of my readers suffer (or enjoy) the same defect.

Perhaps you too will learn to use safe falls as a stepping stone towards more dangerous things, until your injury rate increases again. Athletic activities should always challenge you a little. Your overall rate of injury will nonetheless decrease, if you don't push it too far (e.g., extreme ski jumps and snowboard falls, or paramilitary style jumps without parachutes from low flying aircraft).

Iron Body vs Willow Tree

I have herein stressed techniques in which you give into and flow through the motion, except in regards to range of motion injuries. This consistent with the model used in the "soft" martial arts (Tai Chi, Aikido, Judo), where people are advised to give in to external forces like a willow tree.

Another philosophy used in the "hard" martial arts (Kung-Fu, Karate, boxing), wherein you seek to create an "iron body" that is strong enough to withstand anything. Football players are often trained with this in mind. Training involves repeated hard impacts, to create calluses, expand and strengthen bones, and strengthen muscles (I guess), as well as conventional strengthening exercises. I lack the experience necessary to give instructions.

But in general, you can take stresses better if you have practiced to become stronger, even if you stay relaxed.

Other Methods for Injury Prevention

Some people respond to medical knowledge by assuming they have problems they do not. If you have this problem, stop reading now. Almost everyone has at some time or other had all or almost all of the symptoms of almost every disease, yet most people have never had most diseases. Most symptoms are the body's standard responses to many kinds of stress, so many problems exhibit similar symptoms. The most common causes, not the most severe, are usually the most likely. If you who can't get past this problem, knowledge is not a good thing, because you waste other people's time, and your friends will learn to ignore everything you say.

Not all injuries are the result of internal tension. There are injuries in which a bone is shattered by internal or external impact, though even those may be prevented by controlling the body part trajectory to spread the impact out over a larger portion of the body. There also exist chronic (repetitive motion and overuse) injuries, such as most forms of arthritis, herniated disks, the formation of blisters and bunions, bone spurs and fragments, and inflamed tissue, which can be prevented by altering the ways in which you warm-up, cool-down, move and pose, and/or by proper control of inflammation. Finally there are many skin infections that can be prevented by proper hygiene.

If asthma is a problem, experiment with different rinks and times of day. Why: The moldy air in indoor ice rinks creates problems for asthmatics. Something to do with all that moisture, and all the heat the arc lights generate. Pollen affects outdoor rinks. Some rinks use resurfacing machines that have internal combustion engines, which seems to bother some people. There are other local sources of smog too.

Biology and Medicine as Soft Sciences

Physicists love to say that physics, the ultimate hard science, teaches you to think. Soft sciences teach skepticism, a more important lesson. Variant texts, studies, and certification programs teach completely contradictory mechanisms of motion and training, theories of healing, and methods of injury avoidance.

A medical textbook or certification guide may teach that medicine can not accelerate the healing process. A few sentences later, you are told that lack of proper treatment can stretch the initial healing cycle from days to weeks or months, or cause development of a long term chronic condition. A little later it will discuss drugs or surgeries which fundamentally change the underlying biochemistry and physics in order to accelerate the healing process. To a person trained in the hard sciences these seem inconsistent.

But they represent variant standards of care which are all widely represented in the medical community. They also represent the imprecise ways medical texts get their point across. The first statement really indicates that medical personnel rarely need to modify the body's own biochemistry of healing, by drugs or surgery. Not completely true. Doctors often use anti-inflammatories for many reasons. They give drugs to hemophiliacs, who lack the normal biochemistry. Surgery is a radical modification of the body's healing mechanisms. With medical progress, more and more techniques will radically change healing mechanisms.

It has been found that relatively minor changes in external physical conditions can radically change the rate of healing. For example, covering an injury with a sterile adhesive strip (Band Aid, to use one trademark) can slow bleeding, prevent contamination, and prevent scratching and abrasion of the wound. Again, temperature modifies the speeds at which many healing processes occur, and modifies the balance between creating new tissue and getting rid of old scar tissue (both important parts of the healing process) and cold helps control excess inflammation, as does compression by an elastic bandage.

Further, these differences reflect certification requirements. The standards of care that certifications test for are created by large committees of people with disparate views. All of their views get into the certification standards, even if they disagree. And they may all be true, for different people and different circumstances.

Learning to heal your individual body

An important reason for differences in recommended courses of treatment is that people heal differently from each other. You have to learn which advice works for you. Only experience can help you modify courses of treatment for your own body.


Laura Cox emphasizes doing a full warm-up before any exercise, and text books and certification manuals in many fields agree.

A warm-up make motion easier by increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to all tissues involved in motion, and also increases the removal rate of toxic metabolic by-products (like carbon dioxide, pyruvic and lactic acids). It reduces the resistance to motion that come from the friction (resistance to sliding) and viscosity (internal resistance to deformation). It spreads around the joint fluid and other secretions that lubricate joints and other tissues, which is most important to people with arthritis (join inflammation and pain), but a warm-up is important to everyone, as it reduces the amount of tissue damage that occurs in sports activities. It makes you more alert and your motions more accurate. An important result of all these things is to prevent excess wear, tear and injuries, and the inflammation they create. These things all contribute to a dramatic reduction of both acute (sudden) and chronic (long term overuse or repetitive) injury.

