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.


Keith said...


How much wear and tear will this put on a rope, roughly speaking? A lot (probably need to buy a new rope shortly afterwards)? Not much (check rope regularly but don't worry about it)?


adrien said...


is there any particular technique to fall correctly? i mean, some times when i fall i turn and end up hitting the rock with my shoulder or my back at the end of the fall. how can i avoid that?


andyb said...

I don't have an issue falling on bolts indoors or out (though I'm still a lot happier once I get above the third bolt). Trad is where this really affects me.

What is the best way to get around this - is it better to start by rigging a top rope as well as the lead rope and falling onto the gear with the top rope still having some slack in it? I know by looking at my technical abilities versus my trad lead grade that this is holding me back and I do know that most of the gear I place is good (been doing it a while now), but there is always that voice in the back of my head on a hard crux

Dave MacLeod said...

I'm no rope technology expert, but like most climbers I take many falls every time I climb, and retire a rope when I've worn out the sheath.

Yes there's a technique to fall correctly. The main way not to end up spinning around is to use your hands/feet to set your body correctly for the fall at the moment you realise you are falling.

For trad the technique is exactly the same. No top rope, just proper falls onto trad gear where it's safe to do so. The ultimate confidence booster though is unexpected falls on trad routes. But obviously it has to be a safe situation to do it.

Bryan said...

Hey Dave,

I know that this isn't exactly the proper place for this comment, but I just wanted to thank you for putting out the best information on the net... You and Mr. Gresham are the only guys out there practicing what they preach and getting up cutting edge routes. Your Mcos articles are great and I cant wait for more... Thanks again

Andreu said...

very good post. Thanks a lot

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Michael said...

A friend referred me to this idea of practicing falling...I don't climb (yet) but I do coach acting. I always compare class to being in a gym: you are stretching yourself, preparing for performance or audition: the mountain. In acting, if you are not growing and taking risks in the gym, how can you hope to do your best most fearless work on the mountain?
So, thanks for this thought! I've used it in my classes...

Anonymous said...



transex milano said...

Well, I do not actually imagine it is likely to have success.

necron1984 said...

I have confidence in my belayers and used to be ok with falling but when i want to practice i get pressured into doing it and rushed and really shoots me down, any advice?