Here we’re going to explore more into the world of slacklining and specifically focusing on some of the fitness benefits. I’ve already covered in a previous article how many calories you burn during a basic session and this article is going to look at some of the muscle groups that you use. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be covering basic slacklining moves such as standing, walking and turning. This allows me to explore the basic muscle groups used as other more complex disciplines are likely to increase muscle tension. If you’re interested, have a look at my article about the different disciplines that make up the sport of slacklining. So, do you build muscle when slacklining?
Yes, you do, even basic slacklining requires core and leg strength. In order to balance you walk in a half-squat position often called a Gibbon stance, and have to engage your core to stabilise the slackline beneath you.
A slackline is anchored at 2 points and then tension is applied, because of that, the slackline can move both vertically, and horizontally. It requires your core to be engaged to try and restrict the line from moving as much as possible.
Engaging your core is critical to successfully being able to balance and walk on a slackline. When standing on a slackline your base of support is significantly reduced which is why balancing becomes so difficult. Any movement of your centre of gravity (roughly your belly button) outside of the base of support will mean you are off balance and likely to fall off. Keeping your core strong helps provide stability, limiting the amount your body moves laterally (left and right). This means you can more easily keep your centre of gravity over the base of support.
One of the other key elements to limiting the movement of your centre of gravity is controlling your head. Your head makes up about 7% of your body weight and is the furthest point of your body from the slackline. This means even a small movement of your head has a proportionally bigger impact on your centre of gravity. By engaging your core you reduce these movements therefore helping you balance.
The 2 above paragraphs are relevant to balancing whether on a slackline or something more solid, such as a gymnastics beam. They are important to balancing even if what you are trying to balance on isn’t moving as well. The key difference with a slackline is just that, it moves underneath you. The slackline will only move if you move it, i.e. when you stand on it it goes down. This means the more you can stabilise yourself and restrict the movements the better you can control the slackline and therefore balance more easily.
Whilst all of your core muscles are important for balance. your obliques are probably the most important for slacklining. They allow you to control your body’s movement when bending to the side. These get worked hard as no matter how strong you are, your body will move and therefore the slackline will move. When that’s happening, your obliques are working hard to keep constantly adjusting your upper body.
In the video above you can see how much my body is moving and as my head and shoulders move more, that is when I can’t correct my balance any longer and I fall off.
The constant movement of a slackline session and engagement of the core means that it does provide you with a workout. I am in no way in the shape of my life but I’m not unfit and following my first few slacklining sessions I could feel the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) when I woke up the next day.
Your legs will also get a workout when slacklining. We talked about the Gibbon stance earlier, which is walking on a half bent leg with your arms at a 45 degree angle above you. When walking with your knees slightly bent you actively engage both your quads and your hamstrings. Whilst you aren’t moving up and down like you would in a squat, you are holding the position for longer time frames. Generally, the easiest way to balance on a slackline is on one foot at a time and moving slowly from one foot to the other. That means you’re doing a bodyweight squat hold on one leg. Your muscles will be working hard and are definitely getting a workout.
It’s really important that your legs stay bent as they then act like mini shock absorbers reducing the amount of movement the rest of your body experiences.
Barbell Therapy London wrote an article all about the lower limb muscle development between a half squat and a full squat (hip below the knee). It shows that the quads and hamstrings develop at the same rate whether a full squat or half squat is completed. These muscles also play a key part in supporting your knees and can help manage or prevent knee pain. Do speak to a doctor if you are at all unsure.
As you increase your ability and therefore you’re able to stay on the slackline longer, you get more of a leg workout. As with any exercise, consistency is key and before you know it your legs will be strong enough to complete any slacklining session you want.
There are a few sports that the strength gained through slacklining would be beneficial for. The top sports I believe are skiing and snowboarding. Both of these sports require both core and leg strength as the main muscle groups.
Skiing is probably the most closely linked sport where the strength built up through slacklining would transfer. It is a perfect off season training aid for any skiers whilst they enjoy warmer climates. This is because skiing also requires prolonged periods of time in a half squat when completing turns. Which also specifically focuses on the quads and hamstrings. When skiing, it also requires your abs to be engaged and specifically your obliques as they help to put weight onto the downhill ski when turning.
Snowboarding also requires leg strength, however depending on if you board ‘regular’ (left foot forward) or ‘goofy’ (right foot forward) depends on which leg will get the bigger workout. For snowboarding it’s key to get your weight onto your front foot. This difference in weight distribution links to balancing on one foot at a time whilst slacklining. Whilst most of the turning is done through your feet, your core is also really important to allow your whole body to move as one.