How to Roll with the Punches

If you fall, I’ll be there
— The Floor
It's easier to roll with the punches if you've been there before ( image source )

It's easier to roll with the punches if you've been there before (image source)

Losing your balance and getting turned upside down can be embarrassing.  But we've all done it before.  We've all lost the battle against gravity.  Whether it's forgetting that your foot was still locked into the bike pedal or "taking a quick jog" after we accidently trip while simply walking, we have all had moments of losing control. 

The outcome of these moments depend on the specific situation and your body's ability to adapt to it.  

As well as how many people saw you do it...

If you go with the momentum and adapt you'll probably be okay.  If you resist the momentum and try to stop it, then it might not go so well.

How do we roll with it?

There are 3 things our bodies use to determine where we are and how we should move.  Or in other words, 3 things that let us adapt.

  1. Vision
  2. Vestibular (Inner Ear)
  3. Proprioception (Body Sense)

Let's use the dog in the above gif as an example.  When he first gets turned upside down he knows this because:

  1. Vision - he sees the sky with no horizon
  2. Vestibular - his inner ear determines that he is head is quickly moving backward toward the ground
  3. Proprioception - his legs are unloaded and he feels the ground moving up his back

Since the dog is the Lebron James of dog parks, he is able to take this information and make the right movements to get back to the ground. 

What about us humans?

Unfortunately, most humans aren't able to adapt to many different situations.  This is because we spend most of our time upright in chairs, avoid rolling around or getting upside down, rarely spin, and like to stay connected to the ground just through our feet.  

Even when we work out we often stay in one plane of motion, do the same exercises every week, are externally focused on thoughts/music/tv, and are rarely exploring our limits.

In other words, we don't use our vestibular or proprioceptive systems that often.

Use It or Lose It

By not stimulating our vestibular or proprioceptive systems, we start to lose our ability to adapt to our environment.  When we can't adapt, we have to compensate.  When we compensate we lose options.  When we lose options, things get more difficult, or worse stress inducing.  When things are too difficult or too stressful, we avoid them.  When we avoid them..."use it or lose it".

It's a vicious cycle.

This is how we go from healthy moving kids to adults that can't get up from the ground.

A Personal Example

   An example of the ability to adapt and roll with the punches...or with the pool wall. ( image source )


An example of the ability to adapt and roll with the punches...or with the pool wall. (image source)

As a kid I used to play outside, roll around, and somersault frequently.  

Then I stopped.  

As a teenager I realized it wasn't cool to do somersaults.  How can you make friends in middle school if you're still playing outside like a kid?  Society taught me the same thing as an adult.  Playing on the ground was reserved for kids.  The last time I had seen an adult roll on the ground it was at my friend's 30th birthday party.  And it wasn't intentional...

Then I started to treat patients with BPPV and vertigo.  People who couldn't roll out of bed without being debilitatingly dizzy and nauseous.

As I worked with these individuals I learned how they had simply lost their ability to rotate and roll. 

Of course, I thought I was an exception to the rule.  There was no way I had lost my ability to rotate and roll.  I did it as a kid all the time.  No problem.

So I decided to try a forward roll.  A somersault.

After flopping on my back as gracefully as a WWE wrestler being suplexed, the momentum quickly took me to the sitting position.  I immediately realized I was wrong.  I felt like I'd taken 6 shots of tequila.  I was dizzy.

I felt normal again after about 10 seconds.  So it wasn't anything too abnormal.

However, my patients with vertigo sometimes have those symptoms for days.  It gave me a new level of empathy for them.

How do we solve this problem?

For vertigo patients this problem is often resolved with physical therapy and exercises.

For the rest of us, the answer is even easier...

Use it before you lose it.

And if you've already lost it, the solution is to start using it again, but in small, tolerable doses.

It's that simple.  Even just a small session, once a week, can make a significant impact.

For example, I simply started doing a somersault once a week after the initial test.  It got easier every time and after 3 weeks I was symptom free.  Now I can roll with the best of them.

A video posted by Aaron Swanson (@aswansonpt) on

Yes, that is my dog doing somersaults in the backseat of our car.

Movement Examples (do this)

There are a ton of ways to develop your vestibular and proprioceptive systems.

Gymnastics, dance, tai chi, ball and racket sports, yoga, and kettlebells are all great options.  

It can be almost anything.  

The best one is going to be the one that you can consistently do.

If it involves internal awareness, rotation, balance, vertical movement, and variable head movements then you're on the right track. 

Think of it as adding some play into your life - to awaken your inner child.

Sure, it looks weird.  But embrace being the weird guy at your gym or in your backyard.  Humility helps kill the ego.  Less ego = more happiness.

15 Ways to Move Better

Some examples of movements that improve your vestibular and proprioceptive systems:

  1. Perform a somersault
  2. Repetitive jump turns (90, 180, 360)
  3. Try a cartwheel
  4. Roll around on the ground or down a hill
  5. Crawl
  6. Play catch with throws over your head
  7. Go on a swing
  8. Do a Turkish Get-Up
  9. Move or perform an exercise with your eyes closed
  10. Turn your head side to side or up and down as you're performing an exercise
  11. Try the monkey exercise 
  12. Practice Hand/Headstands (variations - Feet to Hand FloatL-Shaped Supported, Pike to Headstand)
  13. Stand - go to the ground - lie on your stomach - roll onto your back - then roll to your stomach again - then stand up (if everyone over 50 did this exercise everyday we would save the healthcare system millions of dollars)
  14. Spin in a chair
  15. Play in the pool (dive, flips, twists, etc.)

Add it into your daily life, add it into your workouts, go outside and try it, do one of them inside after an hour of TV, make it play for your kids and do it with them. 

It doesn't matter how you do it or where you do it.  It just matters that it happens.  That your body continues to get healthy movement.  Because if you don't, you'll regret it when you've found that you lost it.

The best time to start improving your movement was yesterday.  The next best time is today.

Bottom Line

In life, to roll with the punches you must keep an open mind and adapt to whatever comes your way.

Movement isn't much different.  The only exception is that to keep an open movement system, you have to continue to use it.