The following material is intended for use as a supplement to the Basics course offered by Slackline Academy. Those wishing to use this material without the associated guidance offered by such a course are advised that following the tips and progression trees shown here does not guarantee safe slacklining, and are encouraged to seek professional advice.
How to use this guide
- Sign up for Basics course offered by Slackline Academy.
- Ensure your setup is consistent with these guidelines.
- Read through the key concepts at the beginning of each section.
- Choose your preferred path through the progression tree for the associated course, bottom to top.
- For each trick, see the associated tips guide for how to learn the specific skills involved. For many skills, there is (or at least, will be) associated images and/or video.
Line setup and precautions
Slacklining will never be a completely risk-free activity. That said, with appropriate measures we can limit the risks involved such that they are comparable or less than more generally accepted sports. As you progress in skill level you may find yourself not keeping to these basic setup guidelines, but until you develop your agility to the point where you can spill (fall with momentum) successfully without risk of injury, it is our strong recommendation that you follow these simple steps.
- Find an appropriate spill zone (fall area). Padded floors are ideal, but grass is generally enough so long as you follow the rest of these precautions. Concrete is not good.
- Start with shorter lines – 8-12m is generally enough for the average novice. The longer the line is, the more tension/higher the line will have to be.
- Keep your line close to the ground. So long as you aren’t hitting the ground in the middle, the lower it is the better. This will ideally be below knee height, and definitely below groin height.
- Tension the line to the point that you don’t bottom out, ensuring you don’t overtension (see line manufacturers instructions regarding maximum tension the equipment can hold). You may have to raise the line slightly or find closer anchor points if you’re still bottoming out in the middle at maximum tension.
- Use spotters! Particularly early on, for balancing on each foot etc., there really is no substitute in terms of both safety and progression.
- Strongly consider investing in a pair of wrist guards. At around $20, they’re the best investment I’ve ever made. Even if you don’t think the skills in this section require them, as you progress in competency you’ll find their necessity increases greatly.
Eyes: focus on stationary object
What you look at is largely up to you, so long as it isn’t moving. Some people like to pick out a spot on the anchor. Others prefer to identify an object on the ground near the line. If you can see the line in your peripheral vision, this will help if you decide to move on to more tricklining. If you look straight ahead, this will help with highlining.
Whatever your chosen path (and don’t feel you have to have a specialized path at this stage at all, if ever), don’t focus on the line itself. The line moves, and if you’ve ever even tried standing on the ground and watching a moving object, you’ll appreciate how hard this makes things
One of the most important concepts you will ever learn is to stay square (or, perhaps more accurately, to begin and end each trick square). That is to say, your shoulders should make a 90° angle with the slackline. This gives you significantly more side-to-side stability. If you’re worried about you front-back stability, realize that the slackline is much longer than it is wide, and that forward-backward stability is rarely an issue, particularly when starting out, so long as you keep in mind our next key concept…
Feet parallel to line
This will force your hips to stay square, which will in turn force you chest to stay square. One of the most common mistakes novice slackliners make is that they try to angle their foot away from parallel. While this will increase your chance of hitting the line with your foot, it greatly diminishes your stability on that foot, particularly your forward-backward stability. This leads to novices trying to counter this by simply running along the line, keeping enough momentum and moving fast enough that this lack of forward-backward stability seems to be negated. This inevitably leads to ‘twanging’, and if you’ve ever seen a ruptured testicle, you’ll know this isn’t something you want to happen to you (I’m sure there are similarly painful injuries for females as well).
Except on the windiest of days, almost all the vibration in the line comes from your body. If your muscles are all tensed up, you will have no chance to kill these wobbles – instead, they’ll propagate up and down your body, growing with each wave until you either dismount or fall.
Instead, try to relax all your muscles as much as possible, particularly your calf (muscle at the back of the shin). A vast majority of balance comes from the calf – so much so, that with surprisingly little practice, you may find you can stand with your arms down by your side in a state of relaxed bliss. You won’t be able to achieve this with tight calves though, and it certainly won’t come about instantly. That said, if you’re doing the right thing with your calves, your arms will only ever be making very slight adjustments.
If you’ve played a lot of sports involving running and are used to being on your toes, try to ignore this training. This is not one of those sports – at least, not at this stage in your progression. Instead, think about how you stand when you’re on the ground. Most of the weight is on your heels, with a slight bit on the balls of your feet to stop you toppling forward. This is exactly the same weight distribution you should have while on the line.
Finally, while it may sound obvious, remember to breathe.
