Slacklining. Courtesy Helmsp – Flickr
Precise and powerful footwork often makes the difference between sticking a move and falling off the wall. All too often I have the finish of a boulder problem within reach, only to have my foot slip out from under me.
As routes get more difficult, it is increasingly necessary to have great footwork. This means trusting in your feet to provide balance, stability, and propulsion on even the tiniest of footholds.
This coordination can be very difficult, especially when you’re tired and technique begins to falter. However, with correct training, good footwork can become second nature. This will get you up the wall faster, with less time spent thinking about your feet. Overall, this will take more strain off your arms and leave you energy and strength for harder climbs.
What is slacklining?
Slacklining is the sport of balancing on a narrow piece of webbing suspended between two anchors. This is different from traditional tightrope walking in two ways. First, the webbing is flat instead of rounded like a rope. This provides a better surface to balance on. Second, webbing is stretchy and dynamic, allowing the line to bounce like a trampoline. This aspect of slacklining opens up many possibilities and variations that aren’t feasible in tightrope walking.
You can make your own slackline out of climbing webbing, or purchase one online. Gibbon slacklines are some of the best quality lines in the industry.
When learning, it is best to practice with a slackline set close to the ground. A height of two feet allows the line to flex, but is low enough to be fairly safe. Slacklines can be set up on almost anything, but two trees about twenty or thirty feet apart work perfectly and are easy to access. Try and set your line up over grass for a soft landing. Cover any dangerous objects you might fall on and use crash pads if in doubt.
How to train on slacklines
The first goal of slacklining is simply to walk from one end to the other. Slacklining is difficult, and it takes lots of practice to be able to walk on one. When you are first beginning, try to use as short a line as possible. This will make the line more stable and easier to practice on. As you get better, extend the length of the line for more of a challenge.
Going barefoot helps to grip the line better and gives you more tactile feedback. Start in the middle of the line where it is more stable. It is helpful to have something to hold on to while you get used to walking the line. Try running a rope above the line at chest level that you can hold on to while learning. This assistance while balancing will make starting out less frustrating and will help you learn faster.
You will fall a lot at first, but keep at it! Building balance is tricky, and can be frustrating at times. Train a little bit at a time and you’ll see progress.
Once you can balance for a few seconds, practice walking along the line. If you can make it from one end to the other you are doing great! Reaching this level can take a few weeks, and even then it is never simple to traverse a line. Even pros still wobble and have to concentrate.
If you are looking for more challenges, try turning around on the line. Walk one direction, then slowly turn around and walk the other way. Balancing well enough to turn in place is tricky!
To build super strength and balance, try balancing on one foot. This will more accurately mimic the stress that you face while climbing. If you can accomplish this I salute you! You will find it very helpful next time you have to balance on one toe while climbing a route.
Variations and advanced slacklining
Once you master the basics there are endless possibilities for advanced tricks and variations in slacklining. These can become a sport on their own right, and take many years to master. As you move into the realm of advanced slacklining remember to always practice correct safety measures. Even the pros make mistakes at times.
A fairly new sport, tricklining is the art of performing tricks on slackline. The bounce of the line allows slackliners to jump on the line and perform feats such as back flips and spins. This has big gaining popularity and is a quickly growing sport! There are even competitions for slackliners around the world.
Highlining is the practice of slacklining at high altitudes. Lines can be set up between cliffs, across gorges, and even between buildings. Highliners seek the adrenaline rush of being suspended hundreds of feet above the ground. They will often attach a safety rope to themselves to catch them if they fall. However, extreme enthusiasts attempt highline crossings with no safeties.
Waterlining is the practice of setting up a slackline over a body of water, similar to deep water soloing in climbing. This allows slackliners to practice tricks with the safety of water below.
Some people have been cultivating a new form of yoga, where the traditional poses are done on slackline. This adds an extra element of concentration and balance to the exercises. This is an incredible way to build inner focus and balance.