Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 Aug

Slacklining – My New Obsession

Because I know how even a moderately busy day can make actually watching a video an impossible dream, I’m going to summarize the main points for you guys.

I’m always trying to have more fun, as you well know. In fact, my whole reason for being in the gym is to train so that I can play – so that my body is fit enough, strong enough, and mobile enough to continue having fun for years to come. The best is when I can combine play and training in the same activity, because having fun while getting more fit is the absolute pinnacle of training. It makes both more effective than either alone.

About a year and a half ago, I discovered and fell in love with slacklining. The slackline is a strap of flat nylon webbing slung between two anchor points that you walk on. Because the line isn’t totally taut, it bounces and wobbles and shifts in every direction as you stand on it. Slacklining is almost like navigating a narrow trampoline. It requires – and develops – an insane amount of balance. As a guy who just turned 60 and hopes to stay active for decades to come, I’m going to need all the balance I can get. That’s why I dig it so much. It’s frustrating, and fun, and makes you more secure and stable on your feet. Slacklining also hits muscles in ways you’re not going to be able to target on conventional gym equipment. Not that it takes a lot of strength (anyone can slackline). All those subtle balance corrections will make your core incredibly strong, though.

Why develop any more balance than you already have, you say? Well, it’s not just about staying upright on a stand-up paddle board in choppy seas or navigating a powder-filled, tree-lined chute on skis or a snowboard. Consider how many people in their twilight years simply lose balance for an instant at night or trip and fall in their living room, resulting in a broken hip, resulting in extended bed confinement, resulting in pneumonia, resulting in death. OK, maybe that’s a bit morbid, but you get my point. I would argue that as we age, balance becomes as important as strength in real-world situations.

Another benefit? You can’t be worrying about bills or work when you’re on the slackline, or else you’ll fall off. You have to be completely and utterly present and in the moment, focused on how your weight is distributed and how the line is moving. For me, it offers a brief respite from the pressures of writing day in a day out. If I’m stuck, I can just take a few minutes off and hop on the slackline in my backyard. There’s definitely a meditative and clearing aspect to it.

Beginner Tips

Learn to trust that as soon as you smoothly transfer your weight to the foot on the line, it won’t swing out from under you. You just have to commit. In that regard, slacklining is a metaphor for life…

Use ski poles or a standing partner to acclimate yourself. Slowly drop the support as you become acclimated to the sensation.

Try to stand still in one spot using one leg. Don’t do too much too quickly. Get used to the feeling of standing on one leg without support until it becomes second nature.

Make subtle balance corrections – don’t wave your arms wildly. Another life metaphor.

Correct from the lower body first, torso and arms are last resort. As you get stronger, you will see that using the muscles in your hips and thighs to bring the line back underneath you can be more effective than correcting with your arms alone.

Intermediate/Advanced Tips

Count maximum number of steps before falling to track progress. This will give you objective feedback.

After walking full-length, try to turn around and head back.

Try some aerials when you master walking and turning!

Slacklining is really tough for most beginners, but it gets better each time you try it. Even if you can’t tell, your brain is constantly rewiring its neural pathways based on new experiences, and slacklining is a powerful new experience that forces a massive amount of neural adaptation. I find that just 10 minutes a session when you start can be maximally effective at this neural rewiring.

Check the World of Tomorrow YouTube channel to see the experts (and get a little discouraged and then, eventually, inspired!). Last, you can get your own slackline at gibbonslackline.com or at major sports retailers like REI, and start working on your balance today.

This was the first in a series of new videos I’ll be producing. What do you think? Also, share your own slackline experiences in the comment board below!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Slacklining sounds like the perfect fun activity to improve stability and center yourself. I have to try this!

    Another one of my favorite bloggers recently wrote about slacklining for the first time; you might enjoy her post. http://www.yesandyes.org/2013/08/34-new-things-try-slacklining.html

    Alicia wrote on August 21st, 2013
  2. Do you think you would have the same confidence if the slackline were higher from the ground? It would be interesting to see if the height would “psych” someone out of being able to perform the same (with some netting or water below of course to avoid injury)

    Big Mike wrote on August 21st, 2013
  3. Great video!! i’ve never tried slacklining, perhaps its time to give it a go!

    Charlotte wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Yes, and now can we start calling ourselves Slackers?

      Nocona wrote on August 21st, 2013
      • LOL!

        Chris wrote on August 21st, 2013
      • Some of us already have….for a long time now.

        :)

        Goddess wrote on August 21st, 2013
  4. Cool!

    Scott UK wrote on August 21st, 2013
  5. I’m inspired! Will try- thanks!

    Ponee wrote on August 21st, 2013
  6. Another benefit of bodyweight training.. highly-developed proprioception and balance.

    Mark P wrote on August 21st, 2013
  7. Slacklining is also one of the deepest meditation practices I’ve found. You’re SO present to every millisecond of the breath, the way it’s linked to your mental state and incremental movements of the body. Plus, you make a good point, Mark, it’s a playful way to tone the body.

