Fear of falling is THE limiting factor when it comes to reaching your full climbing potential. In my early days, I made all kinds of mistakes and the fear of falling has haunted me for a long time.
In the meantime, this has changed. I have learned my lessons and I hope you can benefit form the information in this article.
How can you overcome your fear of falling while climbing?
The only way to effectively overcome your fear of falling is a systematic desensitisation through repeated falls.
The fear is reduced in small steps by slowly increasing the degree of difficulty of the falls.
In addition to active falling practice, there are also a few tangible methods to strengthen the psyche and minimise the fear of falling.
Awareness and attention are two of the weapons against fear. But more about that later, first of all it is good to know what the fear does to us and what effects it has on our climbing.
Why do we have to overcome fear of falling?
The fear of falling robs us of energy and attention.
Each one of us is able to give 100%
The more of this 100 % we are able to focus on a specific task (in our case climbing), the better we will be able to perform. Drifting away from this focused state of mind makes us vulnerable to mistakes.
Fear of falling while climbing – 10 Disadvantages
Many of these mistakes will be familiar to you and that is good, because only “conscious” mistakes can be corrected. Since fear deprives us of consciousness, many mistakes are unfortunately lost in the fog of fear.
In the course of the training you will learn to pay attention to all mistakes with open eyes.
1. Tunnel vision.
The field of vision is restricted. In “fear mode” potential holds are simply overlooked.
Fight, Flight or Freeze. We cannot escape and fighting the rock does not work either. The only possibility is freeze – so the body becomes rigid and inflexible, the movements choppy and inefficient.
Instead of precise footwork, we trample on the footholds.
We tend not to trust the footholds – and in consequence the footwork suffers.
4. Inefficient climbing
Out of fear we tend to use way more energy than necessary.
Fear inevitably leads to short and shallow breathing. Often, we hold our breath and forget to breathe properly. Too little oxygen in body and brain makes it impossible to climb well.
Those who masters conscious breathing, even in stressful situations, will simply climb better.
Clipping from unfavourable positions increases the risk of a long fall and thus the risk of injury.
Fear paralyses and makes us climb overcautiously. Slow and over-analytical climbing costs a lot of strength and nerves.
8. Resting positions are overlooked or not used optimally. This is due to the restricted field of vision and the overly tense movements.
9. Loss of focus.
The focus is lost, thoughts wander and we “travel in time” – either the past or future. We worry and get fearful – Concentration and climbing performance are lost.
10. Loss of confidence.
Fear separates us from trust and confidence. Suddenly we no longer trust our own abilities.
Healthy self-confidence makes the difference in some tricky climbing situations.
If doubts (unfounded) creep into our consciousness we will not dare to push ourselves to the limit.
Fear disturbs your climbing flow.
- Under the influence of fear, we climb slow, stiff and imprecise.
- Our breathing becomes shallow, and we are unable to use resting points due to our limited field of vision.
- In addition, fear prevents the beloved “flow” state and it is simply no fun when fear pulls us down.
What is flow?
The so-called “flow state” describes the feeling of a mental state of complete deepening (concentration), a complete absorption in an activity which seemingly happens by itself. The attention is focused on the activity being carried out at the moment, the sense of time and the worries of everyday life disappear. The doing is effortless and easy.
So, in your own interest, you should do something about the fear of falling. How to do this? Read on…
Overcoming fear of falling
Those climbers who are not afraid of falling are rare.
You can observe how they climb confident and calm – even right before they fall.
On the other hand, we also know those climbers who fumble around hastily, climb hesitantly and shout in panic to their belayer right before they fall.
Be prepared to leave the comfort zone. It is the confrontation with the unknown, which makes growth possible. To overcome your fear of falling, it is essential to face your fear. In falling practice you will encounter this fear again and again.
Reduce fear step by step
By constantly dealing with the fear of falling, you will expand the limits of your comfort zone. Sooner or later you will learn to feel comfortable in situations which made you fearful before.
All it takes is some knowledge about the power of “systematic desensitization” coupled with the undeniable will to defeat your fear of falling.
To expand your comfort zone, you have to expand yourself:
- Intentionally remove yourself from your comfort zone.
- Experience fear consciously.
- Process and integrate the experience.
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Systematic falling practice
It all starts with an idea or a resolution: “I want to overcome my fear of falling”.
