We're going to be taking a look at some of the more technical aspects of the parkour roll. This tutorial is not meant for the beginner but for those who already have the basics of the parkour roll quite well and conditioning to support it.
Extra: -1. When you see a little highlighted number in the script (1) that means I explain this idea more in the "Extra" section below each paragraph. -2. I'm serious, you could hurt yourself with some of these techniques so make sure you're prepared. -3. The roll can be a very personal thing, everyone's tending to be different because of how they learned them and their body structure. What's essential is that it doesn't hurt on concrete and conserves the forward momentum.
(Read more for script and supplemental info)
1. Now I'm not speaking as an authority on kinesthesiology or biomechanics, or physics. But I'd like to share what I've learned about rolls partly through things Sebastien Foucan explained to me (indicated by [Acording to Seb...]) as well as my own insights into the mechanics of this move. Check out the basic roll tutorial on AmericanParkour.com .
We're not going to begin with the roll, but with the take-off, the leap. It's good to practice rolls with a lot of forward momentum. I'm serious, like, broad jump out there. I know it's scarier than just plopping over the ledge but straight drop rolls are much more difficult.
3.  Now we'll look at the impact. According to Seb, enter the landing leaning forward, with your weight already in front of your feet so that you literally fall into the roll. But experiment with this because you don't want to lean too much. Seb also explained that as we come in for the landing, we should be physically and mentally "tense" or prepared. But not stiff as a rock either. 1
Extra: -1. "I just want to explain about "tense" people should know there is different level of being tense. They have to be more sensitive with their body to notice that for the landing impact it's about being tense and ready physically and emotionally but tense doesn't mean being tight like a rock it's a combination with relax and tense;-) it's almost like the precision jump you can't be to relax you have to be "ready and aware" a kind of tense;-) not stressed. Hope you understand sorry for my english!" - Seb
4.  Let's look at the foot placement. Once you start getting into more serious drops you have to land with your feet parallel and square in the direction you're traveling, at a bit less than shoulder-width. Instead of using the stance to get the shoulder roll across the back1, you should use a bend at the hips. Immediately after your feet make contact you should push against the ground engaging your glute-hamstring chain, as if standing up out of a squat. 2
Extra: -1. Any angle in the feet (as in many martial arts rolls) turns the knees also and causes them to bend in an unnatural and dangerous way. Your muscles aren't placed to resist the force in this position. -2. "The quieter the landing, the better" is a good general rule of thumb, both staight landings and rolls, but not a hard and fast rule. On bigger jumps you simply don't have time to let your legs give which is what allows for the quieter landing. At this point it's better to go by feel than by sound.
5.  Here's where things get complicated. I'd like to introduce a few concepts the first of which I'll call Reverse Blocking. Blocking is a gymnastic technique used to convert forward momentum into upward momentum, just like this ball changing trajectory1. The beginning of the roll is similar to blocking except it converts the downward momentum into forward momentum, hence Reverse Blocking. 2The other concept is the Recoil. You're legs shouldn't slowly lower you to the ground into the roll3, but actually recoil against the ground throwing you forward into the roll like a tight spring. If you don't believe me about the recoil effect, just take a look at David and Seb's rolls. It kinda looks like they're diving into their rolls. Yes, it's bad if you're diving [i]up[/i] into the roll, but if you travel along the ground it is, in fact, very effective. (this is why your weight is forward before landing) 4, 5
Extra: -1. Instead of running then jumping into a flip, gymnasts actually "punch" the floor with their body at an angle to use their speed for height. I wouldn't advise "punching" the ground with your feet. Instead counter the force after your feet make contact. Foot contact should be very brief, just as in normal blocking. -2. When landing and entering a roll it's common to simply decelerate one's body in the same fashion as going into a squat then once near the ground simply rolling over. However this method makes little use of the roll and only works up to a certain height. -3. The difference here is most noticeable after a big day of training whereas once it was my quads which were sore, now it's my butt (should stop training with Leon); my glutes/hamstrings. At this point it would actually be wise to apply the 90degree knee bend rule. Not because it's damaging to go past 90degrees, but because more than 90 means your staying on your feet too long and absorbing too much with the legs. -4. Take a look at David and Sebs' knees too. They bend to about 90degrees or less, then reextend before tucking again for the roll. -5. Now you may ask, if we have the leg strength to resist the drop, then why do we bother rolling? Well, the reason you're able to resist and recoil from the impact is that your whole body is rotating forwards into the roll, so as you land your legs are resisting the downward force, but as your torso/hands come to the ground, by the time your recoiling with the legs, their actually going with the force of the forward momentum and not against the downward momentum. I'll admit these are my theories as to why/how it works. Im no expert so any physicists feel free to correct me. However it is based on a good deal of experience and exchange.