To achieve these purposes, a warm-up must raise your heart and respiration rates until you start to sweat, and are breathing fairly heavily. Fitness instructors are also taught to monitor heart rates to determine when this level (perhaps 75% or so of maximum rate, though sources vary) is reached. The best exercises to do this involve low impact aerobic motions in which many joints and muscles are moved simultaneously. You should gradually increase the range of motion of all body parts throughout the warm-up until you have reached the full range of motion. Be sure to use all your muscles, and move all joints in all directions. This typically takes at least 10-15 minutes. It can be helpful to put together a personal warm-up routine that meets your personal needs, specific to the exercise you are planning to do, with or without music [link]. Choreographing your own warm-up, aerobic and cool-down exercises (especially to music, as we did in the group fitness instructor training class) is rather fun, even if you know nothing of formal choreography.

Laura Cox believes that you should not stretch during a warm-up, because you are still too vulnerable to injury, but group fitness instructor training advocates mild stretching near the end of the warm-up. I think Laura uses "stretching" to refer to irreversible increases in range of motion, rather than the desirable warm-up activity of moving through your current full range of motion to warm and lubricate the joints. Personally, I feel that some pre-exercise stretching helps me skate or do other dance-like motions, which require me to push the range of my motion, without muscle strains.

It is sometimes impossible to achieve a full warm-up in cold setting, such as in some outdoor environments and ice rinks. So you may have to warm-up previously in an indoor setting. By the time you get where you need to go you will be colder, but it is much better than nothing.

My favorite initial warm-up exercise is to arrive late and park distant from where I am going, so I have to run or jog to the destination. Barring that, try jogging in place, then pretend you are skipping rope. Add in other motions that aerobically move all the joints in your body in increasing range of motion, but not to the point of stretching them.

I find fall practice a fabulous warm-up exercise, because the constant level changes use a lot of muscles. But, in the course on dance kinesiology, we showed each other our warm-up routines. Many students found my falls difficult and painful, which is a sign, that indicates damage is being done. This may have been for two reasons:

(1) Falls are a major component of modern dance, but not of ballet. This was almost a new motion for some, and was perhaps feared a little. It therefore created excess muscle tension. I am amazed by the ease and rapidity with which these real dancers pick up and memorize new and complex motion sequences. However, by the time I tried to teach this exercise, I had spent perhaps 2000 hours in fall practice, and was more familiar with falls than some of these students. I did not adequately take this problem into account. I was too inexperienced a teacher to recognize this quickly enough.

(2) I started falls too early in the warm-up. By the time they are college age, most serious young dance and skating students are arthritic, and some have osteo-arthritis (bone spurs and fragments in their joints, undesirable bones inside tendons, muscles and other soft tissue). These are the predictable consequences of poorly controlled inflammation, which occurs because they have exercised without warm-ups, over-stretched or overused joints and muscles, tendons and ligaments, and have otherwise failed to control inflammation (more of that later). Some also have herniated disks, due to poor alignment of body parts under load. For such people, falling required too great a range of motion for early warm-up stages.

Of course, the best dancers (and skaters too) are extremely flexible. This means their ligaments (including joint capsules) provide less than normal support, and/or their bones are shaped differently. Their bones slide too far, displacing most of the force onto the muscles and ligaments, and they can easily be pushed into dislocations. (I believe that is the reason dance classes place so much emphasis on alignment: dancers can be pushed into excessive displacement and dislocations by forces on the same order as their body weight. That flexibility is an incredible gift, one I greatly envy, but comes at a price, which is probably the reason most of us don't have it.)

My reluctantly conclusion is that fall practice must be used with great care in any type of group exercise setting. I now have a special respect for martial arts instructors who teach it in the course of their classes. Nonetheless, fall practice is now an important part of my personal warm-up, and perhaps should be of yours.

Cool Down

Cool-downs after an exercise are also important. The process of gradually slowing down your movements reduces the extra blood the body puts into muscles during exercise and keeps the blood moving enough to finish the process of removing excess metabolic waste products, which are toxic to muscle tissue, and which can lead to cramps and muscle soreness that can last for several days, and which can cause other injuries, directly or by creating awkward motions. Exercise should not leave you sore more than a few minutes. (Although stretch sessions always leave me a little sore, perhaps because the goal is to somewhat break down and re-form muscle tissue in a new shape). If pain persists, it is an indicator that internal tissue has been physically damaged or is being actively damaged by the presence of these toxins. (See also the section on DOMS.)

Most athletically induced chronic health problems are the result of inflammation, that is, the irritation of body tissue that occurs as a result of wear and tear, over-use, injury, or the failure to remove the above-mentioned metabolic waste products. Not only does this create long-term arthritis (inflammation and therefore pain in the joints), but it eventually causes various forms of osteo-arthritis - the growth of bone spurs and fragments, because the body apparently learns where to create new bone tissue by looking for long-term inflammation. If you fail to do an adequate cool-down, including stretches and possibly muscle massages to remove those waste products, you will end up with such problems, which are for the most part preventable.

The Ace manual also indicates that failure to do a cool-down can also lead to pooling of blood in the extremities, and dizziness.


You may find the widely respected Stretching FAQ very useful.

As just stated, stretching is an important component of cool-downs, to reduce inflammation. If you want to seriously extend your range of motion, it helps to to use longer stretch sessions.

