Getting Over Topping Out

I’m not a scared climber. I don’t usually notice when I’m above my bolt, I’ll take whippers that scare onlookers more than they scare me, and even on high boulders I’ll try hard. But I’ve almost come to expect a panicky, scared feeling when topping out. Maybe it’s the pressure of the send, the fear of falling from an awkward, heel-hooked position, or probably some combination, but whatever it is freaks me out more than other climbing situations. So, to overcome it I’ve taken a few tips from our post on conquering lead climbing fear and put them into practice. Just like getting over any fear, the plan involves banking positive experiences and creating muscle memory that you can rely on. Here’s how to get over topping out:

Gain some confidence topping out boulders below your limit.

Gain some confidence topping out boulders below your limit.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Top out inside the gym and outside on easy, short boulders below your limit. If your gym has boulders that can be topped out, climb ’em! Often the gym will have jugs up there, but let’s be real here, those jugs usually don’t exist outside, so once you’ve gotten comfortable topping out using jugs, simply take them out of the problem. The lip of the boulder or flat top more closely approximates real boulders. Also boost your top-out confidence by climbing lower, easier boulders outside.

Perfect the Heel-Hook, Mantle Combo. Of course all boulders won’t require this style of top out, but on many you have to throw a heel, rock over that heel and stand up, usually mantling in the process. And, at least for me, this sequence can zap your confidence when you have to do it 15 feet up after pulling moves at your limit. Check out Meagan Martin perfecting the heel-hook, mantle combo on Bierstadt (V10):

Engrain this sequence into your muscle memory by trying it over and over again in controlled settings, like in the gym or on easy boulders. To make this combo feel even easier add in some core strength to your gym session and work on your pistol squat. If the mantle is giving you trouble throw some tricep dips into your routine as well.

Build Trust. So you’ve practiced and gotten stronger, but none of it will do much good if you don’t have spotters and pads you can trust. As with topping out itself, build up a bunch of good experiences falling (and being caught) by your spotters and pads. Combine this with trust in your own judgement and ability, and those safe and successful top outs will start rolling in.

Chill Out. Maybe you’re thinking, “Duh?” But honestly, this is the thing I most often forget. When the doubt starts creeping in and your heart starts racings it’s probably time to pause, breathe, and get a little inner monologue going. Mine usually has to do with relaxing and knowing that I’m strong. Find ways to calm yourself down and talk yourself into going for it.

Get on up there, without fear.

Get on up there, without fear.

Like any fear, take small controlled steps forward and when it gets to be too much take a step back to something you’re comfortable with. Got more tips for topping out? Share them in the comments below!

Climb on and top out!
-Mary

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2 thoughts on “Getting Over Topping Out

  1. Great post, Mary! I’m the same exact way with topping out. My husband actually knows to expect a freak out from me now because it has happened so often. I think the single most useful thing for me in those situations is to remind myself to breathe. The relaxation comes after a few breaths and allows me to figure out my next moves.

    Also, trust your feet. Especially on slab top outs. That’s what sticky rubber is for. I can’t tell you how many times I doubted my feet sticking to tiny foot holds and letting that fear sink in, ultimately preventing me from a send. Just trust your feet and it’ll go!

  2. hootie says:

    The hardest part of topping out is the breathing. Control this, and you’ll stand on the summit. My friend, Mary, was trying to top out a tall boulder with a scary landing at Farley a couple of weeks ago and ended up taking the big one. Mid mantle, she stopped breathing (more of a gasping, rasping wheeze), flipped out a little bit, panicked, and failed to grab a good corner. As a result, she slapped at nothing-slopers like a fish washed up on shore and took the express train to a pile of pads and people. Mercy me!

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