Slacklining is one of those activities that most adults look at and say, “Nope, I’d make a fool of myself trying that.” So they walk away instead of giving it a try, even though they secretly think it looks like fun.
The reality is, slacklining is fun. It’s novel, it’s different, it’s incredibly challenging, and truthfully, everyone’s bad at it the first time they try. Usually, they’re bad at it the second, third, and fourth times, too. But instead of allowing that knowledge to intimidate you, you can allow it to free you, giving you the okay to be bad at something. You will be bad at slacklining, but so will everyone else.
The good news is that there’s a reasonably quick learning curve. In a matter of weeks, students see significant improvement. And the beauty of slacklining is that the balance and coordination you develop on the line translates to everyday experiences. It helps improve proprioception, it develops the small stabilizing muscles in your feet, ankles, and hips, and it teaches you to actively engage your core to help you maintain balance.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of walking on the line, there are endless opportunities to try creative exercises, including strength-building moves. So, if you’re ready to give slacklining a try as part of your cross-training routine, here are just a few of the ways you can use balance exercises to help develop total-body strength and coordination.
Pushups on the ground are hard enough, but pushups on a slackline require a lot more coordination and control, particularly through the shoulder girdle. This is because the slackline moves and shakes under your weight, forcing all of the muscles of your shoulder, chest, arms, and core to engage to maintain stability.
Perform a Slackline Pushup
Set up just as you would perform a basic pushup, but place your hands on the slackline, slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart. With your legs extended, tighten your core and make sure your body’s forming a straight line from heels to head. You can gain more stability by separating your feet for a wider base of support.
When you feel reasonably stable, bend your elbows and begin lowering your chest toward the slackline. When your elbows form a 90-degree angle, reverse the movement and extend your elbows, returning to the starting position. Move in a slow, controlled fashion.
Perform two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. You can also modify the exercise by performing the pushup on your knees.
Targets: Chest, shoulders, triceps, and core
Bulgarian Split Squat
Using a slackline to perform a Bulgarian split squat isn’t all that different than using a bench or step to execute the move, but because the slackline sways more than a sturdy object, it requires greater core engagement, particularly through the hips.
Perform a Split Squat on a Slackline
Stand about two feet from the slackline, facing away. Reach one foot behind you, hooking your ankle over the line, so your front foot is flat on the ground and the other is elevated. Keeping your torso upright and your core engaged, bend both knees and lower your hips toward the ground. Be sure to keep your front heel on the ground and avoid shifting your weight too far forward over your front knee. Also, make sure your front knee remains aligned with your toes throughout the movement—it shouldn’t shift or cave in toward your midline.
When your front knee is bent at roughly 90-degrees, press through your front foot and extend your legs to return to the starting position. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions on one side before switching legs. Complete two to three sets per leg.
Targets: Quads, glutes, hips, hamstrings, and core
Triceps dips are another common bodyweight strength training exercise that can easily be performed on a slackline. If you’re familiar with a bench dip, the movement is largely the same. But as with pushups and Bulgarian split squats, the slackline adds an element of instability that requires greater core engagement and stability.
Perform Triceps Dips on a Slackline
Sit sideways on the slackline and grasp the line with both hands directly under your hips. Extend your legs, placing your heels firmly on the ground. Press down through your hands, engaging your triceps and shoulders to lift your hips from the slackline so that you’re supported only by your hands and feet. Shift your torso slightly forward so your hips are in front of the line. Bend your elbows so they point straight behind you and lower your hips toward the ground in a slow, controlled fashion. When your elbows are bent at 90-degrees, reverse the movement and press through the slackline to extend your elbows and return to the starting position. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
Targets: Triceps, shoulders, core
Step ups on a slackline are beneficial for a few reasons. First, they target the large muscles of the lower body, including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. But beyond that, stepping up onto the line and maintaining balance is a critical skill for slacklining in general. For this reason, step ups can be incorporated into a workout before you become adept at walking on the line, helping you develop the neuromotor control necessary for future skills.
Perform Step Ups on a Slackline
Stand to the left of the slackline so your right leg is abutting the line. Place your right foot lightly on the line without applying too much pressure. Make sure your right foot is pointing straight down the line. Engage your core, shift your weight to your right foot, and step up on the line, extending your right leg as you lift your left foot from the ground. Gain your balance for a second before carefully bending your right knee and lowering your left foot back to the ground.
Perform 10 to 15 repetitions on one leg before switching to the opposite leg. Complete two to three sets.