Note: Almost everyone experiences the ‘calf wobbles’ when they first start slacklining. Don’t be put off by this – just as inevitable as it is that you will experience it, it is inevitable that your body will learn to adjust in order to cancel them out. Hold on to your spotters during the early periods and really focus on balancing on each foot individually until you’ve conquered the wobbles. While you will probably find the wobbles easier to control on two feet, fight the urge to simply stay on two feet as much as possible – in order to walk, you must be able to stand on each foot individually, completely controlled. Failure to learn this will be bad in the long run, even if you do manage to progress faster in the early stages.
When the wobbles begin, just concentrate on relaxing, and don’t be afraid to grab your spotters. The worst thing you can do is panic and seize up, despite this being the automatic reaction of the body. Above all else, persevere!
Trunk up, mostly stationary
By trunk, we mean everything between your legs and your head, excluding your arms – so your stomach, chest and shoulders. Ideally your trunk will be able to stay entirely stationary, with your calves providing most of the balance and your arms providing slight adjustments. If your trunk is stationary, your head will stay mostly stationary, allowing for much easier focus, vision and overall balance. If you absolutely have to move your trunk around, make sure you don’t turn it to the left or right (going off-square) – it is much preferable to drop a shoulder to the side than it is to drop it down in front of
Added challenge: If you’re feeling pretty confident with the skills listed below, try them with a partially filled water bottle on your head. This will really test whether or not your trunk is staying stationary, and is a great party trick (not that we encourage the use of glass bottles, or slacklining in such an uncontrolled environment as parties…)! All skills are water-bottle-on-head compatible except for the standing line grab.
Hands up high, arms at 180°
The higher your hands are, the more opportunity you have to fall to correct a mis-balance. Try to keep the line from elbow-to-elbow as close to 180° as possible. As you feel your weight go left, your arms will naturally rotate anti-clockwise. Similarly, as your weight goes to the right, your arms will rotate clockwise. This rotation robs angular momentum from your body, arresting a possible fall. Of course, there’s a limit to how far one can rotate one’s arms before they end up in a tangle, leading us to the next key concept…
The air guitar!
This is one of the most useful concepts you’ll learn. Some might call it a skill in it’s own right, but for now we’re classifying it as a concept. When you’re falling left, and you’ve rotated your arms so far that you right hand is directly above your head, and your left arm is pointing straight down, it’s inadvisable to simply continue rotating your arms in a straight line. Instead, bust out your biggest air guitar power chord with your right arm, swinging down and out. If you do this powerfully enough, you should be able to move your left arm back up to almost horizontally in the same motion, leaving you in a (hopefully)
stable position, completely recovered and able to restart the arm rotation cycle.
Sometimes a single air guitar power chord isn’t enough, and you have to bust out a rapid-fire chord progression. It’s generally best to air guitar early and powerfully as opposed to multiple times in one go, but when things get desperate that rule breaks down.
Be sure to practice the air guitar on the ground a few times before taking it to the line. It will feel very odd the first few times you try it, but make sure you feel how much angular momentum (rotation) it gives your body with a powerful stroke.
Note: if you are using spotters on either side of you, it’s fairly poor form to hit them in the face, so keep them in mind before busting out any major rips!
Above all else, be confident. Start with a very low slackline, so the consequences of a fall are minor. It is human nature to spot ones landing when we feel like we are about to fall from something. As soon as you spot your landing however, you focus is shattered, and you will always fall as a result. Instead, if you push yourself just a little bit harder and refuse to accept a fall, in a vast majority of cases you will find yourself recovering from an otherwise unrecoverable position.
This is not to say that you should never spot your landing – on the contrary, spotting your landing is incredibly important in avoiding injury. Having said this, with a little bit of practice and training you would be amazed at how little time you need to readjust and spot your landing safely, even over non-padded grass or dirt surfaces.
The following skills (particularly the early ones) and concepts form a base for everything you will do in slacklining. Novice slackliners are encouraged to spend seemingly excessive amounts of time to develop the middle tiered skills in the skill tree, as everything one does slacklining beyond that point will be easier the better one is at these skills. Consider them the ‘wax on, wax off’ of the slacklining world. If that last sentence didn’t make sense, go and watch The Karate Kid.
Generally, spotting is the technique where-by indirect participants stand by, ready to assist a participant in the case of an accident/fall. They are common in free weight lifting, climbing and a number of other sports. They are often over-looked in slacklining, but particularly in the early stages, Slackline Academy strongly encourages their appropriate use.
In slacklining, a spotter (one who is spotting) is there to provide something for the slackliner to grab onto if they need to regain their balance without dismounting, or assist in a controlled dismount. They are also there to protect the head and neck of a slackliner in the event of an uncontrolled dismount. It is not the responsibility of the spotters to catch the slackliner, or try and arrest all of their momentum.
