8 Ways Slacklining Will Get You Fit

From stronger muscles to meditation, here's how balancing on a wobbly line will improve your health.
David Lama on his way to the Masherbrum in Pakistan on July 1, 2014
If anyone knows about slacklining, it's David Lama © Manuel Ferrigato/Red Bull Content Pool
By Ellie Ross

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 3,200 feet).

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. Improve your balance

Emily Sukiennik highlining between an arch
Emily Sukiennik highlining in the Moab Desert © Krystle Wright

Slacklining is all about balancing on a wobbly line, whether that line is suspended a few feet or a few thousand feet in the air. Balance and stability are integral to many adventure sports, including trail running, skiing, stand-up paddleboarding 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. Strengthen your core

Pablo Signoret attempts a World Record on the 3000m long Slackline at Aiguille Dibona, France on July 18th, 2016.
Pablo Signoret sure has a very, very solid core © Pierre Chauffour

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 center 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

Mich Kemeter prepares for a distance slacklining attempt
In distance slacklining, concentration is key © MirjaGeh.com Photography

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.

"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," Harry Cloudfoot says. "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. Help prevent back pain

Alex Mason performs at Red Bull Slackladder in Hilo, HI, USA on 27 May, 2016.
Alex Mason mid-back (flip) muscle workout © Andy Mann/Red Bull Content Pool

Your back muscles will also get strengthened in the early stages of your slacklining career — which can help reduce the chance of getting an achy back.

Your quadratus lumborum (QL) muscle is a common cause of back pain, and working it on the slackline helps stabilize 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. Work your legs

Pedro Rafael Marques performs during the Red Bull Airlines in Catania, Italy on October 8, 2016
Pedro Rafael Marques showing some leg © Mauro Puccini/Red Bull Content Pool

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. Injury prevention

Mich Kemeter is reflected while slacklining oer a lake
Walking on glass © MirjaGeh.com Photography

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. Aid in rehabilitation

Feet in close focus at the Red Bull Slackliners event, shot by photographer Krystle Wright
Looking down the line © Krystle Wright

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

In Aiglun, France, on Tuesday, April 19, Nathan Paulin and Danny Menšík break the longest slackline record.
Fishing wire came first © Pierre Chauffour

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.

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