Laura Cox advocates stretch techniques that I am doing my best to find useful, when I have the time. The most important part of her sessions is the initial full warm-up. She proceeds to mild stretches, then progresses to the full stretches. The full stretches last 60-90 seconds each. You start with a mild stretch in each pose, then use gravity and muscles and breathing exercises to move you to greater ranges. Try 10-15 seconds in each sub-pose, followed by a little movement to a greater extant, to be most useful. If you tried to stretch out every joint and muscle in your body, at 60-90 seconds each, it would take many days, which is impractical. It is not surprising that Laura believes in separate stretch sessions, so you can do a more thorough job. Laura is a little conservative (above times too short) for those of us who are not flexible enough to be in much danger of hypermobility. In particular, her limits on stretch time are only appropriate to people who can stretch ligaments at the same time as muscles. A physical therapist tells me that this is a very small fraction of humanity - the rest of us need not be concerened. Note, however, that the best dancers, skaters and gymnasts are often within that small fraction.

Yoga is the basis of most modern stretching exercises, and can be useful. (By the way, the society that produced Yoga had a leisure class with a lot of empty time on their hands. I particularly remember one book quote, mentioning holding a specific pose for a few days.)

Classic Yoga technique is to stay passively stretched for a while, usually allowing gravity to create the tension, breath in to generate more muscle tension, then breath out while stretching a little more, and repeat this several times, to extend the range of motion.

I have already mentioned my own preferred stretch techniques.

Extreme stretches taken too far can injure. Most strains and sprains are said to happen when a muscle is strongly contracted while it is stretched. I've talked with several cross country skiers who contracted herniated disks (a spinal injury) from Yoga. Many dancers, gymnasts and skaters stretch to the point their joints become unstable.

Many exercise books mention that ligament stretches are relatively inefficient uses of your time, and that you should concentrate on stretching muscles, which stretch more easily. Laura Cox believes that the longer stretches that stretch ligaments, or in which you use large amounts of force or are pushed into a stretch by another person, are quite dangerous, because stretched ligaments destabilize joints, and are not easily shrunk back to their previous length. The American Physical Therapy Association Book of Body Maintenance and Repair indicates that excess stretching is most dangerous for those who are already hyper-mobile, meaning they who have much more than the usual amount of flexibility. That includes most good dancers and figure skaters, but, unfortunately, does not include me.

DOMS (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness); Progression

If pain starts about 12 hours after the exercise, you may have DOMS Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, caused by micro-tears in the muscle after strenuous muscle use. Arnheim [see below] and most other sports medicine sources say this can and should generally be prevented by progressive training techniques, in which you gradually increase the intensity of the exercise - e.g., for weight training, start each session with small weights, and work your way upwards. This is consistent with doing warm-ups.

It also helps to avoid too much "eccentric muscle contraction", where muscles are used to slow motion. For example, if you both lift and put down a free weight very slowly, the lifting phase is more safe, and is a "concentric muscle contraction", because the muscles create the motion, but slowly dropping the weight is eccentric, and creates DOMS - perhaps because internal sheer forces act differently on the contractile muscle elements.

Complete agreement does not exist - some other sources on strength training claim such soreness is essential to breaking down and rebuilding the muscle stronger. Some weight lifters place a large emphasis on starting with the maximum possible load, and slowly drop weights. But the majority of textbooks treat DOMS as a problem, to be avoided.

A Good Book on Diet and Exercise

Because I lack appropriate training, it is hard for me to give a good guidance on diet and exercise. Body Makeover Express by Michael George, a personal trainer, offers a well balanced presentation. He emphasizes a balanced program of diet, nutrition, aerobic and strength training exercises. He explains how to time your intake of nutrients and exercises so that your internal biochemistry is optimized for proper health and muscle developement. He offers training regimens that saves time time by simultaneously performing aerobic and strength training exercises, and by timing different components so you exercise other parts of the body while waiting for just exercised parts recover from their exercise. He emphasizes using a variety of different exercises on different days, and using cross training, so your muscles don't to used to moving only one way. He gives reasonable sounding explanations of everything he advises. Almost everything he says makes sense.


Pain and cramps also occur from improper diet before and after exercise. If you don't have enough carbohydrates already in your system to supply calories while exercising, it breaks down muscle tissue instead. Even if you do, prolonged or intense exercise does so, but this is reduced if you have enough carbohydrates. To rebuild the muscles, you must take in a fair amount of protein after exercise. If you don't, soreness, and weakened muscles will often last many days, and you may get chronic muscle problems. Insufficient or too much electrolytes - salt, calcium, magnesium, etc. - cause cramps and pain too.

You can take this much too far. Most books on physical fitness, including the one just mentioned, emphasize that for the most part athletes should just take a normal healthy diet, perhaps with a somewhat elevated protein balance. You don't need and shouldn't have vitamin or mineral supplements unless those substances are lacking in your diet in the first place. In fact, many health problems are caused by too much of some nutrient. That doesn't just include what you hear of most - salt and oil or fat (by the way, a little of both are essential to good health, but most of us get too much). It also includes vitamins, minerals, and the crazy supplements a lot of people take.


Strength training is the primary exercise of injury prevention advocated by most books on training and conditioning.

It carries other benefits too: it increases the amount of muscle, and muscle tone, thereby increasing your base metabolic rate - the calories you use when resting. Without adequate exercise, you tend to get fat, and you also fail to use up the body stores of fat and cholesterol. You also fail to develop the capacity to deliver energy and oxygen to muscles, and carry waste products away from all tissues, which you require when motion is needed. In addition, your muscles will become structurally weaker, and bones, ligaments and tendons will not receive the stresses they require to adapt to be strong.

