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Published: November 30, 2021
Have you ever wondered why skydivers seem to be so stable and relaxed in free fall? Falling with stability doesn't happen by chance; it occurs because of a foundational body position known as "the arch." Learning to arch is Freefall 101 when learning to skydive. Individuals who are unable to perform this key body position will be advised not to pursue skydiving as it's fundamental for your safety and the safety of others.
What is The Skydiving Arch?
The "arch" is a skydiving body position that allows a skydiver to fall to the earth with stability and control. The arch position is established when a skydiver pushes their hips forward creating an "arch" in the small of their back. The visual analogy that commonly describes the arch position is the naturally curved shape of a banana.
Skydiving is not simply falling, but rather deflecting wind off of one's body. This takes practice, but as you'll learn, some of the world's best skydivers have mastered the ability to have spatial awareness to use different body parts as rudders to deflect wind. This ability allows skydivers to fly on different axes with precise maneuverability and control. Every advanced maneuver is built off the foundational body position that you'll learn on your first visit to a dropzone - the arch!
How Easy Is It To Arch?
Most anyone can learn to arch! The key to having a great arch is to relax. If fear overcomes you and you become stiff as a board, it's likely that you'll fall without control which can cause further tension and even more instability. For skydiving students who struggle with learning the arch, a few minutes spent in a wind tunnel usually helps with mastering this body position and builds confidence.
The arch position is strenuous on the lower back; individuals who suffer from low back pain or have slipped or herniated discs will find this body position uncomfortable. Individuals who struggle with any neck or back pain should consult with a doctor before making a skydive.
Can You Practice the Arch on the Ground?
If you're unsure whether you have the ability to arch, it is possible to practice arching at home. To practice arching:
- Lay on your stomach on a flat surface. A bed is fine.
- Push your hips forward and lift your chest off the mattress keeping your chin high away from your chest.
- Simultaneously lift and extend your legs off of the mattress.
There will be some discomfort and muscle fatigue in the lower back as this is not a natural position to be in for long. What you're testing for is any sharp pain or moderate discomfort (you'll know!).
If you are unable to perform this body position, skydiving arch exercises - essentially, back exercises - may be required to strengthen the muscles in the lower back. Individuals who are unable to get into this position are not good candidates to become skydivers until this skill is learned.
Other Skydiving Body Positions
As a skydiver progresses, s/he will learn a number of nuanced body positions that control maneuverability from moving left, right, up, down, horizontally, vertically and even in angles. The best skydivers today have practiced these skydiving poses so often that they can fly without having to consciously think about what position they need to be in. It becomes second nature after hundreds of hours of practice in the air and in a wind tunnel.
If you're reading this and are preparing to make a tandem skydive, there is another key body position you'll want to learn about - positioning your legs up and out.
The most common injury in skydiving is usually a sprained or broken ankle. This is a common injury with tandem skydiving and usually occurs when a tandem student fails to get their legs up. During the landing sequence, it's important that a tandem instructor's feet touch down first before the feet of the student whether it be a stand up landing or the more common butt-slide landing. If the student's feet touch down first while there is forward momentum, they could get caught under the tandem pair, resulting in an injury.
During the final approach to landing, it's common for a tandem instructor to shout "Legs Up!" to their student. Below is the correct body position for a tandem student getting their legs up. This isn't unlike a plane landing on its rear wheels first (the tandem passenger is the equivalent of the nose wheel in this analogy).
This position does require some core strength to achieve.
Overall Physical Fitness
Skydiving does require a basic level of fitness, flexibility and core strength; this activity is not for everyone! The safety quotient can vary depending on an individual's ability to perform the necessary tasks highlighted - namely, holding a solid arch position in freefall and lifting the legs on landing.
If you're unsure about the physical requirements of making a skydive, we recommend making an appointment with us in advance so we can show you what's specifically required before the day of your desired jump. Click here to contact us.