Stop, Drop, and Roll

Written by Ben Webster
Published on Tuesday, 08 September 2009

It is with increasing frequency that we get newcomers to the forum who have questions about only one thing, drops. We frequently hear from beginners, “Well I was training this 13 foot drop and afterward I felt this sharp pain in my (insert body part here). It went away afterwards, so I went back to training drops.” So after hearing this story over and over again with generally the same outcomes, I have decided to put an organized response to drops.

STOP. Let’s think about this for a few moments. Why do you want to train drops so badly? You will most likely get several different responses to this question, but in 99% of cases the psychology of it is, “Wow I just saw the new Danny Ilabaca video. He did so many things that I can’t possibly do in my current condition. Oh wait, I can take that fall, since that requires no skill what so ever, and that way I will look as cool as Danny since I can do one of his moves.” First of all, after flow drops are one of the most technical movements in parkour. There is literally no room for error. So why do people seem to think that one of the most technical moves can be safely done by someone who has just started? It baffles the guys who have been around for a while. So first, let’s set some ground rules:

  1. If you are under the age of 16, then you should never do drops over shoulder height. This is because you are still an adolescent, and thus since your tibia and growth plate have not completely fused, any high amount of shock can very easily cause permanent injury, causing arthritis and other knee problems resulting in partial or full loss of mobility later on in life (we are talking 30 to 40 here). Do you want to need a cane or wheelchair when you are in your mid-thirties?
  2. If you have been training for less than a year, you should never do drops above head height. This is for many different reasons. Firstly, NO ONE in their first year has good enough technique to successfully handle drops consistently with little to no error on the landing. This comes from muscle memory, not from watching a five minute video and a roll tutorial. Secondly, most people coming in to parkour do not have the muscular strength of David Belle or Danny Ilabaca. Since absorbing shock takes much more strength than any other activity in parkour, why would you attempt it if you aren’t strong enough to do, let’s say 15 pistols on each leg? Finally (for this list, the list goes on and on), beginners have NO SKELETAL STRENGTH. This is the most important point of all. Every time you do a jump, you get small hairline fractures in the joints and bones affected. These then heal, with the bone replacing it being stronger than it was before. Over several years, bones can become much more dense, leading to less general wear and tear to the joints permitting people to deal with higher impact forces. If you have been training less than a year, then you have not received anywhere near the amount of training to do drops over your head height.
  3. Roll on every drop that is over head height, and if you can’t roll then you can’t drop. Again by roll we don’t mean that you watched a couple of roll tutorials and kind of have the basics down. The roll should be the first movement learned and will most likely take at least a year to master. If you think that your roll is perfect and you have only been working on it for a couple of weeks, I would suggest that you either reevaluate your definition of perfect or find another activity to participate in. Questions that you need to ask yourself are, “Can I roll on both sides?” “Can I perform a back and side roll?” “Can I roll with absolutely no pain aside from skin damage on concrete?” “Can I roll after a running jump from waist height at max running speed effectively?” “Can I roll without the use of my arms in case there is something that I need to carry?” “Can I dive roll over something that is waist high?” Again the list goes on and if you answered no to any of these questions then you still have a lot of work to do on your rolls. Get to it.
  4. If you haven’t been conditioning your legs on a regular basis, then you shouldn’t do drops over shoulder height. What can I say about conditioning…. Oh wait, you don’t do it enough, get to training. Again 15 pistols in one set should be a minimum before you do drops over head height, as well as sets of over 100 shin raises and 50 single-leg full weight calf raises. If you can’t do that then I guess you are going to have to lower yourself down until you can.
  5. Warm up. Everything is pointless if your body has not gone over short term preparation before doing drops. Stretching, light jogging, and small to medium size jumps work well for warm ups. This goes under the category of injury prevention, and while you may think that it isn’t important now, when you have that knee or ankle injury you will wish that you did it.

So I have laid out some basic guidelines here for drops. Follow them carefully. Drops can and should be trained, but certain steps need to be taken before you take the fall.

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