Any strengthening exercise is based on the general principles of the adaptability of the human body. Our bodies do not develop muscles, tendons, ligaments or bones purely at genetic direction, nor will they remain strong without adequate exercise. Instead, all components strengthen and grow adaptively. For example, long bones contain a good deal of hollow space, filled with softer tissue. The internal biochemistry of the body is such that it lays down bone tissue along the precise lines that it has been needed in the past (if proper diet has supplied the necessary materials). My understanding is imperfect, but I guess this is akin to a healing response. (Unfortunately, as discussed earlier, this means that inflamed soft tissue sometimes develops into bone, causing other problems.) Likewise, muscle, tendon and ligament tissue grows stronger through progressive use. Without that use, body tissue atrophies. So some strengthening exercise may make sense. Do not expect immediate results; ligament and bone changes slowly, especially in adults.

(But reinforcing a body part gives you a stronger base against which to injure yourself. Strengthening yourself against an injury gives you more strength to create it, if you continue to move in the incorrect manner. Learn first to move correctly.)

Here are some basic strength exercises, that will also help you turn and spin and jump

Upper body strength

Upper body strength can be used to hold your upper spine and shoulders more still, while you pivot about your waist, a technique that is advocated in skating turns and in kayaking.

Sk8Strong.com has many exercises specific to skaters in the book and DVDs she (a physical therapist) sells, and also sells training equipment. She has a well respected competitor, Kat Arbour's, who runs a company called Ice Dynamics, who publishes a competing training manual, "Strength Conditioning & Injury Prevention Training Manual". But if you are at the beginning levels of making yourself strong, it may make sense to do general exerciess, such as occur in the Michael George book.

As mentioned elsewhere in this document, remember to strengthen yourself gradually, and only after you are warmed up by aerobic exercise, because it is extremely easy to hurt yourself by doing too much too fast! If you get sore, stop. If you stay sore more than a few minutes after exercise, especially if any pain occurs beyond 15 minutes, or appears later (e.g., the next day), you probably did too much. (There is disagreement about this. Start talking to kids and adults at the rink - many of the best athletes hurt all the time. Not surprisingly, many have arthritis by the time they are teenagers, and can barely walk by the age of 40.)

Rules of Balance

If you start to fall, you can sometimes use the rules of balance to prevent it.

Rules of Static Balance (for moving slowly)

  • Place your center of gravity over base of support to create optimal balance. You will fall unless the center is above the area bounded by your feet. The closer the center of gravity is aligned to the center of support the better. E.g., if you start to fall to the left, move a foot to shift your center of support to the left. Or move an arm slowly to the right. Likewise for forwards and back, here and in what follows.
  • Align your body parts so gravitational load is supported by bones instead of muscles and ligaments. This reduces effort and chance of injury.
  • Balance is improved by keeping your center of gravity low. If you start to fall, bend your knees.
  • Balance is somewhat affected by internal pushes. To counteract a fall to the left, push on the left leg.
  • Balance is somewhat affected by internal tensions. To counteract a fall to the left, put tension into the left leg.

  • Rules of Dynamic Balance (for moving quickly)

  • The effective vertical direction is changed by motion along an arc, and by acceleration in any direction. The new vertical is along the direction of the vector sum of gravity and inertial (technically centrifugal, coriolis and other accelerative) forces. Whether you are skating along the arc, or riding a bicycle, lean inwards for optimal balance, along the new vertical created by the sum of those forces. Again, if you stop suddenly from forwards motion, the new vertical is pitched somewhat backwards, feet first.
  • Align bones and base of support along the same line. (On skis and in "displacement hull" boats like sea kayaks, you turn faster by leaning outside the turn - but balance is not as good. On skates and skis, you produce a better affect by pushing on the outside foot instead of leaning.)
  • Rapid internal motions often create the opposite effect of slow motions. In particular, when you push a body part one way, the rest of the body is pushed the other. For example, if you try to counteract a fall to the left by moving an arm rapidly to the right, the push you create off that arm will push you further into the fall. Push your arms rapidly into a fall to counteract it. I discussed this in more detailearlier.
  • The goals of sports medicine

    Certified physical trainers (ATCs), and those physical therapists (PTs) and physicians (MDs) who happen to specialize in sports medicine, seem better attuned to the physical and psychological needs of patients who enjoy athletic activities then do most medical folk.

    A major goal of sports medicine is to return you to competitive (or other athletic) play before you are completely healed. A conventional doctor is more cautious, and may suggest delaying or eliminating athletic activity. For better or worse, most athletes simply ignore that kind of advice.

    Controlling Inflammation

    This is one of the oldest sports medicine techniques to prevent and heal injuries. Sports medicine texts say controlling inflammation is overwhelmingly the most important and frequent activity of the sports medicine professional.

    The body is designed to heal itself, and inflammation, which delivers healing elements to injured body parts, is the important first step in that process. Unfortunately, athletes continue levels of physical activity that far exceed those needed for basic survival, which helps cause the body to remain in states of inflammation far longer than the body is designed to handle.

