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How do you mentally switch from climbing to falling ?


Original Post
Serge Smirnov · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 235

I've read it takes skill to fall correctly, and I know people practice it, but there is something I don't understand.

Is it really possible to focus on (a) making a hard move, and (b) falling correctly - both at the same time ?  I guess ideally you switch from (a) to (b) the moment you realize you're falling, but is there really enough time ?  Can the ability to switch fast be trained ?  I'm assuming intentional falling would not train it, since you know in advance what you're going to do in training.  I'm also assuming that, once you've lost contact with the wall, you have no ability to exchange momentum with it, and you don't have a tail to reorient yourself like a cat.

I recognize the potential to learn to fall better, but my reaction time is relatively slow, and without an ability to react faster I'm not sure falling practice would change how I fall in reality.

I suppose one could say "if you can't make the move confidently don't even try", and that's certainly good advice for situations where falling poses significant danger, but I get the impression that is not really the philosophy of modern sport climbing.  My question is for those who climb at/above their limit and consider themselves good at falling.

Another thing one could do is fall somewhat preemptively - meaning once you realize falling is a good possibility, you fall right then.  But then you forego moves you have some chance of making.  Is that a good recommendation for people with slow reaction ?

How does learning to fall work ?

(Note: I'm not asking about big-picture awareness of when you can / cannot fall - let's assume you're in a situation where falling is basically ok but you might get some scratches)

jmmlol · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

If bouldering, practice first by dropping and rolling back off the wall without putting arms back. You'll get into the habit of that being the natural way for you to fall. 

Also, I think familiarity with different movements in climbing can help you anticipate how you might come off the wall. Maybe try some moves at your limit low to the ground.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

So unexpected falls are often usually the best (although not always), as many of the worst things you can do (grab rope/draws) happen when you start panicking.  Probably the most important thing you can do is to be aware of where your feet are in relation to the rope at all times.  If your feet end up in front of the rope (between the rope and the wall) and you fall suddenly, the rope will trip you when it becomes tensioned and you will flip upside down, potentially smashing your face/head into the wall.  Learning to fall is mostly about overcoming your fear so that you can learn to accept the possibility of an unexpected fall.

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 125

Climb until you fall, and try to relax a bit in the air.  Sure, I you know you are getting gripped and are above your last clip, you can look for a direction to bail and warn your belayer.  But if peel unexpectedly, you can try and position yourself for a smoother landing, but you either have cat like reflexes or you don't.

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 266

Go to a gym, get on a route a few grades too high, and fall a billion times. You'll get better at climbing and falling! 

Jon Rhoderick · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 850

I'm not sure I'm good at falling, but I do it a lot!

Question 1 (is it possible to focus on climbing and falling at the same time)?

For me, not really.  If you are trying your hardest, focus solely on climbing.  I am aware of where the rope is in relation to my body/draws etc so that when I'm off I won't be flipping upside down or whatever, but in a typical situation it's better (and more fun!) not to focus on falling.  As long as you don't have some other issue like a rope behind the leg, I don't need to focus on falling until it's actually happening. Most falls are not sudden, if you fall during a move there is an apperent change in momentum, and even some foot or hand pops play out slowly as the rest of your hands and feet disengage.  On top of that, rope stretch typically makes the falls softer than expected, so there is more time to sort yourself out.  Don't push aggressively away from the wall, especially in short falls because that will create a more uncomfortable fall.

"if you can't do the move confidently, don't even try"

this is silly! How will you confidently do a move until you know the ins and outs of the movement, including the resulting fall?  Often times moves become way easier after you fall on them, because you shouldn't be as nervous once the fall is sussed out.

How to train what you want to train:

go out there and climb! Don't say take, don't back off or fall early.  Just tell your belayer to watch you and go for it, if it is a sport climb, someone has likely taken the fall and it can be done safely.  I like to focus on trying 100% and getting my momentum going to the next hold and not backing off at all to make the fall shorter.

s.price · · PS,CO · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,348

Agreed with what has already been said and add this.

Climb with total commitment. Falling should only happen when the circumstances are beyond your ability to continue. A physical or mental inability. The pump or not reading a sequence right. Could be freaking out cause your at your limit. Should never be the last one.  This way, even if you fall you come away from it with a positive outlook. Before long the "switch" goes away. 

Never "TAKE"

PhilD · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 0

Also falling should not be a "switch" from climbing to falling mode, like everyone said if you practice at your limit and fall a good bit then you will start to get the muscle memory of it. Practicing break falls is a good way to get a good muscle memory for falling safely, and you can even practice them off of bouldering routes...though I would start in the gym or a very safe lowball if you are new to them. It should eventually get to the point where before you even have time to think that you're coming off the wall your body is naturally putting you into the proper form for falling.

JP Whitehead · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 0

Personally, the shift from climbing to falling even in uncontrolled scenarios is totally subconscious. My experience falling pretty much comes exclusively from bouldering. I've found that after several sessions bouldering outside and falling in a variety of scenarios (jumbled landing, flat landing, long fall, fall off roof, fall off lip, etc) the body seems to subconsciously learn how to fall and crumple safely onto a pad. That said, for people new to bouldering it is EXTREMELY important to provide the best spot you can, make sure there are no ankle-twister holes in the pad set up, and to encourage the new climber to feel comfortable falling, but to maybe avoid uncontrolled falling scenarios if they can.

I haven't seen many falling-related injuries in my time bouldering (10+ years), but ALL of the times somebody broke / sprained an ankle or wrist, it was their first or second time out bouldering. I think it is extremely important to embrace falling as part of the process, but perfecting it is all about having confidence in your pads / spotter, and confidence that you know how to fall and not injure yourself!