    Jess wrote on August 21st, 2013
  8. Fun post. A couple of other beginner tips: don.t look at your feet; rather, fix your eyes on something stable like the tree the slack line is tied to. Second, don’t hold your arms horizontally but keep them elevated, like goal posts or something. That gives you more balance adjusting capabilities. Third, start with a shorter distance between anchors (easier to get a more taut line) and then extend the length between anchors as you improve.

    I am still a rookie but having fun with it. These are tips that I currently find useful.

    Rand wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Rand, good points. Interestingly, I found that looking more at my feet (and not so much straight ahead) helped me “place” them more accurately on the line and allowed for better sense of balance. Bottom line:try both ways and see what works best.

      Mark Sisson wrote on August 21st, 2013
      • Mark and Rand, I understand you both, I started slacklining a year ago for the same reasons as Mark mentions and we regularly meet with work colleagues at lunch in a park.
        I started slacklining looking at my feet wanting to make sure I was still on and it helped. After you start getting use to it (a few months), looking ahead really helped me be consistently stable and go further, reminded me of when I started driving, you look really close to the hood of the car to make sure you’re following the road, then with practice, the theory is to look further ahead to make less corrections and more fluid turns.
        Great post Mark and I really appreciate your website and all the valuable life-giving info that helps us folks here in Geneva motivated and training the primal way :-)

        JAck wrote on August 24th, 2013
  9. Never thought I’d need lessons to be a slacker!

    Groktimus Primal wrote on August 21st, 2013
  10. This was a very fun post. Please do many more of these.

    Now I have to go buy one.

    S.S. wrote on August 21st, 2013
  11. great video, I will definitely be giving this some time. Looks like fun!

    John Snyder wrote on August 21st, 2013
  12. This was an awesome post! I’ll bet Gibbon’s sales just quadrupled

    TJ wrote on August 21st, 2013
  13. Great video – you’ve definitely sparked my interest!

    Love the actual style of the video as well – cool intro, informative, the music snippets were a nice touch as well. Good stuff!

    Tom wrote on August 21st, 2013
  14. Hooray! I’ve been waiting to hear about slacklining!! :) I love going out in my neighborhood park with kids stopping by to try it every so often.

    I HIGHLY recommend a $50 1-inch line from Woss Enterprises for starting out. I compared ordering the parts myself with their kit, and both came out the same (less because of free shipping!). Their customer service was great and they even let me request a different color combination for the lines. Good stuff. http://www.woss.com/1in-slackline/

    SayMoi wrote on August 21st, 2013
  15. Nice one! Ive had a slackline for a year and its fantastic for middle aged guys like me…Certainly impresses my daughters friends! :) Another tip is to extend the exercise to balancing on more static objects like fallen trees, logs, fences etc as the static balancing I find is harder! (obviously take real care on what you balance on!).

    John wrote on August 21st, 2013
  16. No need to pay full retail on slacklines, I got mine from http://www.theclymb.com.
    rei-outlet.com, backcountry.com, http://www.sierratradingpost.com/ all have discounted lines and gear. Surf teh interwebs for the best deal.

    Buy/invest in a longer line then you think you will need.

    Care tips: don’t leave you line set up all the time……put it away when not in use (UV-damage, overtensioning, animal chew toy, etc)

    Focus on the horizon/straight ahead, not at your feet.
    Try out sitting postures.

    Don’t forget to smile and breathe!

    mims wrote on August 21st, 2013
  17. I’ve kind of been on the (slack line) fence for awhile. Leave it to Mark to push me over.

    Ham-bone wrote on August 21st, 2013
  18. Good video, keep ‘em coming!!

    ted wrote on August 21st, 2013
  19. I was running in a park near work yesterday and there was a group walking on slack lines. It looks like a great exercise. I am still kicking myself that I didn’t ask to try while they had it all set up.

    Tom T. wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Kicking yourself–more exercise on top of the running? :)

      Wenchypoo wrote on August 21st, 2013
  20. Awesome video! The lifestyle type posts really do it for me. I would love to see a primal camping adventure edit.

    Grok on!

    Taylor Rearick wrote on August 21st, 2013
  21. I set one up between two trees when on holiday in Finland this summer. I found that rather than trying to balance standing still, it was actually easier to improve by stepping forward almost as soon as you stood up on the line, but hey, everyone’s different.
    I did eventually manage quite a few single crossings and a couple of returns, which put a big grin on my face!
    The added challenge I had were big forest ants jumping on my bare feet as I stepped up from the forest floor, which then proceeded to nip my toes and a constant swatting action with my arms to fight off the hungry mosquitos :-)
    I also found that lifting my eye gaze up to look at the trunk of the tree at the other end was better than staring down at my feet.