Slackline Academy follows the Slackline Australia open palm spotting technique, whereby a spotter on the left side of the slackliner points his hips in the same direction the slackliner is facing and twists to face the slackliner as best he/she can. This ensures there is no open pathway for the slackliner’s leg to accidentally flail into the spotter’s groin. The spotter then raises their left hand in front of their face with an open palm, thumb pointing down. This hand should not be used to grab the slackliner – rather, it provides the slackliner with something to grab a hold of if they so chose. The spotter’s right hand hovers behind the small of the slackliner’s back, preventing a backwards fall.
The spotter on the right side follows the exact instructions given above, but with opposite hands.
Key concepts to focus on: relax, trunk up and mostly stationary, stay square.
Not the most exciting of tests, the Rhomberg test involves standing with feet and knees together, with hands on hips and closed eyes. While most people don’t have too much trouble with holding this position, it will highlight issues for some people with impaired balance system. It also highlights the importance of the visual system, and gives spotters a good change to practice and correct technique while the active participant is still on the ground.
Standing stalk test
Key concepts to focus on: eyes focus on stationary object, hands up high, arms (elbow to elbow) at 180°, air guitar,
Like the Rhomberg test, this isn’t the most exciting of positions to hold, but is by no means unimportant. With one foot against the other knee, practice standing with hands up high, and keeping the line from your elbow to elbow as straight as possible. Experiment with playing the air guitar if you rotate through to arms vertical. If this all seems too easy, try closing your eyes and really appreciate how much vision aids in balance.
Single foot stand
Key concepts to focus on: feet parallel to line, relax (especially the calf)
And finally we get to the slackline! The more perceptive reader may note that we’re trying to stand on the slackline before we try to mount it. By this, we mean you should
simply engage core and levitate use spotters as much as necessary to get up onto the line. Initially stand on two feet, and before letting go of your spotters, take one foot off and use it as a ‘third arm’ to aid with balance.
It is inevitable that you will undergo the ‘calf wobbles’ at this stage, where the line vibrates viciously side to side as soon as you transition to one leg. When this occurs, put the second foot back down carefully, take a deep breath, try to relax your calf as much as possible, then try again. Avoid moving your weight over the second foot at all at this stage – use it simply to steady the line.
This is the stage where most people get most frustrated, and skip ahead to more advanced content too soon. It is Slackline Academy’s strong recommendation that, to minimize the chance of injury and progress as fast as possible, you get very comfortable with standing on each foot individually before moving any further.
Single leg mount
Key concepts to focus on: feet parallel to line, confidence
Mounting the line is much harder than standing on it alone, and it is often difficult to determine a successful mount from an unsuccessful one if balance cannot be maintained on a single leg. This is why Slackline Academy suggests learning to mount the line after you have a reasonable degree of competency balancing on each leg.
When you are ready to start, put your inside leg up onto the line, foot parallel to the line and with your opposite foot on the ground as close to the line as possible. Raise your arms up to where they will be once you’re standing, and confidently push up off your grounded foot, placing it on the line behind you if you need to steady the calf wobbles, or straight into ‘third balancing arm’ position if you are stable.
A strong emphasis on confidence must be made. If you try to step up too slowly, you will find one leg mounts incredibly difficult, and the calf wobbles will almost certainly take over. If it helps, exhale on the way up to give you that little extra ‘oomph’.
Two feet stands
Key concepts to focus on: trunk up, mostly stationary, hands up high, arms at 180°, the air guitar
If you’re feeling sufficiently confident with your single foot stands, try carefully placing your second foot in front or behind the other, heel to toe (or very close to it). Most people find this position more comfortable while the calf wobbles are still a major issue, but harder to hold once they’ve mastered them. Practice transitioning your weight between your front and back foot, maintaining control at all times. If you start to lose balance, take one foot off the line and try to regain balance without dismounting automatically.
At this stage, you’ll probably find your arms have to do a little more work than usual. This is fine, and to be expected – after all, you’ve lost the use of your second leg as your ‘third balancing arm’, so your real arms have to compensate. This is the perfect opportunity to perfect your air guitar technique – really let them rip, and see just how much angular momentum they can generate. Over-compensating is much preferable to under-compensating at this stage, as your body learns exactly how unbalanced it can be and still recover.
Be sure to practice with each foot forward and back. Everyone has a dominant side, but you’ll struggle to progress far if you can’t hold each position easily.
Key concepts: all
So if you’ve been following all the steps so far, you’ll be pretty sick of all this standing around and not moving very far. If you’ve got friends who aren’t following the program, they’ve probably already taken a few steps – maybe they can even make the occasional dash from one end to the other. Well, rest assured, now it’s time for all your hard work to pay off and you can see some real progression!
Walking forwards is made up of 3 steps.
- Starting from a single foot stand, place your second foot on the line in front of the other, heel to toe (or very close
- Once your front foot is definitely on the line, transition your weight over the front foot.
- Take your weight off your back foot and regain composure at single foot stand.
