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. For fun on our family vacation I bought a slackline. The college-aged kids found it a blast. But even they could only go a few steps. My husband and I (both 50+) were able to take one or two steps. I was worried about twisting/breaking an ankle while falling. I also sat on the line, and when I fell back I kept putting my hand out – a no no since it’s quite easy to break a wrist that way.

    I’m hoping you’ll have one set up at PrimalCon Lake Tahoe. We’ll be there!

    Suzanne wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Was about to ask the same thing (re: primalcon :-))

      Darcie wrote on August 21st, 2013
      • Oh, there will be slacklines at PrimalCon for sure.

        Mark Sisson wrote on August 21st, 2013
  2. I’m reminded of Avner the Eccentric, who used a slack line in his act. (Like everything else, you can find him on YouTube.) We used to attend a family camp up in northern Minnesota where we tried slacklining with a heavy rope strung over a small stream. It was exhaustingly fun!

    Jim Haas wrote on August 21st, 2013
  3. Balance training is specific to the activity trained. For example, improving your balance on a slackline will not improve your balance on a surfboard. This has been fairly well studied in the literature.

    Michael wrote on August 21st, 2013
  4. I’ve been looking at these for awhile, the video is a big help. I think I can do that with some practice.

    Mike Troy wrote on August 21st, 2013
  5. Nice video! This is what I had in mind when you did the survey

    Devin wrote on August 21st, 2013
  6. The content of this video is great, just to much editing effects in the whole thing! To much on and off focus!

    Andrej wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • I agree. It’s a fun video but the unfocus/zoom in stuff actually made me sick to my stomach.

      Sarah wrote on August 21st, 2013
  7. Would a simple tow rope of a car suffice instead of buying proper slack line?

    Matt wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • That is what I am wondering. Could I use what I have?

      I have 4wd snatch straps (designed to stretch and recoil with the weight of a several ton vehicle on it) and winch extension straps (very little stretch). Both are about the right width webbing. What would work better? The stretch won’t be much on either, as a person weighs much less than a 4WD.

      Lyn wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Yes it will. My boys have a line between two trees in our yard which is simply a car tow line from menards. We put triple folded cardboard between the line and the tree as well to keep from ripping and damaging the bark and tree. Last summer they had three lines between a triangle of trees and would make full laps. It’s a great way to get a 7 minute workout when you only have 8 spare minutes. Plus, it doesn’t require a change of clothes or a shower if you’re short on time – just ditch the shoes and you’re on.

      Marti wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  8. I love slacklining, I haven’t tried it with the line that loose though… any tips to get used to a more slacked slackline?

    Greg Holmes wrote on August 21st, 2013
  9. I first read about slacklining on MDA and always wanted to try it but couldn’t quite commit the bucks for the gear. This summer I got looking around and realized I could use one of several standard 2″ ratcheting cargo straps I had around along with some choke straps (6 foot straps of the same material that have loops sewn into the ends) to go around trees. The first time I tried it in my (gravel) driveway I ran the choke strap around a tree and the other end to the bumper of an SUV. Of course the line twisted and I had to work at minimizing that, but there I was slacklining with what I already owned!

    I DON’T recommend starting out slacklining using vehicles for anchors as they can move just enough to be annoying, but this might add a bit of challenge for more advanced users. I’ve thought of making something like a pair of really short sawhorses for the line to run over to help straighten the line but so far the twist issue (which Gibbons addresses on their site by folding the strap as it goes through the loop) hasn’t been so bad as to take all the fun out of it.

    Rob in Kenai, Alaska wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Please don’t use a vehicle for this. My ambo dad has had to tend people who have used vehicles as safe anchors for various things, and you’d be amazed what can go wrong.

      Lyn wrote on August 21st, 2013
  10. I’m going to do this tomorrow! It is now part of my weekly schedule and great fun. I’d recommend anyone try it out. Keep up the good work Mark!

    Liam wrote on August 21st, 2013
  11. I’ve been working on balancing routines using a Bosu Ball at my gym. Wonder if I could talk them into getting a slackline. Personally I don’t have the real estate at my home for setting up one myself, but I’d love to give it a try.

    Karl wrote on August 21st, 2013
  12. I love slacklining and it is my new passion also. I suggest checking out Yogaslackers. They are all about the meditation and the do yoga on the slackline. They teach no ski poles or handholding and no counting steps-Instead count feet of line when done. They have great videos on YouTube. They also sell lines. I sound like a sales rep for them. Ha! I just fell in love with some of them when they came to Alaska. Super genuine people.

