In nearly every sport, learning the most effective stance is fundamental. (Think of a wrestler crouching at the beginning of a match, a baseball player up at bat or a tennis player getting ready to return a serve.) While the optimal stances may vary by sport, all allow the athlete to optimize strength, power, speed and stability. In formation skydiving, this stance is the neutral body position.
This neutral body position is slightly different from the one a student learns while getting their A license, and for good reason. Agility of movement is a secondary consideration for a beginning student, who must first focus on stability. However, once an instructor clears a student to fly solo (which presumes the student can fly stable and recover from instability), the student can begin working on this body position.
The neutral body position—like all FS movement—breaks down into three areas: the head and arms, the core and the legs.
Head and arms:
Hold your chin high. Your shoulders should be back and down with your hands in front of your shoulders at about shoulder height. Your elbows should be in front of and just below your shoulders.
Arch by pressing your hips and glutes down. The word “arch” can be misleading, because it may make you think of arching your back, but a good arch starts by doing the right thing with your hips. As a side exercise, stand about 6 inches from a wall, facing toward it. Then press your hips forward until your hips are the only thing touching the wall. That’s what you should feel when you arch in the air.
Your knees should be about shoulder-width apart. Your lower legs should extend just beyond 90 degrees. (The amount you extend your lower legs will vary base d on whether you have a jumpsuit with booties. Booties provide increased resistance against the wind and provide a lot of power to the legs, so if you’re wearing them, you’ll need less leg extension to remain neutral.) Your feet should be slightly closer together than your knees. Your heels should angle in slightly toward each other. Point your toes.
Be strong but relaxed. Think of a boxer dancing around the ring: They are strong and ready to absorb a punch, but they are not stiff. They are nimble and able to move quickly. Here are a few tips:
- Whether you are skydiving or in the tunnel, take a deep breath and smile before launching into the wind. Make it your plan and part of your visualization prep to take another deep breath and smile when you get in the air. If you’re flying with someone else, smile at your partner.
- Scan your body for tenseness, especially the shoulders and upper arms. Are you rigid or movable? If someone gave a push on your elbow, would your entire body move, or would you absorb the energy and stay in place? Try giving yourself a little shake—a little back-and-forth movement—in the areas that hold tenseness. Focus on feeling the wind. This is subjective, but you’ll know when your movements go from strictly following instructions to feeling the body position that allows you to be at your most stable and agile.
- Slow down. It’s easy to feel rushed, but you have a lot more time than you think.
Mastering the neutral FS body position is key to all other flying. It’s the position we start with before moving, as well as the position we return to after moving. It’s also the position we maintain while coasting. The stronger our neutral body position, the better the rest of our flying will be.