    The details of the heeling process are imperfectly understood. Healing is a complex series of timed biochemical reactions. The ending of each stage of biochemical reactions triggers the start of the next step. If one step, such as inflammation, never ends, or its ending is drawn out too long, the succeeding steps never fully activate. Current American Medical Association (AMA) protocols say healing is most likely to complete if the inflammation is brought down 15-30 minutes of the injury. If such timing is not used, even if the injury does heal, it takes 1-2 orders of magnitude longer. This makes it essential that you learn how to use first aid techniques like RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) yourself, and not wait for medical help to arrive.

    In the case of inflammation generated by injuries serious enough to create internal scar tissue (as opposed to the more rapidly healed mild injuries of ordinary wear and tear), the successive steps which replace the temporary scar tissue with new healthy tissue may never complete, and may you end up with scar tissue in place of healthy tissue for the rest of your life. (I'm not quite clear on the exact medical distinction between serious injuries and normal wear and tear, but think it involves the formation of scar tissue.) Under optimal conditions it takes 6-12 months to completely replace injured tissue containing scars with new healthy tissue. Within a sports medicine context healing to the extant of being able to fully participate in the sport again (sometimes with the aid of bandaging and taping) can occur within days or weeks instead of months or years.

    Most people's bodies bring inflammation down on time on their own from normal wear and tear, but do not do so after serious injuries, if there is a chronic inflammation, or if they fail to do a proper cool-down after exercise.

    Chronic inflammation - that doesn't go away by easy means - is in many ways the central problem of sports medicine, that professionals spend most of their time trying to fix, and that creates the most common athletic problems. There are some well understood causes - e.g., if you take a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs (or any other type of drug) instead of using more conservative (See RICE, below) techniques when you can, your body accomodates to the drugs, and they become less effective. But many causes are poorly understood, and chronic inflammation is not always successfully treated.

    Anti-inflammatory drugs include NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen. Some types of steroids also work. The more serious the drug, the more short and long term side effects. Stay away from drugs, or use the least serious, if you can, but bringing down inflammation is also very important.

    A very few sports medicine physicians sometimes accelerate healing of old injuries, even getting rid of old scar tissue, by re-creating the biochemistry of the first few minutes of inflammation - e.g., by injecting a different type of steroids into muscle or ligament. The fundamental idea is that if something, like improper treatment, interfered with proper healing the first time around, it will heal better the second time around. A couple adult skating athletes of my acquaintance who experienced that procedure said it was very painful (which suggests some level of danger), but seemed to be working. That treatment (prolotherapy) lies outside the domain and beliefs of conventional medicine, so should be considered with caution.

    Inflammation is detectable through any or all of
    (1) Pain (as various bodily fluids irritate internal tissues)
    (2) Redness (from internal bleeding - serious cases of which can be deadly in of itself if not treated rapidly)
    (3) Heat (the affected body part becomes warmer than surrounding tissue or its double on the opposite side of the body)
    (4) Loss of function, as fluid pressure immobilizes joints
    (5) Swelling of tissue.

    The body responds to prolonged inflammation in other undesirable ways. As mentioned before, bone tissue is designed to grow along lines of prior injury, including inside of soft tissue, generating bone fragments and bone spurs in places they do not belong, and causes many problems.

    An effective way to end inflammation is to use RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) of the affected body parts. For optimal healing this must usually be started within a few minutes of the injury. For minor wear and tear RICE may be enough. For a minor sprain or strain it should typically continue at intervals over the next 3-4 days. At that point proper treatment, depending on type and severity might include periodic treatment with alternating cold and hot baths and may sometimes include some continued compression. They also use muscle massage, and various drugs.

    First aid courses advocate RICE (with somewhat variant definitions), though not all emphasize the reasons for rapid treatment, and some ignore the desirability of continuation over the next several days or what should follow (the definition of first aid implies you will receive medical treatment, called definitive care, within 30 minutes of the injury). Unfortunately, if people do not understand the reasons and importance of bringing down inflammation even in non-lethal cases, they often delay or avoid treatment. E.g., after an ankle sprain they incorrectly try to "walk it off" and provide no other treatment.

    Initial rest gives the body a chance to form the initial fragile clots and scars to bridge the gaps in hard and soft tissue, and prevents further damage. Ice refers to any method of cooling, such as contact with a bag of ice (or frozen vegetables, if you have no ice but are near a grocery store), or soaking in cold water. Compression, by compressive bandages (e.g., "Ace" brand bandages), or fairly tightly wound athletic tape (careful! please learn how to do it right so you don't cut off the flow of blood), by prolonged immersion in deeper water, helps drive the blood and other body fluids out of the injured area, as does careful massaging of the affected area. Elevation of the affected body part also helps cause fluids to flow out that area.

    As an example, "black and blue" marks, the visible signs of dead blood cells that were never moved out of the area, rarely occur if proper treatment is used. More importantly, instead of mostly healing in a period of 3-4 days, an injury with delayed or incomplete treatment will typically take several weeks or months to heal, or become a chronic, potentially life-long condition. Proper treatment by medical staff, along with bandaging and taping techniques, is the reason many athletes can return to play within a few days of serious injury. (They have also already signed waivers and given permission for treatment, reducing delays due to paperwork, and team athletic trainers and sports physicians are expected to know in advance where to obtain good treatment wherever they go.)

    I watched an incident in which a skater fell badly on the ice, and was crying with pain. It is relevant that she was a good college aged athlete, because athletes get used to minor pains and do not cry from minor bruises. The ice rink staff lacked the training to deal with the situation, but spent 15-30 minutes filling out an internal incident report before summoning medical help. Had there been substantial internal bleeding, the person would have died. I don't have the qualifications to judge, but the delayed treatment may have greatly extended the healing period, perhaps by decades.