Side note: I am fairly comfortable climbing high ball problems, but above a bolt I go all weak in the knees. I think it's because while bouldering, I know exactly where I'll end up in the event of a fall, and I can mentally anticipate bracing myself on the ground. Sport or trad climbing, there is much more uncertainty in a fall and how to brace properly for it, and that freaks me out. Any tips for overcoming that mental roadblock?

Jon Rhoderick · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 850

JP:

honestly just familiarity with ropes will help. I feel the same way with bouldering that you would feel sport climbing. An important thing to consider is that the balance of a roped fall and unroped fall are completely different, with a lead fall you lean back into your harness and would fall flat on your ass if the rope didn't catch. 

Christian B · · West Hills, California · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 75

Its the same with skating, I can't tell you how many times I would roll up to a stair set cause I was more worried about falling and how it would go then me actually being able to just do the trick.  In the end every time I would bail our or fall for the most part it would be cool and my body almost knew what to do and how to react.  Adrenaline pumping helps too.  I find the same thing with climbing.  Going for big moves or accidentally slipping your body will help ya out.  If you're climbing higher grades you're smart enough, comfortable enough on ropes, and have some sort of muscle memory at that point.  Don't practice falling that's kinda dumb, just climb a lot and falls will happen.  

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 290

Let go.

Tyler Metheney · · St Louis · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

I hvent been climbing no more than 9 months but I've often asked myself the same questions.  For me imo I don't think I will ever get "good" at falling. They say don't grab the rope but anytime I blow off without expecting it I always do.

Paul Hutton · · Dirtbaggin · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 706

The routes that wander are the only ones you have to worry about, and climbing around roofs and ledges. I'd take practice falls in the gyms. When climbing outside on easy 5.11s, my feet would slip and I felt like I was at the mercy of gravity. But because of the runout and angle of the wall, the rope stretch would have an effect, my feet would land softly against the wall, and I'd wanna take that thrill ride again! I've never had a cheese grater fall down a slab before. No tricks to share there. I've had the rope wrap around my ankle twice and leave me hanging upside down. Probably from some sideways movement, before falling. I've had an uncomfortable pendulum when trying to climb around a crux. That was a controlled fall. You can practice and still mess up if you push the grade enough. Overhangs and roofs are always gonna be your friend, more than the angle of terrain on the opposite side of that spectrum. 

Paul Hutton · · Dirtbaggin · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 706
Tyler Metheney wrote:

I hvent been climbing no more than 9 months but I've often asked myself the same questions.  For me imo I don't think I will ever get "good" at falling. They say don't grab the rope but anytime I blow off without expecting it I always do.

Grabbing the rope can pull the rope away from your feet, and can help keep you upright in your harness. Don't grab the Quickdraws!

Trevor. · · Boise, ID · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 849
Paul Hutton wrote:

Grabbing the rope can pull the rope away from your feet, and can help keep you upright in your harness. Don't grab the Quickdraws!

It can also wrap the rope around your hand and break bones or even amputate fingers. 

Matt Stroebel · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 115
Serge Smirnov wrote:

I've read it takes skill to fall correctly, and I know people practice it, but there is something I don't understand.

Is it really possible to focus on (a) making a hard move, and (b) falling correctly - both at the same time ?  I guess ideally you switch from (a) to (b) the moment you realize you're falling, but is there really enough time ?  Can the ability to switch fast be trained ?  I'm assuming intentional falling would not train it, since you know in advance what you're going to do in training.  I'm also assuming that, once you've lost contact with the wall, you have no ability to exchange momentum with it, and you don't have a tail to reorient yourself like a cat.

I recognize the potential to learn to fall better, but my reaction time is relatively slow, and without an ability to react faster I'm not sure falling practice would change how I fall in reality.

I suppose one could say "if you can't make the move confidently don't even try", and that's certainly good advice for situations where falling poses significant danger, but I get the impression that is not really the philosophy of modern sport climbing.  My question is for those who climb at/above their limit and consider themselves good at falling.

Another thing one could do is fall somewhat preemptively - meaning once you realize falling is a good possibility, you fall right then.  But then you forego moves you have some chance of making.  Is that a good recommendation for people with slow reaction ?

How does learning to fall work ?

(Note: I'm not asking about big-picture awareness of when you can / cannot fall - let's assume you're in a situation where falling is basically ok but you might get some scratches)

You only have so much attention at your disposal. You could split your attention, but you'd neither climb well nor fall well. 

Think of the transition between climbing and falling like hitting the brakes on your car, you don't  actively think to yourself, "better stop driving and start stopping," your mind instantly switches. But you have to train the reaction, just like you learned and practiced driving a car. 

I'd recommend getting one of Arno Ilgner's books, Espresso Lessons is the one I prefer. He outlines specific fall training exercises that are very good, I'm not going to describe the exercises in detail because they're extensive. The important thing is that you do tailored training, focusing on body posture, both before you fall and after you fall so that your fall training doesn't develop bad habits.

Arlo F Niederer · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 460

Arno Ilgner sponsors (or teaches) fall/commit seminars at climbing gyms and outdoors all over the US. The seminar addresses the issues you bring up in your post.   

I just attended one last week - very beneficial.

He posts many videos of his seminars. Here's an example of one of his indoor ones.

   

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
Arlo F Niederer wrote:

Arno Ilgner sponsors (or teaches) fall/commit seminars at climbing gyms and outdoors all over the US. The seminar addresses the issues you bring up in your post.   

I just attended one last week - very beneficial.

He posts many videos of his seminars. Here's an example of one of his indoor ones.

   

This video is great!

I just fall, usually pretty relaxed. I fall a lot, though.

OLH

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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