Slacklining started in the 1980s as a way for rock climbers to make the most of time spent waiting for bad weather to pass. It's now gaining popularity with runners, especially trail runners, as a strength training exercise. It has steadily gained exposure in urban areas, but can also be done out on the trail. All you need is a couple sturdy trees and some patience.
So what is slacklining all about? It’s a bit like tight rope walking except the line isn’t tight. It’s slack, as the name suggests. Even better, the rope isn’t a skinny cable but a 1 to 2-inch band of nylon or polyester webbing. The fun part is learning how to balance in order to walk across the line. You don't hold a long pole like with tight rope walking. Instead, you balance using just your body. It sounds easy enough, but it takes a bit of practice, a good amount of patience, and some time to strengthen the small muscles, tendons and ligaments in your feet and lower leg. It works out the muscles that are important for balance and agility when trail running. Also, it's a lot of fun to master the technical challenge, so it's not as arduous as doing normal strength training exercises.
Slacklining increases physical and mental stamina, improves your balance, and strengthens your feet, ankles and legs, which results in reduced risk of injury. It also improves your mental focus as you have to really be in the moment to master the technicalities of slacklining.
Because it strengthens areas like knees and ankles, it’s a valuable tool for building certain muscle areas or even for recovering from an injury. Particularly for injuries such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, resting the area (by reducing running load) and strengthening the foot (with slacklining) can have a significant effect.
Like running, slacklining is not expensive to get into. You can pick up a basic slackline kit for $50-$100 at your local outdoors store. Then, all you need is something sturdy to string it up between. Slacklining is a sport that anyone can do. You don’t need to be an acrobat to get started. Just learning the basics of balancing on the line will give your feet, legs and mind a great workout. Just listen to the simple cues from your body and you'll be slacklining in no time... well, not no time, but some-time.
Although, the focus is on the feet and lower leg, slacklining actually involves the whole body. Your knees, quads and hips are all important. Your core and back are engaged. Your upper body and especially your arms have to move around to adjust your balance with agility.
Studies have shown how slacklining can be used effectively as a recovery tool. A 2013 Australian study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports showed it to be beneficial for recovery of the quadriceps. Also in 2013, an Austrian study showed the benefits of slacklining for injury prevention and in an article published in the International Journal of Athletic Therapy & Training stated that it provides an integrated approach to the improvement of functional capabilities in a safe, efficient, and cost-effective manner.
In addition to being a great tool for recovery, it's also awesome for injury prevention. It's not high intensity, so it doesn't even feel like hard work, but it's a beneficial full-body workout and a great activity to do on rest days.
Have you tried slacklining? What was your experience? Or do you already incorporate it into your training plan? Do you have any advice for other trail runners? Let me know in the comments, and if you found this article useful, please consider sharing it.