Once the decision is made, all you have to do is follow the 9 step model (described below) and fall as often as possible. The following guidelines must be followed during the entire falling practice:
You profit the most when you consciously perceive every fall. Notice exactly what happens, keep your eyes open, breathe and feel how gravity pulls you down.
Uncertainty breeds fear.
Being aware of all the details leaves no room for uncertainty and allows your mind to learn faster.
Do not overwhelm yourself
In order to learn and grow, we must deliberatly expose ourselves to discomfort and fear. But falling practice must not be more stressful than absolutely necessary (systematic desensitization).
Overwhelming or overly stressful experiences during falling practice, might have a negative effect on your fear of falling and should be avoided at all costs.
From easy to difficult – proceeding in small steps.
- Equipment. Before each falling practice, double and triple check your equipment. Besides the actual safety condition of your gear, the psychological component is of particular importance. Because only if you are absolutely sure that harness, knots and rope are in order, your subconscious mind can relax.
- Location. Choose a long and overhanging wall with trustworthy bolts. Practice only with enough distance to the ground.
- Belay partner: Your belay partner must be able to dynamically belay a fall. If this is not the case, the focus must first be on the “training” of the belayer. This time is well invested, it builds trust and reduces the risk of injury.
Learn “dynamic belay” in 2 min:
There is no point in skipping a step. Do not move on to the next step until you have completely mastered the previous step.
You have mastered a step, if you no longer are afraid of falling – you are able to initiate the fall at any time, relaxed and without fear.
Fall, fall and fall again.
One of the biggest mistakes is to assume, that a few falls are enough to overcome the fear of falling. Admittedly even a few falls can work wonders, but these wonders do not last for long. Without regular practice you will quickly fall back to your base level.
To really learn the ability of falling it takes many falls and experience. I am talking about hundreds of falls.
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9 step programme falling practice
During the first steps you can still communicate with your climbing partner and instruct him/her exactly how high you will climb and when you will jump.
After that, it is important to simulate fall scenarios – which means falling without notice or warning. No hesitation, no eye contact, no shouting – just let go and initiate the fall.
In the following you will find an example of a systematic falling practice. (More information about falling practice can be found in my article: Climbing – Practice How to Fall | 9 Step-Guide that really Works.
- Sit down. Lean into the relatively taut rope.
- Slowly increase the fall height.
- Pendulum falls. Stagger your fall to simulate a pendulum motion.
Falls during the lead climb
- Clipping and falling. Clip into the next quickdraw and let yourself fall immediately and without warning.
- Quickdraw at hip level.
- Quickdraw at knee height.
- Quickdraw at foot level.
- Pendulum falls. Diverge from the straight rope path.
- Belayer directed falls. Your climbing partner directs the moment of the fall with a verbal cue. Initiate the fall immediately after the signal.
Here all 9 steps to download and share
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3 training tips to elimintate – fear of falling
These 3 practical methods can be practiced during every single climbing day without any additional effort. All it takes is the firm decision to overcome your fear of falling. This way you can practice 5, 10 or 20 falls per day.
Do this for a whole year and your fear of falling will not survive for long. A former “weakness” will be transformed into a strength.
Falls while warming up
1. Clip and fall
Clip and fall is the ideal warm-up exercise. Climb up to the quickdraw, clip it and initiate the fall immediately. You won’t fall far, but with every fall you and your belayer will become more confident. (To avoid ground contact, start at the 3rd of 4th quckdraw.
2. Clip the anchor and fall.
Clip in the anchor and initiate the fall immediately. Don’t give your climbing partner time to pull in slack and just let go.
Make this your routine and you will have a mini fall with every route you finish.
3. Touch the anchor and let go.
Here the anchor point will not be clipped in at all. Touch the anchor point, let go immediately and fall down to the last quickdraw before the anchor. Do this 3 times per session and gain falling experience.
Mindfulness against fear of falling
Thoughts arise from our mind. And yes, it is true, they literally jump into our consciousness. Thinking is not something we can stop.
Even practices like meditation don’t try to stop the flow of thoughts (because it’s impossible), instead you take a step back and observe the emerging thoughts without clinging on to them.
The quality and content of these thoughts is seemingly random, and we do not really have any influence on which thoughts arise. We can only direct our thoughts by directing our attention.
What we focus on and what we pay attention to ultimately determines our thoughts.
