Advanced Technique: the Front Roll-Fall

The front roll-fall technique uses the third principle of Fearless Falling, rolling, to absorb and redirect the dangerous forces of a forward fall at speed.  This kind of fall usually happens when engaging in some sport activity: skating, skiing, biking, running, Parkour, etc..  The bad things about these falls are the velocity and danger; the good thing is that you are usually aware of the potential hazard, so are not as startled and have more time to apply a safe falling technique.

* * * IMPORTANT NOTE * * *
The roll-fall technique requires some arm strength, core strength, and good chin-tuck and rolling skill.  You should not attempt to learn the front roll-fall technique until you have mastered the basic "tuck-sit-roll" side back-fall method.

Rollfall contact zone The main idea is to transform the energy of your forward and downward momentum into angular momentum: the forward rolling of your whole body.  You essentially shape your body into a hoop which then rolls across the ground.  By curling up and tucking your head out of the way you land mostly on your back shoulder area instead of striking face or head-first.  The energy of the fall is absorbed by the landing of the feet and by sliding along the ground on the side of your back and buttock. In the most advanced version, the legs are pulled in, and the remaining angular momentum is used to lift you right back up off of the ground into a standing position. This method is rather magical looking and can allow you to avoid scraping along the ground to "burn off" the excess energy of the fall.

The figure to the left shows the areas of the body that are used to absorb the force of the roll-fall.  The extended arm is "dashed" because it does not absorb much force -- it only guides the upper body into the roll.  The major force absorption is by the upper back, behind the shoulder, down across the back to the opposite gluteus maximus muscle and into the back of the thigh and side of the leg.  Note: you do NOT roll across the hip bone (major trochanter) in a proper roll-fall.


The First Roll-Fall Step: Rolling at floor-level.

The "floor" in these photos is a gymnastics mat.  You should learn the movements on a mat up to four inches thick.

The lead arm must be rotated inward and gently bent.  The extended fingers of the hand are pressed together, and they point downward and backward towards your legs.  This arches the arm in front of you with the elbow joint up, the hand below it.  Note: your lead elbow is pointing out in the direction of the roll.

The other arm is arched with the fingers pointing forward. Your two hands are close to each other, pointing opposite directions, so that your two arms form an angled hoop.  Tuck your chin towards your chest on the lead arm side, and your head will be close to the hoop formed by your arms.


Push off with your rear foot, and tighten your core muscles to hold the curved body shape.  Keep your lead arm "springy" and extended, so you will roll right over it to the back of your shoulder.


As you continue rolling, try to maintain the curve of your body, and keep the legs bent at the knee.  Rolling at an angle across the back, the gluteus maximus will impact the mat, followed by the left leg (in these photos) which will come over and strike the mat on its side.  The right leg should strike with the foot alone (preferably the ball of the foot, not the heel) due to the 45 degree angle of the frontal plane of the body.


The arms and hands wrap protectively around the head as the roll finishes.

As seen in the video below, the energy generated  by the roll is absorbed by the feet striking, and the remainder is "burned off" by the friction of the body sliding across the mat a bit.  In the beginning learning stage, at low speed with proper mats, this is not a problem.  

Remember, the most important objective in a head-first forward fall
is to protect the head from traumatic brain injury.  Some scrapes and bruises from sliding are a small price to pay for avoiding a serious or fatal injury.

rollfall gif
Here is a full floor-level practice roll, shown at half-speed.  This is usually called a "right-side roll-fall" because it starts on the upper right side.

You should always practice roll-falls on both your right and left sides.

The Roll Fall from a Standing Position

The next step is to start from a higher position.  First, just crouch down very close to the kneeling position as shown above.  Then gradually move higher until you can confidently start your roll from a normal standing position.  At this height, it is important to think of the lead arm as the start of a great curve, arcing down to the mat with your body following its line.  Here is a full practice roll to side-fall position at normal speed:

rollfall standing

Again, notice how stopping the rotation at the end of the roll fall
transforms the angular momentumback into forward momentum.  Some of the energy of the fall is lost through the action of  the buttocks, legs, and feet striking the mat.  The remaining kinetic energy must still be dissipated by frictional heat loss as the body slides across the mat.

The Complete Roll Fall back up to Standing Position

The final version of the roll fall recovers the energy in the angular and forward momentum of the fall by using it to lift the weight of the body back up from floor level to a standing position again.

Roll Fall back up to feetThis neat trick is done by folding the left leg (in this "right-side" roll) in closer to the pelvis, with the right foot coming over a bit ahead of it.

The body is kept in a circular shape, and essentially keeps rolling.  As the center of mass lifts up over the feet, the forward and angular velocities are both reduced as the energy is drawn off by the work required to lift the whole body back up to a standing position.  In this demonstration, with little forward momentum to start, the kinetic energy gained in the fall closely matches the energy needed to return to standing.

In a higher speed fall (from running or biking), you may have to take several steps to run off the energy at the end, or even do two or more consecutive rolls.