I need to learn how to fall like a child

You read that right: I want to learn how to fall. That’s the missing bit between fall prevention, improving balance, and getting up from the ground.

I am old and so I know I will fall over again one day. I want to fall sensibly: rolling not crashing, protecting my head, not breaking my wrists. I want to fall like children fall, soft and safe.

How I know I will fall over one day

Everyone falls over sometimes. Old people fall more often.

What’s more, I fell over a few weeks ago.

  • It wasn’t because I lost my balance.
  • I split my eyebrow open and slightly grazed my hands and knees.
  • But I got up from the footpath without using my hands, as usual, no problem.
  • And I was annoyed because in theory I know how to fall. But in practice, I react automatically, bracing myself with stiff arms.

I tripped. Anyone can trip. Including old people.

Photo of some long reeds flopping on the a footpath.
The grass that tripped me

Here’s how I tripped. Walking along happily. I put one foot on the end of a bunch of long drooping reeds. Lifted the other foot, which was then trapped under the reeds. Trapped and tripped.

This particular injury happens a lot.

I told my daughter and she said she had almost done it that week with some flax. Then I told my son who said he had done it himself yesterday, and that had seen multiple patients who had tripped in this very way. Their support helped me feel a bit less responsible and useless. But it won’t do me any good the next time I fall.

Why I need to learn how to fall

I know how to fall: soften your knees, soften your body, put your arms around your head and sort of roll sideways. I’ve read about it, and friends have told me. But that’s useless information if it’s not embedded in my body and mind.

To fall properly I need training and practice. Knowledge is not sufficient: we all know that.

Who will train us how to fall?

ACC (New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation) gives incentives to those who train older people in fall prevention, balance, and getting up from the ground. Local bodies are also committed to this sort of training and education.

Stopping all old people from falling would save the government millions of dollars in medical treatment and care. Also, failing a broken hip or leg, being strong enough to get up and use the phone after a fall can save a heck of a lot of suffering. So removing hazards and increasing balance and strength are extremely good things to do.

My point is this: if we also fall softly, protecting our heads, protecting our wrists, that will also save a heck of a lot of pain and money. (And uglification, speaking from experience. See the photo.)

A battered old woman with a bandaid on her right eyebrow and a black eye.
Me and my black eye. Beautiful!

As far as I know, there’s no falls training in my home city at the moment. So here’s what I’m going to do:

  • ask the city council to run such courses
  • start asking local jujitsu instructors if they can do it
  • if no result, get one-on-one training from a jujitsu instructor.

Any advice?

Please rush me with good examples and advice. Help me train my brain and body to fall softly without breaking anything. Have you done it?

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27 thoughts on “I need to learn how to fall like a child

  1. Sadje says:

    I think when we fall, our instincts take over and since it’s over in a few seconds, the damage is already done

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s true. And jujitsu aficionados and ballet dancers have trained their instincts 🙂

      1. Sadje says:

        Sadly I’m neither 😅

  2. Sheree says:

    There’s a difference between falling over and having a fall. Stick to the former!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I think I remember reading that somewhere 🙂

      1. Sheree says:


  3. cedar51 says:

    There’s Nymbl – it’s an app as I seem to recall…

    I spend a lot of time on the floor, I recently moved my work table to the floor – it’s of course, not a table but a old cover on the carpet. Up until a few weeks ago, I could easily go down and up but an attack of vertigo (I do know what caused it, now) has put my “balance” on the wrong side of good. But I can still lever up with aid of a real table or a dining chair…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Nymbl is about balance, and I do all that stuff. Better balance would not have stopped me falling. I am glad you are familiar with the floor and can get yourself up again.

  4. Genevieve says:

    As an actor I learned to stage fall first.. various tricks of physical theatre, like mime, the body holds more tension -secretly-to create an illusion…. Therefore the left leg swings up as though slipping in a banana peel while the right leg uses the muscle to quickly lower the body, the arms slap the ground to protect the head…
    Falling forward into a dive roll, hurtling down a flight of stairs, or sliding into a melodramatic faint for a large stage…
    When I first went into teaching, I would sometimes use this as a trick to get the class to give me their attention. I still think some of them just thought I was a hyper-collapsible teacher. 🙂

    Then I learned again in the context of martial arts. No one taught me that in particular. But I recognized these skills differently. Respecting the ground, having a familiar relationship with the ground, spending more time there…. It’s a change in mindset. We spend out lives mostly with our heads at – head height and keep them there unless for a particular reason we are horizontal… But we don’t often relate physically to the ground as movement.

