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May the Force Be with You

Written by James Costanzo

May the Force Be with You

Ensure a safer landing with this scientific breakdown.

If you paid any attention in physics class, you’d remember Newton on gravity: “What goes up must come down.” Traceurs test this principle every day, but the “must come down” part is harder to master.

In a 2012 survey, Ben Musholt, a licensed physical therapist and author of Parkour Push-ups: 25 Push-ups for the Traceur, found that among 239 traceurs, 35.8 percent of traumatic injuries occurred while falling. Additionally, knee, foot, and ankle problems accounted for 59.3 percent of all traceur injuries. “Landing is the one skill in parkour that exposes your body to the greatest force,” says Musholt. “If you don’t pay attention to proper technique, you place your joint surfaces and soft tissues at risk for injury.”

So, what is the safest way to land? A toe-to-heel technique is the most common among traditional athletes, such as basketball and volleyball players. But it’s not the only landing used in parkour. Earlier this year, two biomechanics scientists from the Waikato Institute of Technology in New Zealand designed an experiment to test the efficiency of three different techniques: the traditional toe-to-heel landing, the precision landing, and the roll landing. Here’s what they found:

Worst:

Traditional Toe-to-Heel landing

How to: Land on your forefoot — also known as the ball of your foot — and lower to your heel. Picture a basketball player landing after grabbing a rebound.

Force: The maximum vertical force, or the highest amount of stress put on the body during a traditional landing, was 5.2 times the body weight of the traceur. For a 150-pound person, that would be like landing with a fully-grown male grizzly bear on your back. Ouch.

Advice: Avoid the traditional landing, says Musholt. It doesn’t take advantage of the shock-absorbing qualities of either a precision landing or roll landing, and doesn’t allow for a smooth translation from the landing to the next skill.

Better:

Precision Landing

How to: Land solely on the balls of your feet with no contact between your heel and the ground. This technique is normally used when jumping onto an obstacle, such as a rail or wall, and requires great accuracy.

Force: The maximum vertical force during a precision landing is 3.2 times the body weight of the traceur. For a 150-pound traceur, that’s like landing while carrying your own coffin. It’s scary to think about, but still not as grizzly as the traditional landing.

Advice: The precision landing is good when the landing space is limited, says Musholt. But it doesn’t allow you to reduce the impact on your legs by distributing force across a broader surface area.

Best:

Roll Landing

How to: Land on your forefeet, and then immediately roll your shoulders. The roll should start on one side of the body and finish on the other, dispersing your landing impact. But do it only when jumping onto an even surface with sufficient space.

Force: The maximum vertical force during a precision landing is 2.9 times the body weight of the traceur. For a 150-pound traceur, that would be like jumping from a ledge while giving Shaquille O’Neal a piggyback ride. Pass the Icy Hot.

Advice: The roll landing can effectively dissipate force to legs, arms, and back, says Musholt. But practice first. You could hurt your shoulder blade, pelvis, and ankle if you don’t stick the landing right.