Climbing

How to Overcome Your Fear of Falling While Climbing

FEBRUARY 18, 2021 THE BKB TEAM

Manage your fear of falling by taking these steps to understand your fear, practice safe falling, and shift your mindset.

Fear is a completely normal reaction to a situation that we deem is dangerous or threatening.  No climber is immune to fear. For many climbers, the biggest fear of them all is the fear of falling. As you push yourself out of your comfort zone to new heights in climbing, the fear of falling can feel overwhelming at times. This fear could be restricting your climbing practice and making it harder to improve. 

While fear is not an easy emotion to overcome, it is possible to make changes in how you approach your fear. These changes will make climbing a lot more enjoyable for you. In this blog we’ve broken down the practice of overcoming your fear of falling into three sections: understanding your fear, practicing proper falling technique, and shifting your mindset. With these tips, you can learn how to manage your fear response for a better climbing experience at BKB. 

Listen to your fear

Feeling fear shouldn’t always mean immediate retreat. If that was the case, we might never leave our homes, let alone step foot on a climbing wall. Yet we also don’t want to completely ignore our fear and put ourselves in a dangerous situation. 

Fear is a necessary tool in your climbing arsenal. You need fear to tell you where your limits are in climbing. But you also need to listen to and understand the origins of that fear so you can determine if it is legitimate or worth pushing past to expand your comfort zone.

This is why when looking to overcome your fear of falling the focus shouldn’t be on “getting rid” of your fear, but rather getting better at listening to it and identifying it. Tune into your fear response. Make note of what is causing the fear, how strong it feels in your body, and how confident you feel about the specific climbing situation you are in. All these things together will help you determine how closely to listen to that fear.

Understand your fear

What exactly are you afraid of when you think about falling? Some climbers are afraid of the physiological aspects of falling such as injuring themselves. Other climbers associate falls with failure, and are more afraid of the psychological aspects of falling. Once you know what exactly you fear and what is causing it, you can make mental shifts to address it. 

It’s also important to think about how you approach that fear. We all respond differently to that voice of fear in our heads while climbing. Start to understand your relationship to fear and how you react to situations that make you feel threatened. 

Do you feel fear often while climbing or not as often? Do you experience fear and immediately retreat? Or do you try and push past the fear, ignoring it and pushing yourself too far or too fast? Understanding your fear is an important first step in overcoming it. 

Identify whether your fear is real or perceived

While climbing at BKB is in a controlled environment and we have taken measures to reduce the risks associated with climbing, there is still inherent risk involved. So ask yourself, what exactly are the consequences if you do fall?

If you are bouldering a few feet off the ground, for example, the possibility of a fall is real but the risk of injury might be minimal, especially if you know how to fall safely (more on that below). If you are top-roping, the anchor above you and your belayer below reduce the risk of your fall.

While all falling in climbing has inherent risks, some falls are riskier than others. Only you can determine whether a risk is real or perceived. The level of risk is dependent on a person’s current skill level and mental aptitude. Identifying how real or perceived your risk of injury is can help put your fear into context. This allows you to understand whether you should listen to the warning signals of your fear or practice working through it. 

Practice Proper Falling Technique

Falling is part of climbing

Fear is determined by your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is determined by your experiences. Only through new experiences can we expand our comfort zone and, as a result, control our fear. This means that the best way you can manage your fear of falling is by practicing falling.

This is a necessary practice because here’s the thing about falling: If you are hoping to advance in the sport of climbing, you are going to fall. Today, falling is a necessary aspect of climbing that helps you improve, and thanks to modern harness and rope technology, it is a lot safer than it once was. 

So instead of actively avoiding the fall, practicing the proper falling technique helps you embrace falling as part of your climbing practice. It also puts you in control of the fall as opposed to the other way around.

This doesn’t mean you should put yourself in a dangerous situation. Instead, incorporate the practice of safe falling into your climbing routine like you would any other skill. Start by introducing very low-risk falls into your practice and getting familiar with how it feels to fall. 

The more you practice safe falling, the better you can manage your fear response. Instead of seeing falling as a frightening prospect, it can become a welcomed addition to your practice. This way when you fall unintentionally or as you climb a harder pitch, you will have the necessary experience you need to safely fall and reduce your fear response. 

How to safely take a lead, top-rope, or auto-belay fall

In lead, top-rope, and auto-belay climbing at BKB, the rope is designed to catch you when you fall. To practice falling when on lead or top-rope, communicate with your belayer that you would like to practice a fall and start by taking short falls. 

