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Fall Practice – Get Ready to Take Some Whippers This Spring

Here's how to progressively get more comfortable with lead falls as we move closer to outdoor season in 2023

Photo by: Lena Drapella / IFSC

With weather slowly improving across the country, outdoor lead climbing season is almost upon us. In some places like Squamish, it’s already here. After a long winter in the gym, the thought of taking big lead falls outdoors again can be a bit of a scary prospect, even for experienced climbers. Falling safely and comfortably is a skill that needs to be exercised regularly to stay fresh.

Fear of falling can be a serious hinderance on performance. At its most extreme, it prevents us from climbing higher as we resort to calling “Take”, too scared to press on. But even in limited amounts, fear of falling causes stress and tension resulting in overgripping and reduced mental clarity when trying to execute movement on an onsight or redpoint attempt.

If you haven’t been taking regular lead falls for weeks or months, here are some fun drills that you can perform in the gym to get you more comfortable on the sharp end climbing outside.

Needless to say, taking lead falls can be dangerous if the climber and belayer don’t have the proper training. Make sure you have received instruction on proper lead climbing, falling, and belaying techniques from your local gym or a qualified rock climbing guide before attempting any of these drills.

Photo by Lena Drapella / IFSC

Baby Steps

You don’t want to start your fall practice too extreme. First, start by taking falls below your highest clipped draw. Once that feels comfortable, try falling with your waist at the draw. Then try falling with your thigh at the draw. Then your knee. Then your feet. Then your feet above the draw.

You don’t have to fall from all these heights in one session. Do whatever feels comfortable. On session one, maybe you only fall with your waist at the highest draw. That’s fine. Maybe in session two you’ll try falling with your draw at mid-thigh or around your knee. When starting out, practice falling on overhanging terrain with very safe falling zones. As you gain comfort, try vertical walls or even slab walls.

Pendulum Falls

Falling directly above your bolt is one thing, falling left or right of the bolt is another. When falling from the right or left of the bolt line, the fall has a pendulum or arc that can be frightening if you don’t have a lot of experience with these fall angles.

As with the Baby Steps exercise above, try taking pendulum falls of greater and greater size over time. You can modify two directions: (1) the height above the draw and (2) the distance left or right of the draw. Modify one or both at a time.

When practicing these pendulum falls, a soft catch is key so be sure to perform them with an experienced belayer.

Fall When Uncomfortable

Once you’re starting to feel very comfortable with falls from various heights, angles, and terrain, it’s time to push yourself a little, but still in a safe manner. When lead climb training indoors, pay attention to sections of routes where you feel tension and a little bit of that fear creeping back in. This might be in a techy dihedral, exposed high up on an arete, or above a big roof.

This building fear might also be the result of a body position. For example, you might feel uncomfortable falling while in a strenuous layback, drop-knee, or mantle.

If you know that these falls are objectively safe, go back up and take the fall. Pay attention to the fall trajectory so that you can feel more comfortable on similar terrain and positions outdoors.

Belayer Calls Fall

This is another great drill for those already more experienced and comfortable with falling. It’s perfect for pushing you outside your comfort zone. Instead of choosing where and when you fall, your belayer instead gets to choose when you take some airtime. They simply call up “Fall” or some other agreed-upon signal and then you obey their command.

This exercise should increase the range of falls you take and train your nervous system to respond to unexpected falls on the wall – a necessity for being a safe lead climber outside.

Photo by Dimitris Tosidis / IFSC
Lead photo: Lena Drapella / IFSC