As a new climber, knots, lingo, and technique are thrown at you left and right. What many new climbers are rarely introduced to is how to fall. Many people naturally pick it up, so why teach it? Learning the proper way to fall is about as important as learning how to tie your eight knot. If all you can think about while climbing is how you might fall and hurt yourself, how are you ever going to climb to your full potential?
How to fall greatly depends on what type of climbing you are participating in. Two of the most important things to keep in mind when falling are body position (duh) and body tension (I know it’s hard, but relax).
“Isn’t the point not to fall?” You’re not wrong, but falling is a natural part of rock climbing… so you might as well learn how to do it safely!
Before you start bouldering you should have a crash pad/mat and a spotter as a way to protect you from harmful falls (more so for climbing outside–in a cushy gym you can likely get away with just a mat). Crash pads soften the landing of a fall, and spotters protect the melon (aka. the head).
Other things to keep in mind is the position you are falling in. In a perfect world, every climber would land flat on their feet with soft knees. Flat feet prevent rolled ankles and foot sprains or strain; soft knees transfer the momentum of the fall through your body without bring your body to an abrupt stop. If your fall takes you to your butt–don’t fight it! Tuck and roll, soldier! Also, don’t try to stick your hands out to stop your fall as this is more likely to result in finger, hand, arm, and/or shoulder jams and injuries. Climbing Magazine offers more guidelines on how to take a safer bouldering fall, but these few tips will definitely start you off in the right direction.
Taking falls on top rope are usually the easiest and safest falls in climbing. The rope is automatically there to catch weight and stretches to provide a softer fall. All the climber has to do is let go and hope their belayer likes them enough to engage the break on the belay device. Just make sure you’re not falling around anything that could injury you–a large volume or another climber. When falling very close to the ground, the climber would follow the techniques used for bouldering falls.
Climbing Magazine also has an article on how to fall on lead that I would suggest reading. My general tips–as lead falls vary greatly based on climbs and situation–would be to have someone spot you until the first bolt is clipped, keep the rope in front of your body (between you and the wall/rock), and be aware of any features below you that could make a fall dangerous (ie. a ledge, large feature, or sharp boulder). Keep your body relaxed and hope your belayer knows how to give a soft catch (having the rope absorb most of the fall instead of your body jerking to a sudden stop).
Moving from a physical plane to a mental one, falling is closely related to failing in climbing, in my opinion. These two terms should not be confused so easily. It’s important to remind yourself that falling means there is room for improvement and growth–falling means being down, but not out. Sure it sucks to fall repeatedly on a route that you have seen everyone else climb without a problem–it definitely feels a lot like failing. But you get to decide what “failure” is defined as in life. So as long as you’re having fun, who cares if you’ve taken 20 falls on the same route over the past week? No one that matters.
Now don’t get me wrong, I get wrapped up in the mental connection of falling and failing when it comes to my personal climbing–even more so when I fall on something I think I definitely should have gotten clean. But without falling, climbers would not have projects or new goals to chase after. Imagine never being able to fall. It sounds like an interesting idea, but part of the fun in climbing is fighting gravity and winning. (Ha! Take that gravity!)
So get a spotter, get a cheerleader, and go climb something! Fall on!