Unlike Chicago seasons, the “fall” season in bouldering stretches throughout the entire year and has zero to do with Pumpkin Spiced Lattes – though we all can agree that PSL’s are a divine treat between September and November. In fact, falling is an inevitable part of a sport that seeks to defy gravity. Knowing how to fall properly is paramount, whether you just started climbing or you’ve been climbing for decades.

Hello Gravity, My Old Friend…

During every orientation for first time visitors, a First Ascent staffer shares a few insights on how to fall and how not to fall when climbing in the bouldering area. The curse of gravity makes it so every failed attempt or controlled descent might involve spending a split-second moving quickly through space toward the ground. The only safe way to come down is to down-climb. Falling “safely” can mean the difference between walking away from a bouldering session completely intact or, God-forbid, a session-ending injury.

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What I personally tell climbers (and what’s shown in the image above) is to land with bent knees/hips (no straight/locked legs) to minimize impact on the spine. If the momentum carries you down and back, let it, and crumple right onto your glutes. If you’re still moving, roll out with your chin tucked into your chest and bring your arms into your chest (never bring your arms back to “catch” the fall). I mention that it’s important to spot your landing zone, find the mat with the bottoms your feet, and relax into the crumple-n-roll to redistribute the energy into the mat. And if falling from the top of a boulder problem isn’t comfortable, its good to practice falls from lower heights and inch up higher and higher as falling skills and comfort levels progress.

Cat Mode: engaged!

The video below produced by Futurist – the makers of our climbing floors and mats/pads – reinforces those points as it instructs boulderers to be in “Cat Mode” more so than climbing-mode. It also touches on advanced falling positions and techniques – like falling sideways or forwards – to minimize injury. 

The NYT chimes in on falling

Even the mainstream media is getting in on the falling action. The New York Times recently published The Right Way to Fall online and in-print, giving the beta from “paratroopers, stunt professionals, physical therapists and martial arts instructors” on proper falling technique. While the NYT piece might not have been intended for climbers, it is very relevant for those who boulder. Falling is an essential and sometimes dangerous part of bouldering. As climbers, we should constantly be exploring ways to minimize risks inherent to the sport we love.

Please read the NYT’s piece, watch the video embedded above, and above all else, be safe and practice good falling techniques. 

By: Gabriel Skvor

Images in collage: Brendan Hehir