There are a few fitness activities we all expect to see people doing as soon as the weather warms up, like jogging, bike riding, or throwing a Frisbee. Lately as I’ve been outside taking advantage of the sunshine, I’ve noticed another variety of exercise in the park: slacklining. A person balances on a skinny line several feet off the ground, bringing to mind a tightrope walker or an intimidating high wire act. It’s easy to wrongly assume it should be left to the experts, but this increasingly popular activity is not much more difficult than riding a bicycle! Here’s what you need to know to get started.
What is slacklining, anyway?
Slacklining is more than just walking and balancing. There are a variety of tricks, jumps, twists, and even yoga poses slackliners learn to do while balancing. Unlike a high wire, a slackline is about two inches wide and made of polyester or nylon webbing, making it loose and dynamic for doing the different activities. The line is typically only 2 to 3 feet off the ground, although more experienced slackliners may try raising it higher. Beginner slackline kits that include a line that is about 50 feet long and all the gear needed to anchor the line can be found online and at sports retailers for about $100 or less.
How do I set up a slackline?
Be sure to anchor the line to two steady, fixed points like trees or posts—if they seem at all unstable, find somewhere else to anchor your line! If you can’t find a good setup or if you’re not ready to venture out in public, there are a few different ways you can also set up a slackline in your own backyard. If you want a permanent fixture, you can set two 8 foot posts in concrete in the ground, and anchor your line to them. If you prefer something that you can adjust or move around the yard, it’s easy to build two A-frame posts and then anchor the rope to a plank underground, or even secure it under the wheel of your parked car. There are some great instructions on how to set up these slackline options around the web.
A beginner will want to rig their line between knee and thigh height off the ground, so it is easy to mount and not too high up in case of a fall. The length should be between 15 and 30 feet to start, so that the line is more stable while you’re still finding your balance. There should still be some sag of 6-12 inches when your weight is in the middle of the line. It’s also best to start out practicing with one or two spotters, and you might want to put some padding down under the line to prevent injury.
What should I wear if I’m slacklining?
The main question about slacklining attire is whether to wear shoes or go barefoot. Bare feet will contour around the line better and help you feel out where you can balance without looking down at your feet (more on that later!). If you would like to wear sneakers, shoes with a thin sole and a tread that will not trip you over the line are best. If you are wearing long or baggy pants, be sure to cuff the bottoms.
How do I get on the line?
Now you’re ready to mount the line! It’s easiest to get up on the middle of the line, since there is less tension and the movements will be less jerky than at the ends. Standing too slowly on the line will make it more difficult to mount—don’t move too quickly or jerkily, but try to move fluidly. YouTube is a great resource for slackline beginners, and this video shows an easy beginner mount (even though you can start with the line lower than in this video).
You’ll probably want to start with one foot on the line with a little weight on it, and stabilize the line with the leg still on the ground. Then, shift your weight to the foot that is already on the line and see if you can balance on that foot with your other leg lifting off the ground just a few inches. Hop the foot from the ground several times and when you are ready, place the second foot on the line. Mounting is probably one of the hardest parts of learning to slackline, and wobbling or falling is nothing to be ashamed of!
Now that I’m up here, what do I do?
To simply stand and walk on the line, place your foot so that the webbing runs between your big and second toes, and then back through your heel. Relaxation is key—if your body is stiff, you’ll find it harder to maintain fluidity that will help you balance. To help your movements be fluid, it might help to listen to music or keep a beat going in your head. Bend your knees a little, and hold your hands out to your sides a little higher than your shoulders. Your gaze should be focused on something unmoving at eye level, or at the ground at least 15 feet ahead of you. Staring at your feet is a sure way to tip off the line.
The most basic step for beginners is walking. You should try to pick one foot up and lift it to the side, just balancing there for a few seconds, before placing it in front of your other foot on the line. Try bringing your feet further out to the sides each time you do this. This is also easy to practice on the ground, by walking in a straight line with your heels 2-3 inches off the ground.
The middle of the line is the best place to practice, because if it sways and moves it will be slower than at the ends near the anchors, where the movements tend to be jerkier. The line will probably move around a lot in the beginning as you learn to keep your balance. If you’re having a hard time adjusting because of this, ask your spotter to sit on the line to reduce movement and create more tension.
I did it! What’s next?
Once you’ve gained your balance and learned how to walk on the line, you are ready to start trying spins, jumps, and to move on to more complicated tricks and poses as you progress. It’s recommended in the beginning to work in increments of 20 minute sessions to condition your body as well as avoid frustration. Balancing is never easy, and it’s normal to have difficulty learning this new activity. You should try different tensions, heights, and starting points on the line to see what you prefer.
If you tend to move slow, a loose line is easier. If you are fast or react quickly, it’s better to use a tight line. There are as many different ways to slackline as there are slackliners, but once you find what works for you, you’ll understand why the number of people drawn to this exciting and challenging sport increases every day!