Targets: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core
Balance High Knee Lifts
Walking on a slackline requires you to maintain your balance on an unstable surface while continuously shifting your weight and center of gravity based on the line’s movement, your body’s position, and environmental factors like the wind. It’s not easy to develop the motor and core control necessary to make these constant minute adjustments.
One way you can start developing this control without actually walking on the line is to perform stationary balance exercises like high knee lifts. To be clear, this exercise is a little different than the other exercises listed so far. Because you’re essentially working on two skills, a stationary balance hold, and a simultaneous knee lift, you may have to split your repetitions into smaller chunks. For instance, try to perform one or two reps before stepping off the line, then try a few more.
Perform High Knee Lifts on a Slackline
Start the exercise just as you would a step up. Stand to the left of the slackline and place your right foot on the line. Step onto the line and gain your balance on your right foot without placing your left foot on the line. When you feel in control, slowly and steadily lift your left knee, bringing it to hip-height. Lower it back to the starting position and repeat. Aim to perform a total of 8 to 10 knee lifts per side, breaking them into smaller repetition schemes as needed.
Targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and core
The basic bridge exercise is great for targeting the glutes and hips, and the slackline version does the same, with the added benefit of requiring greater hamstring and core engagement to keep the line steady.
Perform a Bridge Exercise on a Slackline
Lie on your back, perpendicular to the slackline, with your feet closest to the line and your arms pressing down into the ground on either side of your hips. Place the balls of your feet firmly on the slackline about hip-distance apart; your knees should be bent at about 90-degrees.
Engage your glutes and core and press your feet down into the line, lifting your hips from the ground until your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Keeping your core engaged and your feet steady, lower your hips back toward the ground, stopping just before they touch down. Continue the exercise by pressing your hips back into the air. Complete two to three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions.
Targets: Glutes, hips, core, hamstrings, calves, quads
Lateral Plank Walks
Lateral plank walks are a good way to develop core strength while also improving shoulder girdle stability.
Perform Lateral Plank Walks on a Slackline
Start on one side of the slackline and set up as you would perform a standard slackline pushup—your hands should be on the slackline about shoulder-distance apart, your legs extended. Engage your core and make sure your body forms a straight line from heels to head.
From here, keep your torso straight, and your arms and legs relatively straight as well. All you’re doing is moving laterally across the line by stepping one hand and one foot to the side, then meeting them with your opposite hand and foot. Walk all the way down the line for a single set, then walk all the way back to the starting position for a second set.
Targets: Core, chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and hips
The V-sit exercise performed on the ground is already considered a balance exercise. To do it correctly, you have to engage your core and find your center of gravity while balanced on nothing but your glutes.
When you perform the same exercise on a slackline, the balance and core strength required is magnified substantially. Not only do you have the added instability of the slackline itself, but you’re trying to find and maintain your balance on nothing but a two-inch strip of nylon webbing. For this reason, you shouldn’t expect to hold the v-sit for very long, especially when you’re just starting out. You may even fall off the line a few times, so be sure to set it up close to the ground.
Perform a V-Sit on a Slackline
Sit on the slackline, your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the line just outside your hips, your elbows slightly bent. Engage your core, keeping your torso upright, and lean back very slightly as you lift one foot, then the other from the ground, drawing your knees up in front of your chest to form a “V” with your torso. When you’ve gained your balance, try to extend your legs and hold the position as long as possible.
If you can’t hold the v-sit, simply practice drawing your knees up, holding the position for a second, then lowering your feet back to the ground. Do as many sets and reps as you comfortably can.
Targets: Core, hips, quads
The tree pose on the slackline is deceptively challenging. It doesn’t look like it would be that hard—you’re just standing on one leg, much like you do when performing the step-ups or knee lifts—but because the tree pose requires you to abduct your lifted hip, bringing your foot to the inside of your opposite leg while keeping your hands at your midline, your center of gravity shifts to one side, throwing you off balance. If you aren’t actively engaging your core and working to keep your standing hip from shifting outward, you’ll almost immediately have to release the pose or step off the line.
Perform Tree Pose on a Slackline
Step up onto the line with your right foot and gain your balance. Engage your core, and when you’re ready, lift your left knee up, placing the bottom of your left foot on the inside of your right leg. You can place your foot on your calf or thigh, depending on your flexibility. Keeping your core engaged, slowly abduct your left hip, opening your knee outward. Bring your palms together at your chest, or reach them overhead. Hold as long as you can, aiming for at least a count of three. Repeat to the opposite side and perform two or three attempts to each side.
Targets: Core, hips, quads, hamstrings, calves