    In severe incidents such as that, you as a patient, or the people you are with, should insist of summoning medical aid, or have them do it. It is probably helpful for athletes and people (like parents) who accompany them to take occasional courses in first aid, so you can recognize and treat dangerous situations. It may be helpful, if you can stand to, to read through the diagnosis and treatment sections of books intended for people in the medical community, such as

      William E. Prentice, Daniel D. Arnheim, Arnheim's Principles of Athletic Training

    or the less complete and technical

      Jim Clover, Sports Medicine Essentials: Core Concepts in Athletic Training and Fitness Instruction

    Rest can be extended for too long a time. Most of us will not heal properly without suitable exercise. For many injuries, gentle motions throughout the current range of motion are desirable fairly early in the treatment. After a few days other exercises are needed to complete healing, especially in adults. Gentle stretches help break up scar tissue. (It is often appropriate to consult sports medicine specialists, because stretching or otherwise stressing tissue that is too close to the breaking point can cause permanent damage and tissue death.)

    Some athletes never manage to get their inflammation down by conventional techniques. Less-conventional techniques, such as prolotherapy (mentioned above), as well as methods used by chiropracters, traditional (e.g., chinese herbal) medicine, accupuncture, etc., have apparently worked for some of my friends. If you can't get the inflammation down any other way, consider them. Long-term chronic inflammation can end your athletic activities forever.

    Bandaging and Taping

    Bandaging can stop excess bleeding. Proper Bandaging and taping can also reinforce (splint) fragile tissue, keep down excess inflammation, and make it possible to return to play. But please get some training first, because of the risks involved in cutting off blood flow. For the most part, ordinary people can not easily be certified to legally do bandaging and taping on others, but you can learn to do modest tasks for yourself.

    (As far as I know, such certification is only available to doctors, nurses and certified athletic trainers, but I might be wrong.)

    Protective Gear

    For skating, I wear gloves and long pants and shirts. [U.S. "Pants" = U.K. "trousers"] Some people wear helmets and gear designed for inline skaters, like elbow and knee pads, and wrist guards. A lot of skaters use foam padding, cut from inexpensive computer mouse pads, inside their clothing next to hips, thighs and knees. Many skaters find a padded head band, such as the Ice Halo, or Force Field Headband (less protection than Ice Halo, but said to be less bulky and less hot, and is washable), or a pull-down cap like Rib Cap less restrictive and unfashionable than a helmet.

    Preventive gear is often useful, but can eliminate the body flexibility needed to prevent injuries too. Examples are the decreased death rate and skull fractures in football after helmets started being used, but neck injuries increased a lot (partly explained by increased confidence, leading to head butting, but maybe also explained by reduced range of neck motion).

    The same type of error can lead to a broken leg. If the ankle joint is strong enough to prevent a sprain, but is reinforced by tape or stiff boots, the force may be transferred to and damage other components, such as the lower leg or knee.

    Modifying boot and shoe fit and balance

    I make the controversial claim that your feet should almost never be in pain as a result of exercise. If they are, one possible explanation is poorly fitting shoes or boots. I've seen excellent skaters whose feet look extremely unhealthy, mostly due to bad skate fit. Totally unnecessary.

    I discuss this in another document, Modifying boot and shoe fit and balance; especially ice skates

    Proper Hygiene

    Athletes often get fungal infections, like athlete's foot, as well as viral infections (warts) and bacterial infections, because of sweat and moisture (e.g. in shoes and boots), and skin-to-skin contact, or showering in places shared by other people. Soap and water scrubbed on every square inch of your skin goes a long way towards preventing fungal infections, like athletes foot... Go barefoot at home when you can, to air out the feet, wear sandals when you can.

    I leave feminine hygiene to those with a knowledge of the subject.

    Walking and running

    Lifting your feet high when walking and jogging uses excessive muscle and impact. Roll through the foot and glide just over the surface. Seek to set your stride length, speed, height and trajectory in such a way that you are using no energy to move into or out of the air, you feel no shock of impact, and that you minimize energy use consistent with the given speed.

    As you get more experience, and you become stronger and more fit, you may wish to vary this routine upon occasion. Spend some time taking higher steps, taking shorter and longer steps, and even sometimes try running on unusually hard surfaces. In line with progressive training techniques (in which you vary the amount of effort used while training, so that your body becomes able to efficiently handle many levels of effort), this kind of practice is needed to strengthen your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Remember that your body only grows stronger in response to the stresses it faces.

    Finding a good coach

    Your choice of coach is important in part because you are less likely to get hurt if you learn your sport of choice well.

    Finding a good teacher is paramount in any subject!

    Good private and group lesson teachers aren't always the same. Probably 99% of group lesson teachers spend at least 95% of their time babysitting. With a good teacher, it's the other way around. Most students in group lesson programs, including public schools and colleges, never encounter a good group lesson teacher. But a few are truly outstanding.

    Good private coaches are more common, but most will still not mesh well with any given student.

    If you find a good teacher (for you), in any subject, don't let go. If you don't, shop around.

    Group lessons for little kids are designed around short attention spans, the ability most kids have to quickly imitate complex moves they see, and a lack of fear. Most adults need to spend more time on each skill, they need to figure things out, and may not be able to imitate what they only see. They must break complex moves up into little pieces, balance is less intuitive, and they are afraid of falling.

