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To crash without hurting yourself, practice falling.
By Mike Cushionbury

You can't skirt the big crash; just ask CSC's Dave Zabriskie, who lost his first-ever yellow jersey in this year's Tour de France prematurely due to an untimely fall. But you can minimize the damage in a fall with proper technique. For the basics behind any kind of fall, we asked Dave Hines, a karate black belt who has been studying the art for 35 years and teaching for 15, currently at Santa Ana College in Southern California. Hines says there are three major principles in falling; the first is particularly important for cyclists.

GO WITH THE ENERGY Cycling, as with most action sports, results in forward or front falls, and our natural reaction is to throw out our arms for protection. Though it seems like the best way to protect the head and upper body, it's not. When your arms go up you risk breaking a wrist, fracturing a collar bone or lacerating your chin because these three points will ultimately absorb the force of the fall and in the process snap back at unnatural angles. The safest way to handle a high- or low-speed get-off is to tuck and roll. By utilizing what's known as a judo or karate roll, you'll tuck your chin to your chest, pull your arms in and let your body roll through the fall on your shoulder. This neutralizes the energy, and prevents neck and back injuries that result from your body coming to a sudden, limb-burying stop.

TAKE AWAY THE ENERGY For a backwards fall, take away the force of the impact by throwing your hands back toward the ground to prevent the most common results of this fall, a head injury or whiplash. To properly execute, tuck your chin tight to your chest and, as you land on your back, extend your arms back and slap the ground with your hands--it's a slap to stop momentum, not an attempt to brace with your arms, which could break a wrist. This keeps the momentum from going to your torso and head.

LOWER YOUR CENTER OF GRAVITY By moving your hips as close to the ground as possible, you'll reduce inertia and force of impact. Take snowboarders, for instance: They might be in a prone position at speed but as soon as they start to fall they buckle their knees and get close to the ground. While cyclists may be limited to how low they can go because of that pesky bike beneath them, it's still helpful to keep in mind. To lessen impact, get as low as possible when you feel yourself going down.

PUT IT TO PRACTICE The only way to make falling second nature is to practice, says Hines, who recommends simply rolling and tumbling to get the idea into your brain. "Regular somersaults are good," he says, but after you tuck your chin to your chest, let your body roll on your shoulder, not your head. "And judo and karate will show you a lot of ways to fall properly." With a little practice and proper technique, you'll be the best, not the worst, crasher on the trail.



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