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I came across this video that makes a series of claims based around a position that a person can apparently get stuck in around a pole, and unintentionally kill themselves:

The video demonstrates and explains a series of claims that people can't escape from this position without the aid of something else to pull them up (such as a rope or another person), and after 15 minutes their leg muscles will cramp (the cramping seems plausible), followed by throwing themselves backward in a manner that can result in their death.

Although I'm particularly skeptical about the final death portion of this series of claims, my set of three questions are:

  1. Is it impossible for a human to free herself/himself from this position?
  2. Will humans in this position for an extended period of time always throw themselves backward, perhaps after developing leg cramps?
  3. Is death the expected result of throwing oneself backward while stuck in this position?
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    Claiming as a general safety advice that something might kill you is very different from claiming that it's probable that it kills you. If you throw yourself back and hit a hard surface with your head it might kill you. – Christian Jun 15 '11 at 9:48
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    Rather than editing it, I'm going to suggest you edit it so that the three claims are easily tested. "can" and similar words make it difficult to prove or disprove, because some people in some situations certainly can do that, but that hardly proves your point. "Is it impossible to extricate oneself from this position", "Will humans, voluntarily or involuntarily, always throw themselves backwards when placed in this position for extended periods of time, perhaps after developing leg cramps?", and "Is death an expected outcome of..." for instance. These claims are much easier to study. – Adam Davis Jun 15 '11 at 18:02
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    @Adam Davis: I really like that you suggested how I could improve the questions instead of just editing them directly (+1) -- this was an educational and helpful suggestion, particularly because I am interested in improving the clarity of the wording of my questions (I hope others will vote for your constructive comment too). Thank you. – Randolf Richardson Jun 17 '11 at 7:22
  • I have an answer that will hopefully be undeleted at some point, which addresses the first and third points. I'm not sure how #2 can be answered---the empirical frequentist approech doesn't seem realistical. :) – dancek Feb 6 '15 at 9:09
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First, the evidence that this position actually works and has been used in practice comes from the 1942 book Get Tough! How to Win in Hand-to-Hand Fighting, as Taught to the British Commandos, and the U.S. Armed Forces by then-Captain W.E. Fairbairn. The technique is called the Grape Vine, and is described on page 37. The relevant passage can currently be read on this site.

Even though you have left your prisoner's hands free, it will, if he has been forced well down the tree, be almost impossible for him to escape.

I tried this with my friends back in my youth. The "average" person can't free themselves from this position. A friend of mine that weighed little and had strong arms, however, could pull himself up the pole with his hands and free himself.

A couple of us, myself included, stayed for quite a long time trying to get free, eventually lying backward with exhaustion. There seems to be no danger involved. The position is quite uncomfortable after you stop supporting yourself with your muscles, so probably blood circulation to the feet is partly restrained.

The possible causes of death from being in this position would be:

  • Hitting the head when falling backwards.
    There's no easily conceivable reason the fall would be uncontrolled. If it were, the force caused by the fall is considerably lesser than when falling backwards from a standing position. It's not uncommon for this kind of fall to happen in boxing, but it's rare to die from that (at least one recorded case exists). So death from falling backwards seems improbable. Still, Get Tough claims that people throw themselves backwards and are killed:

    Normally, the average man placed in this position would get cramp in one or both legs within ten to fifteen minutes, when it is not at all unlikely that he would throw himself backwards. This would kill him.

  • Lessened blood circulation to the feet.
    This could eventually develop a dry gangrene, which "is usually not life threatening" (unlike other forms of gangrene).

  • Thirst/hunger
    If there's no water available, death from dehydration will occur in 2-10 days, depending on temperature. For death from hunger, see the question Fasting for 40 days - is it possible?

I'd say dying from thirst is the most probable cause, since that will definitely eventually happen.

The position is very easy and fun to try out for yourself in controlled circumstances with at least two friends. However, this is not advice to do that.

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    Might the backwards fall be uncontrolled due to involuntary spasms in the leg muscles (following on from the cramps)? – A E Mar 28 '15 at 14:42

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