    If you take privates, help your teacher figure out what works best for you! If you want to stay with one move until you've figured it out, tell them. If you need them to break it up into pieces, or explain why they do something some way, tell them. If you don't know how to fall right, tell them. And so on. If a coach can't adapt, find another. Watch them teach other people of the same age to see if they can. (For group lessons too.)

    To me, "professional" means you do what you are paid to do, and advertise any way you can. But "professional" skating organizations like ISU, USFSA, and PSA that have a very different standard. They protect mediocrity by not letting coaches "steal" (i.e., teach) each others' students. I now tell coaches up front I will take lessons from others, without asking. So far it's been OK with all of them. My most recent skating coach once told me no good coach has trouble filling his or her schedule. But as with any athletic profession, many athletes and coaches make a borderline living, and must find other ways to support themselves. That's too bad, but I have too little time to waste on any but the best teachers. The price differential is usually not that great.

    Some coaches go so far in terms of thinking they own their students that they bargain for a cut of future earnings, or for other proprietary rights, perhaps in exchange for reduced teaching rates. Scary! But in general, no I don't think paying someone to teach should mean they own you. If you have a coach who won't let you take lessons from others, you can always drop the coach (making sure they know you are doing so) and then switch. The problem is that organizations like PSA kick out coaches who approach students of other coaches. They call this maintaining professional ethics, though it clearly is the opposite.

    Sometimes students or their parents ask for coaches with many open teaching slots, but that sometimes means they are not very good. Instead, watch many coaches teach, to see if the students improve during and enjoy each lesson. They should never be abusive. (Are they ever seen yelling at a student or other ice skater? Such people are too dangerous and emotionally unstable to be trusted!) If you require both, do they show and tell well? (And do you need both? Some coaches with very happy students only do one.) How are they at physically guiding you (touching), and do you need it? (If you are a parent, are you comfortable with a particular coach touching your child?) Do things you do have to make sense, and do you need physics style explanations - only some coaches can do that. They should model healthy behavior - e.g., not smoke, eat healthy. And the coach should agree up front that taking lessons with others is fine, before your first lesson. Try a number of coaches to find the one works best with you.

    That said, it can be a real mistake to use too many teachers, which I made before I understood that styles of motion differ greatly from coach to coach. I wish I had found and stayed with one good coach. Except for group lessons, which, to quote another student, are good cheap supervised practice time, as long as you understand that styles are not the same.

    By the way, most students will be most comfortable learning dance or pairs from a coach of the opposite sex, because you have to spend a lot of time dancing with them, especially if you are a novice.

    As suggested before, watch any potential instructor teach, then try them out if it looks promising.

    In the end, if you find a coach and a personal approach that teaches you to use the elements of your body in a way that is efficient and effective, minimizing energy and the unnecessary forces on your body, your chance of injury will be greatly reduced, and you will enjoy your sport better.

    Dan Hollander has a good article on this too.


    The first truly outstanding athletic coach I encountered, a whitewater boater, was Eric Jackson. I took many group lessons from him. He is a remarkably enthusiastic and popular teacher. What he believes correct, which is controversial, he expresses and teaches with absolutely no reserve. He gives individualized attention in a group setting, with no apologies for mentioning individual stylistic flaws in front of the whole group. Most group lesson instructors fear embarrassment will scare away timid students. EJ thinks serious athletes must learn to accept criticism in order to learn. EJ continues to be one of the top level competitors in several areas of his sport at an age beyond when most athletes retire, an inspiration to other adult athletes (though he started young). He also actively participates in the development of enhanced paddling techniques and boat designs, has spent a lot of time helping to organize the competitive aspects of whitewater play boating, and has helped to teach many others, in person and through books. His controversial nature is surprisingly helpful to his ability to find sponsorship and to be influential. Part of the controversy surrounds the fact that he teaches students to use from the beginning the full range-of-motion techniques most elite athletes use. This results in superior control, but sometimes at a cost of muscle soreness and some would claim more potential to shoulder dislocations.

    (If you just want to try paddling cheaply, I suggest LL BEAN Walk-on adventures), which I have worked for. Their instruction is cheap because they want to sell boats.

    I have most recently taken ice dance lessons from Barbara McDonnell Walker. She is good at both the show and tell of skating, and she is able to address well my overly analytic approach to motion. I think she teaches a skating style compatible to that of the local majority. (Skaters with distinctive styles often do very well in international competition, but have trouble finding compatible partners.) The fact that she and her partner won twice at adult nationals, in recent years, assures me her style is acceptable to many.

    After I realized that falls and, more often, attempts to prevent falls, were the source of virtually all of my injuries, I sought the guidance of several teachers. I will try to give them credit here, but I take all the blame for any flaws.

    My first fall teacher was an Aikido Master. I decided Aikido falls are too violent and dangerous for me, perhaps because I was recovering from a broken leg, but have used some elements of that technique.

    My next teacher was Laura Schandelmeier. At the time, she taught modern dance for Beth Davis In Good Company out of the Glen Echo National Park, Joe's Movement Emporium, and other places. She has studied several safe motion techniques, and uses falls as a major component of her dance choreography. She showed me some variant of most of the falls discussed in this document, and also taught me a little about safe jumping. I greatly respect her techniques, and gladly refer people to her.

