Don’t try the three-point superhero landing, OK?

Apparently the way to land when falling from a great height is to come down on one knee and a fist in a ‘three-point’ landing, then pause dramatically for everybody to admire your sudden entrance to save the day. Superheroes do it, so it must be the way, right?

I guess if you’re invulnerable, maybe. Although to me it does look more like posing. But hey – superheroes.

For the rest of us? Well, don’t try becasue it’s an easy way to break a leg. And knuckles. How do I know? Because physics.

Let me explain. Landing after a jump is all about trying to reduce your velocity without a sudden stop. It’s the stop that does the damage, which sounds trite, but bear with me. The problem is that the rate of change of velocity, itself, induces what is known as ‘jolt’ acceleration. This is far higher. It’s why a package you drop from table height suffers about a 40-gravity total shock on hitting the floor.

If you’re a superhero plunging from the sky – aiming for that dramatic entrance-and-superhero pose in which everybody pauses to admire you before the fight carries on – you’re going to get the full jolt acceleration right through your patella and knuckle. No soft tissue, even, to help slightly reduce the shock to the bones. As I say, if you’re invulnerable – well, who cares? But for the rest of us… yeah, that’s gonna hurt. Likely hurt big-time.

Back when I was doing martial arts we were always taught to roll and slap the ground – in effect, converting the downwards velocity vector into a horizontal one along a curve, specifically to keep accelerations low. Slapping the ground helped dissipate the energy. You see the same technique in parkour. And it’s all because the human skeleton can’t take the full brunt of a significant fall with a sudden jolt-stop.

So don’t try the superhero landing, folks. It’s not cool. Let the special effects simulate it instead.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020

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