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Published: February 9, 2021
Skydiving is perhaps the original extreme sport, and it is entirely reasonable to wonder if it might be hard on your body. Without having ever jumped out of an airplane before, you could easily imagine that deploying a parachute at 120 miles per hour would put a lot of strain on your back - or any part of your body.
The reality is that while skydiving is certainly a challenging and thrilling thing to do, it is much less physically traumatic that you either naturally assume or perhaps popular depictions in movies have led you to believe. That said, skydiving is a sport. Being aware of back health is very sensible, as looking after your spine will keep you able to do active stuff for many years to come. So, is skydiving bad for your back?
Parachute equipment is very effective, as the designs used have been refined over many decades - and modern materials are both incredibly strong and tremendously durable. It's important to know that agreeable opening characteristics are a massive priority, and landing done correctly is as easy as hopping down from a little step. It is impossible to eliminate entirely the risk of a deployment shaking you about, or mistiming things slightly so you plop down in a big pile on the grass - but most frequently these are very minor incidents.
While it is possible to skydive in a lot of ways, the most common (and the one you are most likely picturing) is the "belly flying," or flat position. This is when you fall hips down and chin up - with your belly button toward the ground. Whether you are tandem skydiving or learning to jump by yourself, this is how it starts as it is the best for stability (wide arms and legs), awareness (being the right way up) and your parachute container orientated correctly for deployment (on your back pointing upwards). Arching your body in this position creates stability, as you are aerodynamic in the same way as a shuttlecock - always correcting itself. Practicing this position on the ground feels like a lot of work for your back even for a few seconds, but in the sky you are supported by the wind - and it is actually so comfortable you probably will not even notice even though a skydive is approximately a full minute.
You definitely don't have to be a fitness aficionado to skydive, but it is definitely a sport and the fitter you are the more you will get out of it. Core strength is a key part of learning to skydive well, as sturdy management of what you core is doing is the foundation on which control and movement is built. You don't necessarily have to work out to be good at skydiving, but mobility and body awareness exercises will aid good progression and help you to avoid any sore muscles. Usually, physically weariness comes from being too tense - something that is pretty hard to avoid at the beginning. The more you do it the more relaxed you become, and any tension you were carrying fades away. Specific exercises that are good for skydiving use your whole body in measured movements, such as swimming and yoga.
Skydiving is very much a sport, and whether you are doing tandem skydiving for the first time or aiming for a license of your own, approaching it as sport is the best way. With good technique and awareness it is possible to skydive regularly for many years without any injury or soreness at all - but with anything physical, the harder you push the more likely it can become. At a foundational level, skydiving is designed to be accessible, repeatable and much gentler on your body than you might think. It is also the best thing ever!
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