    Kare wrote on August 21st, 2013
  13. This looks great! I am going to look into getting one of these. I had honestly never heard of this before. Thanks!! I thought the video was great as well.

    Jesse wrote on August 21st, 2013
  14. You should try rope gymnastics! http://www.qajaqusa.org/Technique/Ropes.html

    Charlayna wrote on August 21st, 2013
  15. Sort of in the same vein as this – I have been doing “balancing” as part of my workout routines for quite a while – ie, up on bars, walking along dip bars, and even the chin up bars in parks (do this at own risk).

    Another one is learning to do a full handstand, and then handstand pushups – maybe the next progression is a handstand pushup on a slackline ?

    MetalStorm wrote on August 21st, 2013
  16. Tried this last week as it’s become popular at my park. Great fun but harder than you think. keep looking straight! Great post.

    Peter Green wrote on August 21st, 2013
  17. Read you on an iPad, this video doesn’t show up. Might want to try a different technology for us iGroks.

    Cate wrote on August 21st, 2013
  18. how you get us involved and inspired, the slacklining is new to me, except for the balancing acts i do when i see a fallen tree trunk in the great outdoors.
    talking about the feet in this exercise, pete egoscue writes in his book on exercising the musculoskeletal in special ways to get rid of pain, how you can use the feet in a thousand ways as they are made up of many small bones. the bones can more or less move independently. I see them as a caterpillar band on an army tank going over rough ground. how about what the small bones will do on this line, it could be very good for what the feet further support, that is ankles and knees and hips and back.
    I know someone who had a hip replacement and when trying to walk symmetrical, did much better with a weight in his hand, could this be a function of slacklining too? each hand in turn.
    martina

    martina neale wrote on August 21st, 2013
  19. Watch my chinese friend who is considered as one of the best on slack wire!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omQsI_FQP_Q

    Gergely wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  20. Mark, what did you use to capture the video? Camcorder or DSLR? Thank you for the video.

    Nik wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  21. The gibbon classic seems sold out esp. here in Oz I ended up getting the Axis Slackline Baseline 25m should have it tomorrow in time for the weekend i almost sure Ill injure myself Hahaha

    Nathan wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  22. Thanks for this post, Mark! I owe you a tons of thanks! For it is actually the headers of the MDA site (the one with three pics of you on a slackline) that got me in to this sport. After seeing you in the header, I decided to research the sport. I found a great web site that brought me all the way into the sport on Mother’s Day of 2013. Now, my wife and I slackline at least 3 or 4 days a week, I can’t get enough! I have taught about 25 or 30 people to do this sport since May, and no fewer than 100 people have set foot on one of my lines in the parks where I set up. This is a great activity that comes with FREE exercise, building some of the best muscles on your body.

    EVERYONE should try it!

    Hope you don’t mind a link to the best slackline website (IMO):
    http://nwslackline.org

    And one to the blog of my experience:
    http://milehighslacker.wordpress.com

    michel wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  23. I have been a “slacker” a few times…but now I really can be one! (more of one?)

    Steve Martin wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  24. This is great. I will have to try it. A few years ago, at 42 I started to Skateboard again.. mostly on a longboard and just pushing over distance with both legs (called Skogging) . It has done wonders for my leg strength, and balance.

    Dave wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  25. First exposure to slackline was at PrimalCon 2012, and I bought one as soon as I got home. Thank you for that first exposure, I’m also obsessed now.

    Mike wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  26. I don’t know if they actually started the activity but rock climbers have been doing this for years with climbing ropes (or webbing) that stretches incredibly. One should be very proficient at this if one is doing it in ice crampons.

    Chris wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  27. In the video, Mark said when you sleep, your mind rewires itself. I guess as to make you better the next time. I find that interesting. Can someone elaborate on that?

    Kristin wrote on August 22nd, 2013
    • I can definitely vouch for that! I’m a hoop dancer & whenever I’m struggling to master a new trick, one of my best strategies is to practice just before bed, then again the next morning. Very often something clicks that way! I also notice that I often wake up “hearing” the music I was practicing to the day before, which furthers my certainty that my brain was working on the problem as I slept.

      Paleo-curious wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  28. I bought a Gibbon Classic slackline last year and often bring it on holidays. If we set up in a public park, we often have a lineup of kids asking to try it out–it’s great for meeting new people and making new friends. My sister-in-law-to-be wants to do wedding pics on it when she and my brother get married in a few weeks. I’ve always liked “balance-y” things (I also own a unicycle), and now in my 50s, I figure this is money in the bank as a way to stay healthy as I age. Besides, it’s fun!

