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International, independent, e-magazine on skydiving, BASE & tunnel


by Gary Wainwright
by Gary Wainwright

Brain locks - the freefall equivalent of walking into a room looking for something but you can't remember what it is… until you retrace your steps to the previous room to remember you needed a pair of scissors. On the ground it’s just mildly irritating but in free fall, this can blow the skydive, lead to frustration within the team and throw points away.

Brain locks are so prevalent in skydiving that we tend to think it's a word. Brain lock is not a phrase in general use – ask a whuffo what it means and you'll get a blank stare; google it and you find a book; try a dictionary and it's not listed; ask wikipedia and you'll find a neurology term. But any skydiver knows what a brain lock is. When debriefing a skydive, the phrase, 'Sorry I had a brain lock' is understood, and generally viewed as acceptable, it almost implies it wasn't your fault, these things happen now and then.

But if you're on a competitive team you can't throw away 500 training jumps at the nationals by forgetting and saying it's 'just one of those things'. How do we get to grips with brain locks?

Understanding the Causes

Brain locks can be divided into being down to one of 3 causes:

1 Distraction – something happened (bad exit, bust grip, hit your knee) that distracted your attention and you lose the flow of the dive

2 Aerial Coaching - your brain becomes so busy critiquing the progress of the dive that you forget what's next

3 Insufficient Preparation – for whatever reason your mental state is not fully prepped for the dive


The key is to analyse what causes your brain locks so you can pay attention to the correct area for improvement, see below. When you have a brain lock, try to identify the cause as one of the 3 above, by thinking about what was in your head before you brain locked. This makes it easier to adjust your mindset to prevent a recurrence, as you know the points to address.

Aaron Faith — by James Stevenson
Aaron Faith — by James Stevenson

1 Distraction

You hit your head, we bust the block, is that my floating handle?… Whoa, what’s next? It’s very natural to be thrown momentarily by a glitch. Training yourself to keep with the flow of the dive requires practice. Like any other athletic skill this continual focus on the ‘now’ requires repetition to make it second nature. It is similar to developing the mindset that if a point is keyed but not complete, you have to move on without interrupting the flow of the dive. This is not instinctive but is essential both to keep the dive going and so as not to draw the attention of the judges.

Addressing Distraction Control

You can train this mindset by planning some jumps where you deliberately key points early so you can practice flashing and selling it to the judges. In the same way you can train to keep going through distractions by building some into your training. Get your cameraflyer to fly on level and underneath, in your vision. Pull a face at your clone. Jump in cloud.

2 Aerial Coaching

This is similar to problem 1, of distraction but this is self-made and internal rather than external. The brain starts to critique the jump, and this running commentary distracts the skydiver from what’s coming next.

Addressing Aerial Coaching

If this in-air coaching is something you suffer from, ask yourself why you are doing this assessment and if it’s helpful. Most of the time, it will be better to trust your external coach to make his/her evaluation later while you keep your attention on the skydive. You can train to avoid this mindset. The first step is to recognize it; then, when you feel it happening in free fall, jolt your mind back to the present. Let go of the outcome, you must do that to

by Alan Thompson
by Alan Thompson

3 Insufficient Preparation

Failing to prepare properly can be due to many causes such as; being short of time; complacency; a dive that just didn't go into your subconscious like usual; paying insufficient attention at the dirt dive; laziness in the aeroplane; other factors. Identifying this area as a weak point will tell you that you need to find better ways to remember the dive, or to address remedial points.

Addressing Insufficient Prep

For example, if you are short of time, this is a signal to spend more mental effort in the aircraft, visualising lots from above if you have not had a chance to get on creepers. If you spot complacency or laziness filtering into your attitude, perhaps because you feel you’re more experienced or talented than others, this is a sure sign to pay attention or suddenly you will be the one at the bottom of the performance level.

Improving Memorisation

If you frequently make brain locks of this type then consider re-approaching your method of remembering the skydive. Memorizations that worked at a 10-average may not be good enough at a 13-point average. If this is the case then talk to others, find out how they remember dives and incorporate new or additional techniques.

Red Flag

Sometimes when mentally going through a jump you’ll find you repeatedly glitch on the same point. That’s a sign you haven’t got it in your head properly and this is prime brain lock potential. You need to add something extra to your mental prep. Find something in the existing formation that triggers the next one, such as looking at your clone, a keyword (‘arch’) or visualising a red flag as a pointer. Reviewing your approach and adding this extra element will likely stop the brain lock before it happens.

Brit Chicks 8-way&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by <a href='' class='captionLink'>Danny Jacobs</a>
Brit Chicks 8-way — by Danny Jacobs

Dive Pool

Numbers and letters – if you are on a team you will find it easier to remember sequences as A, F, 3, 9 rather than: unipod, open accordian, side-flake opal, turf; caterpillar and accordian, accordian and caterpillar. Just reading that sentence should make it clear why. After a while the numbers and letters become more to your subconscious than just the sequence; they include key sequences, muscle memory and subconscious awareness of the whole picture. The more familiar you are, the easier it will be to recover if you do brain lock.

Craig Ditty

Craig Girard says the first thing he does with to prep a 4- or 8-way skydive is to start repeating the sequence over and over in his head (numbers and letters) and give it a musical or rhythmic quality. That way, if you forget, you only have to say the Craig Ditty to recover the sequence so remember where you are.

Stay Ahead

The key to being one step ahead of the game is to be thinking of the next point before you’ve built this one. As your team enters the pre-finish picture, with people arriving in position and grips about to be taken, you should now have the next point clearly in your brain so as soon as this one is built and keyed you’re already moving in the right direction. Test your ability to stay mentally ahead by visualizing stupidly fast, as though you’re on Airspeed, and keeping a step ahead. Work on this skill until it’s natural – congratulations, you just upped your game.

Tips to Avoid Brain Locks

  • Learn the dive pool
  • Prep thoroughly
  • Visualise from different angles
  • Visualise at multiple speeds
  • Train your brain
  • Identify and address potential brain locks early
Brit Chicks 8-way&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by <a href='' class='captionLink'>Danny Jacobs</a>
Brit Chicks 8-way — by Danny Jacobs

Dealing with Brain Locks

If the dreaded brain lock happens to you… Stay calm. Keep your head up. The clues to jog your memory are in front of you. Most likely if you have prepped well your muscle memory has pointed you in the right direction for the start of the move. Look at your teammates, and interpret what you’re seeing. Identify the formation or read a teammate’s message. Smile. Remember the Craig Ditty. One of these should have worked and you’re back on track.

If your Teammate Brain Locks

Stay calm. Be nice. Communicate logically and clearly, as you would on the ground. Desperately waving like a distress signal will amplify panic. Keeping your composure will be infectious too.


The more we visualize and the greater variation in speeds, scenarios and angles, the more we can improve our inner understanding. This will reduce brain locks and make recovery faster. This is why it’s important to visualize the dive from more than one perspective.

See Julia Foxwell’s article: Visualisation

Thought for the Day

Why is it, that I get angry with myself when I brain lock… but when it happens to my teammates I think it’s hilarious?!