words :: Ned Morgan.
Lately, your fitness regime has probably taken some sort of hit. For our health and well-being, we need to be consistently outside and active—even with a pandemic looming around us. With parks increasingly crowded and limiting visitor numbers, sometimes the easiest option is your backyard. So … what can you do in your backyard?
You can slackline.
Slacklining: The Very Basics
A long length of flat, tightly woven webbing, a slackline is on average from two to five centimetres wide. It has a certain amount of give or slackness when you step on it but will bounce back taut, provided the tension is right. You string it between two mature trees (all quality slackline kits come with protective felt or other material to stuff between the sling and the tree) or other sturdy anchor points. After tightening the line by hand with a ratchet-tensioner, you walk along it. Many purists prefer to walk barefoot.
Many kits include an optional ‘helpline’ above the main line to avoid falls while finding your form and balance. Some prefer a helpline and work it into their routine for an upper-body workout. Typically a slackline lies only a few feet off the ground, so a fall would probably not result in serious injury. But until you have a lot of practice, I recommend a helpline.
Highlining (walking on a slackline above canyons, etc.) is an extreme sport for the daring few, but slacklining in your backyard or campsite is the opposite.
Kids & Slacklining
Before the pandemic I took a slackline kit to my wife’s family cottage. My cousins, two boys aged 8 and 10, rocked the line for hours. They took turns doing chin-ups on the help-line, pleased that they could beat their novice-slacker father at this. I saw first-hand that reasonably athletic kids will take to a slackline rapidly—no, instantaneously. And stay with it. “I’m gonna be so ripped after this!” announced the 10-year-old as he spider-monkeyed across the line for the twentieth time. Finally, their grandmother had to shoo the boys off so she could have her turn. In a backyard or at a campsite, a slackline never fails to become a focal point for good-natured competition, freestyle antics or solitary self-challenges.
Slacklining is a safe, inexpensive and accessible way to work muscle groups barely touched by other forms of exercise. It also improves balance, core strength, posture and coordination. A study out of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, found that slacklining could induce positive changes in the hippocampus—the complex, deep-seated part of the human brain responsible for memory and learning.
Unless you have gymnastics experience, your first time on a slackline may feel wonky. First-timers tend to overcompensate and wobble like crazed puppets, clinging helplessly to the helpline until—often after just a few minutes—they start to get it.
And slacklining is a sport with no downside. Provided you attach and use the slackline correctly, the chances of injury are very small. The sport is not about speed or risk. Highlining (walking on a slackline above canyons, etc.) is an extreme sport for the daring few, but slacklining in your backyard or campsite is the opposite. It’s about quiet concentration and control, and anyone can do it. Once you hone your technique, it can become a kind of active meditation, where your limbs and core reach a fluid equilibrium and your mind calms. You feel lighter than air but razor-focused on your place in the space-time continuum. To find out exactly how good that feels, you’ll just have to try it.