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Tips on getting over the Fear of Lead falling


Original Post
James Barrow · · Saint George, UT · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 160

As we are all cautious creatures, I know falling will never be entirely out of the mind games that climbing provides. I've come to find that my head game is keeping me ultimately from bettering my climbing. What did you do to conquer the fear of falling to go forth to climbing at your hardest level to achieve new goals?  

LCC kid · · SLC · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 5

Fall in the gym a lot. It won't erase the fear of falling, but it will help you learn how to fall safely, and you (hopefully) won't panic when you finally fall outside.

ViperScale . · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 240

Climb until failure, most people myself included tend to stop when we get tired and the only way to get better at it is to climb until physical failure. Given when you get outdoors you may not want to climb to failure because if you are about to start a runout section and are tired you may want to stop and avoid ledge falls etc.

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735

There are books written and clinics taught on this exact subject. Look up Arno Ilgner/Warrior's Way. I'm guessing that there is a greater than 90% chance that a climbing fest near you (think Red Rocks Rendezvous, International Climber's Fest in Lander, etc) will offer a clinic of overcoming the fear of falling.

In a nutshell, you need to start really small, in a situation you rationally know is safe, and do it a lot, to get over the fear. (E.g. start with clipping the bolt and falling, while still essentially on toprope, eventually progressing to falling with the bolt at your waist, a bolt just a foot below your waist, and so on).

And it is something you may have to do regularly and continuously.

Creed Archibald · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 873

+1 What Lena Chita said. Arno Ilgner (the expert on fear of falling) suggested exactly this in his interview on the Enormocast. 

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 576

You need to practice.  In the Gym, to start:

1) Get your most trusted belayer, tell him/her what you plan to do.  Hopefully, this person knows how not to short rope you.  ;-/

2) Instead of adding stress by "planning" to fall while climbing (creates fear), climb to, tag the top anchor and jump off without clipping on EVERY route where it's safe to do so (overhanging).

3) Have your belayer add slack in small increments, but not too much since the gym staff might freak out.  You might also use your own rope to keep them happy.

4) Once you get used to the feeling of falling, start falling a little lower, etc.   Small increments, lots of small falls.   

5) Keep practicing.

Troyswank · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 0

A an attentive belayer / partner who knows their shit makes me fearless. 


grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70

Sometime I go through phases where I get scared of falling. What typically works to get out of it is just getting lots of lead miles under your belt. I personally don't find gym falls to be reassuring. I prefer doing easier routes at a sport crag where its a bit more realistic and builds confidence. 

Cortney LeNeave · · Golden, Colorado · Joined May 2015 · Points: 5

I climbed an easy sport route really hungover and for whatever reason I've not been scared of leader falls since. YMWV. 

Sam Miller · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

Recruit a trusty belayer and start falling. Also falls on vert and even slabby terrain are usually plenty safe. PS.. Ive found gym falling practice to be somewhat useless. 

Scott M. McNamara · · Tucson, Arizona · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 55
Tylerpratt · · Litchfield, Connecticut · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 35

go in the lead cave at your gym and take intentional falls over and over and over. Start with the bolt at your waist with a soft catch and rinse repeat. Basically decondition your fear by taking falls over and over and over. 

Also, put the top rope away permanently. When you only lead there is no other type of climbing besides following which actually freaks me the fuck out more than leading now...even though it makes no sense at all. 

Mae Rae · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 20

Once you are comfortable with falling, remind yourself to never be too comfortable.

Daniel T · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 35

I personally find "planned falls" to be way more terrifying than an unexpected fall.  My thinking is that I am building up the fear of the fall while sitting at the "fall spot" knowing that the fall is coming is pretty scary.  when i'm climbing and I blow off a foot or a hand hold I usually realize i'm at the end of my fall before I realize i've even fallen.


I also find short falls to be way scarier than longer falls. I know I have slower reflexes so the longer falls allow me to get my feet out in front of me and brace for the impact. the shorter falls tend to "whip" me back into the wall faster and i don't get me feet into position most of the time.  I guess I know what im working on this month, le sigh.


Andrew Child · · Santa Clara · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 660

Take 3 practice falls while you are warming up every time you go sport climbing. Think of it as a mental warm up.

NWNINJA · · Nederland, CO · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 80

eliminate the word "take" from your vocabulary. 

Fritz Nuffer · · Durango, CO · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 115

Operant conditioning! Eat a slice of bacon after every lead fall you take. Better climbing through psychology. 

Be careful not to overdo it, though, or you'll never send again: either from your all-consuming desire to eat bacons, or from the ensuing, mysterious increase in gravity.

JonasMR · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 8

Just a few standard things that didn't get mentioned above:

1) Make sure you recognize the difference between panic and fear.  The above is good for combating fear, not so much for panic.

2) Distract yourself from the fall.  Focus on the moves, play some music (with earbud), hum a song, whatever.  The time for thinking about the fall is before you leave the ground/ledge; once you're underway you are committed.

3) Climb harder routes.  Falling on a .9 often has more objective danger than falling on an .11.  To get good at falling, fall on the .11s.  Also dovetails with what folks were saying about taking unplanned falls.

4) Sit in your harness as much as possible.  Habituate to and build trust in your gear.  Choose a hanging belay stance over a standing one.  Try some aid climbing.  Stop for a picture halfway through your raps.

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 576

Daniel T wrote:

I personally find "planned falls" to be way more terrifying than an unexpected fall.  My thinking is that I am building up the fear of the fall while sitting at the "fall spot" knowing that the fall is coming is pretty scary.  when i'm climbing and I blow off a foot or a hand hold I usually realize i'm at the end of my fall before I realize i've even fallen.'

Of course they are.  But they are no different from getting more and more pumped and knowing you're gonna fall, eh?

I also find short falls to be way scarier than longer falls. I know I have slower reflexes so the longer falls allow me to get my feet out in front of me and brace for the impact. the shorter falls tend to whip me back into the wall faster and i don't get me feet into position most of the time.  I guess I know what im working on this month, le sigh.

That's just bad belaying.  See the current thread:  Soft catch vs. hard catch.   

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 55

Some things that have made a big difference in my falling fear:

  1. Climb trad until you take some trad lead falls. Sport/gym lead falls will suddenly seem benign.
  2. Fall on every sport/gym route where it is safe to do so. Just tap the chains and let go.
  3. Climb overhung routes that you are in a difficulty range where you are very likely to fall. I find it's a slightly different fear to intentionally fall than to fall because you don't have a choice.
  4. I'm still pretty scared of falling on trad, but I find that's a lot less when my belayer is someone I know and trust.
David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 55

John Byrnes wrote:

That's just bad belaying.  See the current thread:  Soft catch vs. hard catch.   

It's often true that a long soft catch is better than a short hard catch, but not so often that it can be summed up with "that's just bad belaying". Often the safest catch is a short hard catch, and a short hard catch in that case is correct belaying. There's no way to soft catch into a ledge or ground fall.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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