6.  Onto the hands: There are generally two different but valid techniques. The first involves one arm scooping under the opposite armpit along the ground palm up1. The other is planting both palms on the ground off center2. Often, people place the hands too close to the feet, as a consequence of compressing into the roll instead of recoiling. Remember, if you are properly recoiling, your legs should almost be fully extended by the time your hands touch. Take note of the legs and how far the hands are from the feet here. 3
Extras: -1. Seb taught me the first technique although neither he, nor myself use it anymore. I find that this method is a useful tool for beginners to get a rounder, smoother, and properly angled roll but can be abandoned once this is established. As I said, you slide the inner hand, palm up, from it's starting place as described earlier, under the opposite armpit and past the opposite shoulder. This helps create the roundness and tucking of the head for the shoulder roll. By the way the head doesn't go under the armpit, just bends to the side and down a bit. -2. In the latter one, the hands should be offset from your feet so that if you roll over right shoulder, your right hand is in front of your left foot, and left hand beyond that a foot or so. This causes you to bend laterally at the hips which then sets up the angle for the shoulder roll. -3. While the arms do bear some weight, it's mostly to guide/control the roll rather than absorb impact into the ground. The ground is passed smoothly down the arm and weight transferred across the back. You should feel no bump there because everything is rounded so its simply transferred down along the back as you roll.
7.  As Seb teaches, the point of the roll is to disperse the impact along the ground through the roll. The more surface area it's dispersed over, the lower the average pressure. So you want your roll to take up as much distance as possible, within reason. 1, 2 Since my legs were extended going into the roll, when I get to my back it's time to tuck my legs in tight. This increases my rotational speed, just like a gymnast tucking in the air, or an ice skater pulling in his arms. This extra speed helps bring you back onto your feet.
Extra: -1. Seb also says try to remain round while rolling. -2. Gear (Jesse Woody) has a great visualization for this: "It helps me to envision myself as a drop of water. When I hit the ground, I compress down into a drop and move across the ground smoothly and without undue impact. Something about this visualization helps my body assume the correct position."
EXTRA: 8. Related Problems: -Some of the most common problems are due to an ignorance of these concepts, and feed into each other. The person who absorbs to about 90 with the knees with no recoil is then forced to bend more at the hips in order to initiate the roll. This in turn shortens the surface area that the roll covers, increasing the impact, and making the roll more "bumpy" due to the more oval shaped form they had to take.
9. Drill It: -The great thing about the roll is that you can really feel if your doing it right or wrong. One telling sign is, if you have explosive momentum throwing you out of the roll, you're probably doing good while if you're barely able to stand back up out of it, then Dees is no good. [Seb] ;-) Assuming you have a good amount of experience with landings and rolls already, start 6 to 8 feet onto grass to feel the momentum tranfer and timing. Next move to concrete just from standing and you'll quickly learn if you have the angle and rounded back correct. After you've got that dialed in, work your way up to 6 to 8 feet onto concrete. This is because the mechanics of this roll technique rely on the the gravity and inertia from these heights working for you in the roll.
Review: -Leaping forward into the roll helps a lot. -Just before landing, be tense, with legs extended, and weight leaning forward -Land with feet square facing forward, resist against the ground -Think about reverse blocking or recoiling forward into the roll -Place hands a good distance forward, and guide your shoulder to the ground -Tuck legs in for rotation and round shape -Repetition
Be safe out there, and have fun!
Thanks to Sebastien Foucan for everything you've taught me and for reviewing this tutorial. David Belle for your videos. Travis Noble and Mike Metze for being cameramen. Jesse "Gear" Woody for your insights and video. and Brandon "Lil B" McCuien for your video.
Music: 1.618 by BT
Misc* I'm still experimenting with foot position on the exit of the roll so I didn't cover it in this tutorial. Right now my technique works fine for me but isn't perfect.