    I audited a University of Maryland Department of Kinesiology course in Basic Care and Prevention of Athletic Injuries, taught by a John J. Bush (ATC=Certified Athletic Trainer). This was very informative.

    I also took a mini-course from the University of Maryland Campus Recreation Services on Group Fitness Instruction Training, and a course on conditioning from the University of Maryland Kinesiology department.

    I audited another course from the Department of Dance, on Dance Kinesiology, taught by Laura Cox. Very informative. The comparison of what she said with what the prior two courses taught also helped me appreciate that there are many variant approaches to injury prevention. I really enjoyed it. Of course I was only auditing it. Grades and tests and required studies are some of the ways college and universities take all the fun out of learning. I wish universities would return to the idea of teaching and learning for fun.

    None of these dealt specifically with gentle fall practice per se, but did cover many aspects of human injury prevention and treatment. If you have an academic interest in these areas, I would encourage you to read textbooks designed to train athletic trainers, physical therapists, sports physicians, dance performers, group fitness instructors, and so on.

    I would like to extend my knowledge of falling by studying a little Tai Chi. I would like to learn to jump better.


    My Health and Fitness/Injury Prevention/Anatomy links


    Here are some videos of mostly competitive people falling. Not all are gentle, but notice how the better ones use slides and rolls to spread the impact, and the ways partners try to help each other.

    CAUTION Young children shouldn't see some of these.

    Figure Skating Falls 2 - Evanescence (mostly gentle) by darknessoftheworld
    Figure Skating Splatfest (some gentle, some not) by darknessoftheworld
    Figure Skating: A Dangerous Sport (some not gentle) by Azertynin
    The Ice Skating Falls! by playprincess13
    Slide! by Stephanie
    Send the Best: skating falls inline roller racing by hipnip0429
    Expert Village Judo For Kids videos (not so gentle)
    Aikido The Peaceful Martial Art (not so gentle)
    The Art of Aikido by Dominowski
    Aikido - Basic Techniques by phillyaikido
    Catalog of Stunt Falls (very nice, but not gentle) by paul51484
    Friday Stunt Falls Practice (New HVX Test) (not gentle) by spidermexican
    Stunt Falls 3rd Try (not gentle) by leapinglucy
    Fun Tricks (not gentle) by DanMacD by DanMacD
    Stair Falls & Car Slides (not so gentle) by 2uphigh
    Slams, Falls, Bails, Crashes, etc. (mixed sports, some not gentle) by kylerefusedtv
    Jake Brown falls 40+ feet & walks away X-Games 13 Big Air by chucha99
    Horse Falls (Eventing) by stupidblond428a

    Further Reading

    William E. Prentice, Daniel D. Arnheim, Arnheim's Principles of Athletic Training, 2002 or latest edition; used in University of Maryland course on Injury Prevention and Care; is the leading text in the field.

    Jim Clover, Sports Medicine Essentials: Core Concepts in Athletic Training and Fitness Instruction, 2001 or latest edition; an introductory text in the same field.

    Daniel D. Arnheim, Dance Injuries, 1991.

    Skating Injuries and Education from Dr. Bruce Forciea's Informational Healing site
    Sylvia M. Lachmann, Soft Tissue Injuries in Sport, 1994.

    Martin J. Kelley and William A. Clark, Orthopedic Therapy of the Shoulder, 1995.

    ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual, most recent edition; text used in University of Maryland Course on Group Fitness Instruction.

    Blandine Calais-Germain, Anatomy of Movement, 1993; text used in University of Maryland Course on Dance Kinesiology.
    Blandine Calais-Germain, Anatomy of Movement: Exercises (Revised Edition)
    Marilyn Moffat and Steve Vickery, The American Physical Therapy Book of Body Maintenance and Repair

    Gardner et al, Exercise in preventing falls and fall related injuries in older people: a review of randomized controlled trials, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2000; 34; 7-17.

    How To Evaluate Figure Skating Injuries Podiatray Today article by Rachel A. Janowicz, DPM
    If the Skate Fits, Wear It! California Podiatric Medical Association
    Podiatric Management in Ice Skating, R. Neil Humble, D.P.M.
    USFSA 2008 Sports Sciences and Medicine Committee, More
    ISU Medical information
    Books by Lauren Downes, PT, who specializes in skate training and injury treatment.
    Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients) (2005)

    Stuff from on-line searches I haven't looked at yet, and probably never will

    Bloch, R. M., "Figure Skating Injuries", Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America. 10, no. 1, (1999): 177

    Canham-Chervak, "Does Stretching Before Exercise Prevent Lower-Limb Injury?", Clinical journal of sport medicine V10, #3 (2000): 216

    Chang et al, "Interventions for the prevention of falls in older adults: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials"

    "The effects of post-exercise stretching on injury rates of high school football players"

    Heid, R., The fading art of falling down without hurting yourself, Skydiving, 18 (6), 3.

    Herbert, "Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review", British Medical Journal 325, no. 7362 (2002): 468

    Herbert, Rob, "Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review", British Medical Journal 325, no. 7362 (2002): 468

    Herbert, "Effects of Stretching on Muscle Soreness and Risk of Injury: a Meta-Analysis", Clinical journal of sport medicine V13, #5 (2003): 321-322

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    Center for active living references on falling and injuries

    With Exercise, Older Adults Can Improve Balance, Reduce Risk of Falls

    ARD Online contributing journals