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Figure 1. Don’t be a blundering blockhead when it comes to bailing.
Landing like a cat on indoor surfaces
With their well-padded and obstruction-free environs, indoor bouldering gyms are supposed to be safer than outdoor rocks. Sprained ankles, back strains, and dislocated elbows show, however, that you may be lulled into a false sense of security in a gym. Much like climbing, landing is a learned skill. You’re an athlete on the way up, and so should you be on the way down (Figure 1). Typically gyms offer one or more of four different landing surfaces, each with its own pluses and perils:• Pea gravel. Possibly the least likely to catch and roll your ankle, but can be abrasive to tumble through. • Shredded rubber. Not too rough on the ankles either, but prone to thin spots. • Wall-to-wall padding. Typically a top layer of high-density foam (1/2-1 inch thick) and several inches of soft open-cell foam. Firm and predictable, but watch out for the seams between sections, which can collapse underfoot. • Thick and soft pads. Usually soft open cell foam, chipped open cell foam, or used mattresses. Good for the back-flop on steep bouldering walls (from a reasonable height) but the extra “give” can work your ankles when you drop off feet first.Survey says … Before you go trying to flash the Black & Blue Expert / 3 Spot / V-Whatever, suss out your landing area. From where are you most likely to dismount or fall? Check that the gravel or rubber is not thinned out, exposing you to a hard under-surface landing. Orient your pad(s) appropriately and make sure that there is nothing between you and your landing. Be wary of landing on a seam or gap between pads.Tap into your inner cat. Most landings follow voluntary dismounts (from either the top or partway up the problem) and this is where most injuries occur. When jumping off, make sure to drop straight down. Hit the ground feet first, toes facing forward, with your knees bent. Disperse the shock of hitting the floor — rather than absorbing it completely with your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back — by collapsing like an accordion and rolling backwards onto your back (Figure 2). Bailing blunders. Except in cases where an obstacle looms immediately behind you (e.g. a wall, person, etc.) there is seldom a reason to remain on your feet. Posting your arm behind you can potentially dislocate or break your elbow, wrist, or shoulder. Also, take care when rolling forward, as whacking your head on your knees, the wall, or gravel will reduce your debonair appearance. Obviously, unexpected falls make a controlled landing more difficult. Try out these landing basics at the beginning of your next training session so when a surprise fall hits, a good landing comes reflexively. Remember, ice belongs in your margarita, not on your ankle!
Figure 2. Hit the ground feet first, toes facing forward, with your knees bent. Disperse the shock of hitting the floor — rather than absorbing it completely with your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back — by collapsing like an accordion.