As you fall, keep your body as relaxed as you can. Keep your elbows in and bent, your hands forward at chest level, your knees bent, and feet out, ready to absorb the impact of the wall. As you start getting comfortable with shorter falls, gradually increase the distance of your falls in small increments. Always communicate with your belayer before you fall so they are ready.

An auto-belay lets you practice climbing without a partner to belay you. Falling safely when auto-belaying is going to look very similar to top-rope or lead climbing, only the auto-belayer is going to deliver resistance to the rope that will catch you and then will safely lower you all the way to the ground. 

How to fall when bouldering

When bouldering, you are climbing shorter distances without any attachment to a rope. For many, this is a very scary prospect. However, once you learn how to fall safely the risk of any kind of injury is greatly reduced. By practicing falling safely when bouldering you will not only learn how to prevent injury but can also reduce your fear of falling through practice. 

To practice falling, first, start at a very low point on the wall. As you fall, practice landing on your feet with your knees bent and then rolling onto your back. By rolling onto your back you distribute some of the impacts of the fall into your shoulders and back instead of just squarely into your feet and knees. 

One of the easiest things to hurt if you fall improperly is your wrists. While your natural inclination might be to put your hands out to catch yourself, this could result in a wrist injury. Teach yourself to fall with your wrists and hands tucked in towards your center as you drop and roll. In a climbing gym where you have a padded surface, you do not need to brace your fall with your arms. Protect your wrists from injury and let the pads take the impact. 

Shift Your Mindset

Engage in positive self-talk

As you are practicing the physical act of falling it’s also important to train the mind with an important inner dialogue shift. Fear likes to take over your inner dialogue with thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “this is scary”. As these thoughts start entering your mind, they often cause you to tense up and second guess your decisions. 

Practice positive self-talk as you climb, saying things like “I’ve got this” or “I’m doing a great job!”. This might be difficult or feel forced at first, but like anything, the more you practice at it the easier this language will come. 

As you are getting started, a helpful practice is to write down positive self-talk before you even get on the wall so you have some language you can draw on. Or, recruit a few friends or a coach to yell up positive encouragement as you climb and start incorporating their language into your own thoughts. 

Changing the way your mind approaches fear is not an overnight task. This requires a lot of work, which is why it’s important to practice both the physical act of falling alongside mental training.

Establish boundaries for yourself

While falling is a necessary aspect of climbing, the type of fall is something you can control and create boundaries around. There are risks you can decide you don’t want to take, and that is completely okay. Instead of feeling shame over these decisions, decide for yourself what boundaries you have in climbing. 

Some boundaries you might want to push past as you gain more experience, while others are in place to ensure you feel safe. After all, climbing is meant to be a fun activity, not a stress-inducing nightmare. For many climbers, experiencing fear can be a thrilling experience that forces attention to the present moment. For others, they prefer to feel safe while enjoying the sport. 

One person’s idea of a fun time might be another person’s limit. You need to know where your boundaries are and feel confident in expressing those with yourself, your coach, your belayer, and your climbing community.

Reflect on how far you’ve come

Fear is mental, and keeping that feeling bottled up inside your head sometimes gives your fear full reign. A great tactic for taking the fear out of your head is keeping a journal or a calendar where you mark your progress at the end of each workout or at the end of each week. 

You could write the climbing grade you worked on, any fears you felt, how you overcame them, or what you did that day. As you are working to overcome your fear of falling, journal how you felt after each climb. It’s a small action you can take now that you can look back on down the road as a way to visualize your progress. 

It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come when every day the progress you make can feel so insignificant. But on a larger scale, and demonstrated through a visual medium like a journal or calendar, you can actually track the progress you’ve made. This kind of visualization of progress can help build confidence and can put you in control of your fears as opposed to the other way around. 

Keep climbing!

The best way to overcome your fear of falling is to just keep climbing. Just as you improve your climbing ability with every climb, you also improve your approach to fear. Every time you climb you push yourself a little more and you will find that these small baby steps make larger steps over time. 

If you do not feel comfortable practicing falling on your own, our coaches at BKB are here to help. They can help walk you through the art of safe falling as you overcome your fears on the wall.

Let us know how your journey of overcoming your fear of falling is coming along in the comments below. Or stop by your nearest BKB and let us know how we can help. See you on the wall!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR