26 July 2009

Beating fear of falling (in 5 sessions)

I’ve talked before about fear of falling - how climbers underestimate how much it’s limiting them, and that the only way to beat it is to attack it head on with falling practice. 

But I want to make another point about falling practice. Most climbers vastly underestimate how many practice falls will be ‘enough’ to beat their fear and learn to be relaxed and confident in their leading. 

Because those with a fear of falling problem find falling practice so unpleasant, this tendency is even further amplified by the constant temptation to feel like you’ve done enough. If you have to ask, you almost certainly haven’t.

Treat falling practice/fear of falling removal exactly the same as training some other variable like gaining finger strength - it takes sustained repetition over time to lift above square one and make any progress up the ladder. A bit here and there goes nowhere.

So just as it takes hundreds of sessions of pulling on small holds to go from novice to strong fingered advanced climber, it takes many hundreds of leader falls to go from falling averse nervous leader to confdent relaxed leader.

Hundreds of falls, year in year out.

Not a couple one night you are feeling brave and then never again. 

A second point is that many who fear falling and try to practice it compare themselves to confident ‘fallers’ and think - “they only fall once or twice in a climbing day, so that will be ok for me to do as well”.

But we have to go back to the basic training principles - overload and reversibility maintenance. Those who are confident may be so naturally or by having many falls in their climbing history. They don’t need to train it now, just maintain their current level because their weaknesses lie elsewhere. So just a few falls is fine. In training, just a little work is needed to tread water, but a pile of work is needed to move up the ladder.

If you have a problem with fear of falling, you need to do much more. You have to be going faster than those who don’t have the problem in order to catch up. 

Try a controlled and safe fall from the end of every single route you do at the climbing wall for 5 sessions in a row. Routes vertical or steeper, and a trustworthy belayer are among the pre-requisites for this being a good idea. Not one or two, every single one. So hopefully that will be between 25 and 100 falls with the bolt well below your feet. 

Now thats a chance to make more progress with your leading confidence in 5 sessions than perhaps you could in a year or two of trying to get around the problem by getting stronger so you can feel less scared on a given grade by just holding on harder.