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You are leading a route for the first time. As you approach the next clip, you hesitate. You know you can do this move, but something is holding you back. Does this sound familiar? You are not alone.

Our minds are programmed to seek comfort. Stress factors like the fear of falling (or even the fear of failure) make it difficult to stay present and commit to moves that feel insecure.

Fear of falling is not necessarily a “bad” thing, but it is an indication that we may not fully understand how this aspect of the climbing process should work. Knowing what to do as a climber, and as a belayer, during a fall can significantly reduce those anxieties.

We can also reduce stress by improving our attention. Attention is the key word. When leading a route, we often avoid committing to moves when our attention has shifted from the process of climbing to the perceived “consequences” of falling or failing.

Mental Fitness is the ability to have 100% of our attention in the moment. If we are climbing, our attention needs to be on climbing. So, how do we hone our mental fitness?

Provide a “soft” or “cushioned” catch.

The Belay Matters

Falling can be scary. Many climbers perceive a longer fall to be worse than a shorter fall and want their belayers to take up the slack. The reality is that a shorter fall does not give the climber enough time to decelerate before making contact with the wall. The result is a hard catch which can injure the climber. As belayers, the catch we give matters. We must learn to provide a “soft” or “cushioned” catch. Dynamic belaying takes practice, but it can help alleviate the climber’s resistance to falling.

Start with short falls.

Practice Incrementally

In addition to having a skilled belayer, we also need to learn how to fall.

I am not advocating for “whipper” therapy, but taking incremental falls can help us understand how the forces involved work, how to assume the right falling posture, and how to make better risk decisions.

Practice falling with a belayer you trust. This practice is as much for you as it is for your belayer. While you learn about the process of falling, your belayer will learn how to give a cushioned catch.

Remember to practice incrementally, starting with short falls, which decreases the chance of an injury. Taking excessively large falls can further ingrain fear.

When we know how to fall and can expect a cushioned catch, we are less resistant. This, in turn, allows us to keep our attention on climbing.

Train your gaze on the next hold.

Trust the Body

We also hesitate when we encounter holds that we have pre-determined are difficult to use. What we can physically hold on to is, at some level, related to our strength, but it is more directly tied to our balance and body positioning.

The body has a kinesthetic knowledge of balance that we should trust. When we trust this kinesthetic knowledge, we experience less mental interference. For example, if we see a hold that looks “bad,” we tend to look for a better one (even when one may not be available). Constantly looking for better holds interferes with our balance and causes us to expend more energy. Instead, we should train our gaze on the next hold of a climb. The place where we initially make eye contact is naturally tied to our body’s kinesthetic knowledge.

Next time you look at a “bad” hold, use it anyway and see what happens!

Moving continuously also reduces mental interference. Not only will continuous movement create flow and momentum, it will make it difficult for the mind to pre-judge holds. Learning to climb this way – through continuous movement and avoiding “hold shopping” – takes practice but yields a newfound confidence.

Mental fitness requires intentional practice and patience. Try not to focus on the end result. Enjoy the journey and the process!

For a continued, in-depth look at these mental fitness exercises, sign up for our upcoming Warrior’s Way workshop on July 27th. Students who take the clinic will receive a 20% discount from Warriors Way sponsors Evolv and Bluewater.

Jon Richard

Author Jon Richard

Jon Richard's passion is for helping people experience the sport of technical climbing, and he equips climbers of all levels to achieve their climbing aspirations. After working in the industry for 19 years, Jon has climbed 1000s of routes throughout the world. He is the founder of Vertical Voyages and is a certified trainer for Arno Ilgner’s Warrior’s Way program.

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