    Nicholle wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  29. The town where I live spent some money last summer “upgrading” some of the parks. Mostly it was the usual stuff like new benches and garbishcans, but also a semi slack line. When I finally got all the kids out of the way and got to try it, it was surprisingly hard. The little time I got on it I noticed that is was good training for the core.

    Andrew wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  30. What width of rope is best or most commonly used?

    Matt wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  31. We should have set one up at AHS! (I’m the one that thoroughly enjoyed the quail at Miller Union) My husband and I set a slackline up in our neighborhood all the time and help the kids across.

    JenniferR wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  32. This looks so fun, and I especially love that it’s something people of various fitness levels can do. A lot of the intense exercise is out of range for many of us with autoimmune disease, but this could easily be within our wheelhouse!

    Eileen wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  33. I got one last year and it’s a blast!

    Just a note to those who haven’t tried it yet: Mark’s mounting technique is something that will take a while to get to. Gibbon has some good instructional videos on their website – http://www.gibbonslacklines.com .

    Mike wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  34. I just bought a slackline one month ago. Not something you see everyday here, I’m in the Montreal area (you know…. Canada!). There is a good resource for slackline info called http://www.slacklinemontreal.com if anyone is interested. They also sell a few different models.

    Jean Bellemare wrote on August 23rd, 2013
  35. Just ordered mine. Can’t wait to get started!

    Adrian Vital wrote on August 23rd, 2013
  36. Love the idea, Been thinking about it for weeks, especially since my legs seem to be imbalanced in strength.

    However, any ideas for a Poor Man’s Slackline?

    While I’m persuaded by it’s benefits, I can’t afford an official slackline, and wouldn’t have any place to utilize or store it if I could. Thus, is there a workaround substitute?

    I know one could tie a rope between two trees or posts, but that seems like it’d be too different given the round shape and other different properties. Is it essential to the practice that the material be flat like the Slackline? If should, is there something that could be bought at a hardware store accordingly?

    If not, perhaps I might just settle for a roll of rope.

    Benjamin "Benpercent" wrote on August 24th, 2013
  37. Hi Mark,

    Great post about slacklining. As a slackline instructor, I’d like to add to your awesome and concise tip-list, if I may:

    For beginner’s, the three most effective coaching cues I’ve found to be, are:

    1. Arms – “elbows above shoulders”. Remember that phrase and you’ll be using the law of the lever to your maximum advantage. The

    2. Eyes – Focus straight ahead at a fixed point, either at eye level, or the opposite anchor point where the slackline ends. Why? Because looking down tweaks your neck alignment, not in your favour, and in the beginning, looking down at a moving line against a backdrop of ground is send way too much confusing, proprioceptive data to your brain that you just don’t need!

    3. Feet – Big Toe, Ball of the Foot and Heel, always in a straight line, on the line.
    When you walk, walk toe first, then ball, then place the heel down, and THEN transfer the weight forward to take the step. If you take the step before your foot is placed, you’ll probably fall!!

    Intermediate/Advanced

    1. Breath Control – By far, the most important factor to controlling your mind and physical capabilities, is being able to control your breathing, deliberately. When you are slacklining, pay attention to your breathing. The key is to make your breathing cadence smooth and rhythmic, avoid any stuttering. This all changes when you walk a highline, however, as fear takes over. One of the best ways to control any kind of fear or tension in the mind and body is to breathe deliberately.
    This point alone has carried me to walking lines over 120m long….

    2. Arm Coordination – The role of the arms is to match that of the tightrope walker’s pole. You hinge from the elbow to balance – basically waving the forearms side to side to counterbalance. Your torso should stay aligned, straight and somewhat relaxed. Your arms should do all the work. Feeling strong? Walk with wrist weights to build shoulder endurance, fast.

    3. Extras – progressing in slacklining is learning how to “see through the soles of your feet”. Try walking eyes closed to increase this sensitivity. How about walking whilst listening to music in your ears, or through a boombox? Or take some yoga poses to the line – Warrior 1 is a great full-body challenge!

    Thanks Mark, happy slacking, and I’d be please to offer any advice in your slack-practice where needed!

    Cheers,

    Harry Cloudfoot, UK

    Harry Cloudfoot wrote on August 29th, 2013
  38. Thanks for the text!!

    I might even go back sometime and watch the video…

    secret agent girl wrote on September 10th, 2013
  39. I literally tried this for the first time, I thought my feet were pretty strong after barefooting/huaraches for a couple years now. My feet are now pretty sore (as are my abs and quads). Feels like a good whole body workout.

    Melissa wrote on September 15th, 2013

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