March 2017 Fitness and sport
involves walking on a line of nylon webbing anchored to two poles without any support or foothold; you only have your balance to help!
This activity can be done indoors or outdoors and it involves challenging gravity, listening to every muscle in your body, staying concentrated for a long time in silence and using kinaesthetic control as a type of moving meditation or ‘dynamic balance’.
Slacklining was invented in the USA as a training method for climbers, but it soon became a popular discipline itself in Brazil and various countries in Europe, such as France, Spain and Germany. Compared to tightrope walking, this discipline does not involve using a rod or balancing bar, nor is it carried out on a chord or wire; the line is made of flat webbing and is kept loose and soft so it is elastic and flexible. This webbing is made of polyester or nylon and it is held in place by two poles (trees, poles, supports, and so on) that can be 5-30m apart and from 0.5m to over 1m above ground for more advanced slackliners. The line is usually 2.5-5cm wide and the type and tension in the line vary depend on the needs and level of the walkers, for which there are three categories: trickline
: this speciality is more ‘freestyle’ and it involves various types of walking styles and difficult tricks which require constant balance. The line, which is held in tension with a ratchet, is 5cm thick and 10-25m long. Tricks can involve staying still and getting onto one’s knees or sitting down with the legs crossed or moving, such as jumping, twisting or bouncing on the line whilst sitting or lying face down on it.
: this is a long distance speciality. It involves slacklining and staying concentrated and balanced for a long time. The line is 2.5cm wide and tension is created using hand and chain hoists. The higher the longlines, the higher the tension, which can even get to 20Kn! Jerry Miszewski set a record in this discipline in 2012 when he walked 494m.
: in this case it is the height that makes the difference. This speciality should be carried out in the mountains so that the highlines can be set up between rocks and attached with two or more bolts. It is compulsory to wear a safety harness in this case because the lines can be up to 80m high.
There are also other forms of slacklining, such as waterlining, which is carried out over lakes or rivers, and rodeolining, which is similar to circus practices in which the line is anchored but not taut.
The function of balance
The ability to balance is, by definition, a specific quality that allows us to maintain and recover a certain static or dynamic position and we need it to combat gravity and carry out actions. Balancing is the result of continual and coordinated muscle, tone and posture adaptation and it is provided by various control systems and organs including: the sensory area, motor area, the optic thalamus, cerebellum, spinal cord, vestibular training, visual receptors, proprioceptive training, Golgi apparatus, Pacinian corpuscles and Meissner's corpuscle in the sole of the foot.
How to train your balance on the ground
• To start training your ability to balance all you need to do is place a rope on the floor and walk along it, perhaps with your eyes closed. You may need to attach the ends of the rope so it does not move whilst walking on it – a brick or chair leg will suffice.
• The rolla bolla
is a wooden board that can be placed on top of a semi-cylinder (and a normal cylinder at a more advanced stage) and then you stand on it with both feet and control the position of it by adjusting your posture.
• The proprioceptive board was created for rehabilitation therapy but it is used nowadays for athletic training. It greatly improves the sense of balance in a dynamic way in all directions and can be used for numerous exercises. Since it is quite small, it can also be used indoors.
• Using wide lines does not make doing slacklining exercises any easier.
• Before putting up a line, carefully examine the ground beneath it to ensure it is soft and flat.
• If you fall, try to direct your body towards the line so you can grab hold of it if possible.
• If you attach the line to trees, make sure the trees have a diameter of at least 30cm. The bigger the tree, the smaller the oscillations of the line will be.
• It is a good idea to use a safety rope (5mm, 800kg tensile strength) and attach it above the head so you attach yourself to it if necessary.
• Hold a stick (or two, one each side) in your hand and use this to regain your balance if you lose it.
• When you use a highline to do slacklining at a height, you need to attach a safety harness at various points underneath the line, if not another slackline. The safety rope should be attached to the highline every 1.5-3m.