    Mick Dann wrote on August 21st, 2013
  22. Thanks for sharing! Definitely going to set one of these up in my back yard. Hey Mark, maybe for your 70th birthday you could do a Phillipe Pettit-style canyon crossing! Check out what he did at WTC back in ’74…

    Tom B-D wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • No, no, no–I want him to do a Jack LaLanne-esque swim across the channel (or somewhere) with a flotilla of boats chained together in his mouth. :)

      Wenchypoo wrote on August 21st, 2013
  23. Great, love the videos!
    Which reminds me, when are we going to get photos of mark sisson age 60? I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it fascinating to see how well we can age if we take care of our bodies.
    Keep up the good work.

    PrimeTime wrote on August 21st, 2013
  24. Did I miss where you said how wide the strap is that you use?

    Jane Barnes wrote on August 21st, 2013
  25. I slacklined for years and it was a wonderful activity, very zen. But also a great workout. I never had abs like I did when I slacklined. I need to start taking it up again.

    One thing to be careful about though, is not to strain your psoas by tensing your abs and glutes too much. I only figured that out after seriously irritating my psoas muscles to the point where I had intense pelvic pain. Kept you core firm but not too tight and you should be okay.

    Christopher wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • That makes perfect sense! Thanks for this advice.

      Gay Gooen wrote on August 21st, 2013
  26. Definitely no where near that level but it looks like fun!

    Cheryl wrote on August 21st, 2013
  27. Hi, Mark! Never heard of this before today, but rest assurred, I’m on my way to installing a slackline in my Yoga studio — the students will love it. I notice that many of my students have challenges with balance — and isn’t it all about that, after all? Balance in what we eat, how much we sleep, how we think and how we work — it’s all about balance, after all! Thanks for yet another great idea!

    Gay Gooen wrote on August 21st, 2013
  28. The good thing about having teenagers is that you can give them ‘gifts’ that you really want. I gave my son one last year. Lots of fun, and I’m still learning.

    This is about the cheapest place to purchase the Gibbons Classic 49′

    http://www.theclymb.com/all/brand-event/321039/show-product/468454?f=mi

    I have no affiliation with them. They are a site that does discounted outdoor products and slacklines come up now and then.

    Steve wrote on August 21st, 2013
  29. This looks like fun! In the video Mark appears to be on a 2″ line. Does anyone have experience with the 1″, or even better both widths to comment on differences? The Gibbons site touches on this, but personal experiences are always helpful.

    Too bad I don’t have the headroom to set it up for indoor use during winter!!

    Rodney wrote on August 21st, 2013
  30. SJ wrote on August 21st, 2013
  31. I’ve been thinking about getting one of these for months. We travel full time in our rv so this would be a perfect campground afternoon activity for my boys and I. Thanks for the video!

    Jenn (GH) wrote on August 21st, 2013
  32. I am in!. Bought one in amazon ,Macaco Slackline 16m x 50mm (by the way it was the last one at the time)

    wildgrok wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • correction: found a cheaper one, same specs, search amazon for Gibbon Slacklines Ladies Line

      wildgrok wrote on August 21st, 2013
  33. I already wear flat-soled shoes or go barefoot when I can, but I still am overly prone to twisted ankles, and I have to conclude that it’s a balance issue. I wonder if slacklining would help? I’ve been wanting a wobble board for a few years now, but this looks like it might be even better.

    JT wrote on August 21st, 2013
  34. I’m in.

    glorth2 wrote on August 21st, 2013
  35. Mark, FIrst of all, I love your MDA site!!
    I have Slacker Radio Premium (no ads, ONLY music) which is just streaming music station. I listen a LOT, so I have been invited into Slacker Radio’s Slactivist group. We are called

    Slactivists
    I love the idea of slacklining. Wish I had two trees or ?? maybe 4×4′s in the ground??

    Phyllis Anne wrote on August 21st, 2013
  36. Just order the “Classic” set up. Looks fun and challenging. This should help with the Yoga “tree” pose. Thanks Mark!

    Jay wrote on August 21st, 2013
  37. Slacklining is great!! My son introduced us to it a few years ago and he is REALLY good on one. He did some Highlining in a canyon in Sou. Cal. a couple years ago (with a safety belt – Rule #9) It was 50 feet up. I don’t do it often enough to get rid of the “Sewing Machine Leg” yet. It will definitely whoop your butt when you get started, but it is a lot of fun. Go for it!!!

    Bob wrote on August 21st, 2013
  38. Looks like fun, I’m not too good with balance so maybe this will change that. Plus, I think my little boy would love to try it.

    2Rae wrote on August 21st, 2013
  39. Thanks Mark,
    I had been contemplating about buying one. Now, it will get installed in the backgarden. The kids will absolutely love it too!

    Tobi wrote on August 21st, 2013
  40. I hop on my Goof Board to practice balance – easier probably as its wider but nice if you don’t have a place to set up a slackline. Also, instructables has a great tutorial on making your own slack line rack (sans trees if you don’t happen to have two available).

    barb wrote on August 21st, 2013

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