Energy flows where attention goes
This is climbing relevant in stressful situations where we feel fear of falling. If you focus attention towards the fear, more energy flows in its direction and the fear will inevitably increase.
Learn to direct your attention consciously
Draw strength from the fear by concentrating on what is in front of you. Focus your attention on all those things that you can directly influence like:
- Precise climbing
- Calm and deep breathing
- Good technique
- The next motion sequence
- The next move and the next resting point.
Consciously directing attention
If we do not consciously direct our attention, we are not in control and at the mercy of our fearful thinking. This leads to hectic and irrational action.
For example, by directing your attention to calm breathing, you signal to your body that there is no danger, energy is withdrawn from the fear and you gain control over the situation.
“Your thoughts are not what you are, they are merely something you do.”
You cannot control your thoughts completely. But you can control the focus of your attention.
Decide for yourself whether your thoughts should be about the holds being too small, your arms being too pumped – or better… about precise movement and the joy of climbing.
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Good preparation reduces fear of falling
Analyse the route and see where the possible crux is. Talk to your belay partner and prepare him for the possibility of a fall at this point.
Climb until you fall
Decide to climb and not give up until you can’t climb anymore and fall out of the wall (provided the fall is safe).
As a team against fear of falling
How do you want to be coached by your rope partner? Should he/she push you and motivate you, advise you to stay calm and breathe, or preferably say nothing at all. Climber and belayer form a team, take advantage of this and support each other.
Process oriented vs. result-oriented
Set process-oriented goals instead of result-oriented goals. That is, climb to learn and have fun, not to send a particular route.
- If you manage to send the route – great.
- If not, then you still have the pleasure of reaching process oriented goals, like learning something and therefore improve your skills.
Attitude towards stress and tension
We all tend to see stress as a bad thing and try with all means to suppress this feeling as soon as it comes up.
But the truth is that we actively seek the excitement that comes with climbing, otherwise we wouldn’t be climbing in the first place. As you are reading these lines, I assume that you also appreciate the excitement that comes with the thrill of climbing.
Because it is the conscious confrontation with the feeling of fear and tension that makes this sport so fascinating.
Accepting instead of suppressing
The next time you find yourself in a stressful climbing situation, try not to switch to “suppression mode”, but accept the tension and look curiously at what exactly happens.
Accepting the stress as part of this sport will help you to handle tricky situations calmly and rationally.
Reality check + 100 % commitment
In almost every route there are certain resting points, where you have a brief moment to assess your current situation and plan the next moves (this often is the moment right after the clipping a quickdraw).
Think calmly, with a clear and analytical mind about the situation and how to proceed.
3 check points:
- Next rest point.
Look ahead and identify the next possible resting point. How far is it to the next quickdraw or hold? Make sure you know where you need to go before you continue climbing.
- Fall consequences.
Is it safe to fall here? What happens if I fall here? How far will I fall, possible obstacles (edges, rocks, ledges, etc.) Don’t overcomplicate it but think about where you would land in case of a fall and determine whether it is safe.
- The right Beta.
Now take a close look at which holds are available and how the movement sequence might look like. Where are the next holds (chalk marks), what are possible footholds, how does the beta continue, do I take the next hold with my left or right hand…
Have you checked these 3 points then:
- Figure out where the route leads.
- Analyse the consequences of the fall.
- Have a plan of how you will design the movements on the wall.
Now it is time for 100% commitment.
You have a plan and are aware of the fall consequences – now it is important to leave all doubts behind and commit a 100 %.
Go for it and give it everything you have!
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Breathing and fear of falling
Breathing is a powerful ally – if we are able to consciously use and control it. It is basically quite simple – remember as often as possible:
- To breathe deeply!
- To breathe calmly in order to decrease stress and tension!
Further questions about fear of falling
How long does it take to overcome fear of falling?
About 100 positive falling experiences are necessary to get rid of fear of falling. To ensure that the fear of falling does not return, an ongoing (lifelong) falling practice is necessary.
What is the “Fall Rating” for climbing ropes?
Fall Ratings are used to measure and evaluate the strength and rope elongation of climbing ropes. A rope (singel rope) must survive 5 standard falls (weight 80kg, height 4.80 metres, static belay) without damage. The rope elongation must not exceed 12% and the impact force must be less than 12KN.