    Rolling with a fall is part of it, remembering to lower the body quickly (and having the strength to), to control the fall,
    And the rest is terrain.
    Terrain of the land, and terrain of your body. They should come together like dancers not fighters… ward off the sharp parts of the world with hands and feet, but arms and shoulders can roll not elbows, back and buttocks can roll not knees.
    Sometimes it’s just too quick! The strength required to catch the body with the muscles of the arms, – too much.

    Martial arts are high impact sometimes, but stage acting require some similarities in training, and that is spending more time with the body and the ground.

    Literally, rolling and stretching in new ways on the ground will help retain a body memory of what will best work in the moment.

    But by all means, get a trainer to offer further secrets! Best, Genevieve.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      A beautiful explanation. And it confirms that I have to do it, over and over again, not just think about it.

  5. Military parachute training may be a possibility Rachel. The first lessons are always about falling safely. The military are always keen to partake in any activities that enhance public relations, and they may even offer you a tandem jump!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s another smart idea! Thinking about it…

  6. VJ says:

    I fear this too. My husband falls frequently (bad knees) and he does the drop and roll, but still – we don’t bounce like we used to.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Alas, not so bouncy now. But how smart of him to drop and roll. How did he learn to do that, VJ?

  7. No advice…but I am intrigued with Peter’s Pondering’s Parachute training suggestion!
    Wanted to say: you and your black eye **are** beautiful.
    Take care and good luck with those practise falls.

  8. judibwriting says:

    I was a former dancer and it served me well with falls from living with MS for many years- but the automatic relax, tuck, and roll response is no longer available. Now there is very little discussion between my nerves and my muscles even when ignited by a burst of adrenalin when I begin to fall. But I still make sure to deliberately get down on the floor and do some exercises every day though the getting up part is awkward and a big challenge, I agree with being familiar with the floor and even crawling around a bit if your knees can take it. Crawling, toddling and falling is where we began and where we end. I want to keep using what I have as long long as I have it! I liken relaxing as you fall to steering into a skid with a car- counterintuitive and so needs practice. Thanks for this piece- I live with this idea of falling safely every day.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh yes, serious dancers know how to fall. That’s so tough, losing your learned response. How wise are your thoughts on crawling, toddling and falling. Your comparison with steering into a skid is inspired. A case of working with the fall instead of against it. Thank you,Judi.

  9. Children are shorter, so they also have the advantage of being closer to the ground.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, and the usually have someone nearby to kiss it better🤭

  10. Dan Antion says:

    The only time I was taught how to fall was when I took karate lessons over 40 years ago. Maybe those instructors would be able to run some classes.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s my starter, martial arts teachers. I do tai chi but that doesn’t involve falling.

  11. Genevieve R McClean says:

    I suspect that you would really like the Alexander technique Rachel.. the physical training is very incremental, and creates mind-body connection to eliminate physical tension and leverage the body for ease. Alexander (a colonial australian and voice teacher) developed this practise in which he discusses the toddler’s movement and their natural instinctive relationship with falling and squatting down to pick something up ( amongst all sorts of other examples). You could undoubtedly find a video or book first, but the ideal is to work with a group and a trained teacher. This post is a great reminder, I am no guru but when feeling inclined to exercise will go and do it… funny, – it’s in the knowing when one is ‘inclined’ or not!! . Best

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I have had lessons in Alexander Technique for other purposes so I see how it could work.

  12. Oh Rachel, I am sorry to read this. And because I know how agile, fit and amazing you are, it is surely a great warning for us all, as indeed, we can’t always prevent a fall. I love how you turn such things into wisdom. xx

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Love your love, as always. But truly it was a small — but thought-provoking — episode. xx

  13. Jennifer Holdaway says:

    Hi Rachel. I’m sorry to hear your news. I fall a lot and among other injuries I have broken my ankle and wrist, had serious concussion and now a twisted knee reawakening an old knee injury. There has always been a good reason for it and others say they would have fallen as well. But I too am very concerned about it. I bought tramping poles but have found each fall happens so fast, the poles have not helped when my body is already on the way down. They have stopped me slipping a few times though so definitely helpful too a certain degree. I would love to know how you go with some instruction and I’m up for a course of some sort. xx

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s a serious list of injuries, Jen. Concussion is scary and knee injuries chew away at quality of life. After all these helpful suggestions I wouldn’t dare forget to find some instruction. I will keep you posted.