Picture a thin band of slightly loose nylon webbing strung between two trees. Then imagine balancing, bouncing, flipping and tightrope walking on it. Welcome to the world of slacklining, an adventure sport that’ll also get you fit.
Once seen purely as the domain of rock climbers (they first invented the sport in California in the late 1970s), slacklining is now used by everyone from beginners starting on low-strung lines in parks, to the likes of Nathan Paulin, who set a record for the longest slackline ever (over 1km).
And there’s a whole host of ways that slacklining will improve your health, from working different muscles to strengthening your mental agility. Read on to discover eight ways slacklining will get you fit.
1. It improves your balance
Slacklining is all about balancing on a wobbly line, whether that line is suspended a few metres or a few thousand metres in the air. Balance and stability are integral to many adventure sports, including trail running, skiing, stand-up paddle boarding and climbing. It requires good sensory awareness, particularly crucial in climbing where you need to balance on the rock face and know where to position your body.
2. It strengthens your core
For anyone who hates sit-ups but wants to improve their core strength, slacklining may be just the ticket. All that balancing means you need to use your core muscles while on the line – you use core muscles to hold your centre of balance and use your arms to balance. The stronger you become in your core, the less you need to do with your arms.
Beginners are most likely to feel the burn. Harry Cloudfoot, a London-based slacklining instructor, says: “For the first six weeks, you’re most likely to test your core strength. But after that, your body usually adapts and you’re less likely to feel it in your abs.”
3. It’s meditative
Walking on a slackline is sometimes described as moving meditation, where you enter a ‘flow state’ and have to keep your mind clear and focused enough to make it from one end of the line to the other. This is particularly true for longlining and highlining, the sport’s super-high, most intense version.
Harry Cloudfoot says: “When you start off slacklining, your mind is really busy thinking about how to keep your balance and it’s really hard to clear your mind. You have to focus on your breathing, to reel in your chatty mind. That’s how you achieve meditation on a thin piece of material and, ultimately, get better at slacklining.”
4. It can help prevent back pain
Your back muscles will also get strengthened in the early stages of your slacklining career – which can help reduce the chance of getting back ache.
Your quadratus lumborum (QL) muscle is a common cause of back pain, and working it on the slackline helps stabilise your hips and spine. Your erector spinae muscles in the base of your back also get fired up, while using your glutes holds your hips steady, improving your posture and reducing the chances of an achy back.
Research shows slacklining has a positive effect on posture. Otto Von Arx, a consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon at Circle Bath Hospital in the UK, says: “Any multifaceted approach to core stability, for example slacklining, has the potential of improving back pain.”
5. It works those legs
Pressing the line down using your legs will mean the slackline feels steadier and will help you keep your balance. It also means your leg muscles will get a good workout, particularly if you’re starting out in the sport and your body takes a while to adjust to it. You’re also constantly bending and flexing your knee as you move along the line. Imagine holding a lunge or squat position for minutes on end and you’re nearly there.
6. It can help prevent injury
Slacklining may also help prevent injuries, including some common leg injuries. Research shows that slacklining improves knee joint stability, which has an injury preventative effect. Professor M. Brennan Harris, from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, says: “Studies using traditional balance training have indicated that stability exercises could prevent some lower-leg injuries. Knee injuries, ankle sprains – that sort of thing.”
7. It aids rehabilitation
Slacklining can not only help speed up recovery physically, it can also provide a much-needed mental boost when athletes suffer an injury. Harry Cloudfoot took up slacklining after a back injury in 2011. “I couldn’t do anything, I could barely flex at the hip,” he says. “Slacklining offered a stability challenge – I took it slowly and soon was able to touch my toes, bend forward and do squats. Psychologically, it also gave me something to do, something to keep my brain motivated and stay upbeat. That definitely helped my recovery.”
8. It’s portable and versatile
One of the best things about slacklines is that they are portable – you just need webbing (the line) and ratchets to secure the line to a tree and get the right tension. The ability to carry around your gym in your backpack means you’re much more likely to use it.