Surprisingly enough, walking backwards follows an identical procedure, though with the second foot place behind the first. Rinse and repeat this process. As soon as you can take one step starting from each foot forward, you should be able to take ten steps, or twenty, or however many your line length can accommodate.
Things to avoid:
- Moving weight over the front foot before it is on the line. While quite often you will hit the line and recover immediately, you only have to have a single twang to make reproduction difficult, and that’s ignoring the immediate pain factor.
- Turning your feet sideways. This ties into the above point, where people start to panic, move forward faster, and in order to maximize chance of hitting the line, angle their feet away from parallel. While this is good in that it reduces the chance of ‘twanging’, it makes recovery more difficult.
- Skipping the single foot stand and trying to stay on two feet as much as possible. This will occur particularly if you haven’t quite mastered the calf wobbles.
In short, take it slow, and if you absolutely can’t regain control on one foot, dismount and work on your pre-requisite skills for a bit longer. You can never be too competent at standing on one/two feet, so don’t feel the need to rush into learning to walk too soon.
Key concepts: confidence, stay square (or at least, start square, end square)
Once you can walk the length of your line, it’ll get pretty frustrating having to dismount, turn around and remount. Never fear though – there’s a handy little trick that lets us walk up and down our line all day long without ever having to get off – turning!
There are many different ways people turn around, but the simplest method involves the following steps:
- Start with a single foot stand on your right foot.
- Place you left foot in front of your right foot, angled sharply to the right (almost at right angles).
- In one quick motion, swing your right arm down and up, and your left arm around in a semi-circle while pivoting your right
Turning left involves the same three steps with opposite feet and legs.
Throughout this process, your shoulders should only not be square for a very small period of time in step 3. When you finish this step, you should focus on becoming completely square as soon as possible, and regaining a perfect two feet stand quickly.
If you find the blurred vision induced by such a rapid rotation difficult to deal with, think about looking down while you turn – this makes the world spin rather than blurr and may make things easier. Remember to look back up and regain a focus point as soon as possible upon completion of the maneuver.
Note: Don’t become an ambi-turner (somebody who can only turn one way)! We all have our dominant sides, but practice turning in both directions.
Key concepts: confidence, stay square
Once you can walk, you’d be surprised at how stable the squatted position can feel. Unfortunately, it’s also a very unforgiving position to hold, because a fall from this position almost always finishes with you landing on your hands/wrists. As such, it is a skill in which particular care must be taken to protect yourself from injury, with the use of wrist guards, a sufficiently low line and padding strongly encouraged.
If you are ready to try to master this skill, then start from a standard two feet stand. Angle your back foot outwards roughly 30°. When you’re feeling comfortable, bend your legs. This process will result in your hips turning outwards slightly (away from square). While this is generally bad, it is sometimes unavoidable. To counteract this, simply think of twisting your chest against this rotation, so your chest remains square.
As you will find out as you progress into tricklining, perfectly square hips are a luxury we can rarely afford. Fortunately, they are also a luxury we can afford to live without, so long as we twist our body such that our chest remains square as much as possible.
Standing line grabs
Key concepts: eyes focus on stationary object, feet parallel to line, confidence, stay square
Line grabs, as defined here, are pretty much anything involving grabbing the line with your hands. The standing line grab is a static hold where one starts from a standard one foot stand and reaches down to grab the line with their opposite hand. As you lean over, extend the non-grabbing hand and non-standing foot out on either side of the line, whilst trying to stay as square as possible. You will find you are at your least stable just before you grab the line, so be confident through this stage.
This is the first skill you’ve learned where you head angle must change significantly. If you’re used to looking straight ahead, this may be a challenge for you. Above all else, just remember not to focus on the line, but rather see it in your peripheral vision. Even when you’re just about to grab it, there shouldn’t be any need to focus on the line itself.
Key concepts: confidence, stay square
Similar to a squat, a drop knee involves squatting down on both legs – the difference being, the back of your back foot is now on the line, and your back knee is pointing down (dropped). Just like a squat, appropriate safety equipment is strongly recommended.
In order to gain this position, start from a standard two feet stand. Bend your legs just slightly, lift you back leg, point the toe and place the back of the foot on the line. Squat down just like in a standard squat, except angling your ankle more and more as you go down until the muscles at the front of your ankle are fulling contracted when your legs are completely bent. From there, drop your back knee down as far as you can for a more impressive look.
If you can complete all of the maneuvers listed above consistently, then congratulations! You’ve mastered the basics of slacklining! If your interested in learning some more dynamic tricks, or just more impressive static holds, Slackline Academy’s Tricklining course can offer you a path to fast learning in that direction. Alternatively, turn up to any Slackline Academy supervised training session and ask the coach on duty for further tips.
If all else fails, the internet is an incredibly useful resource for videos from which to derive motivation, but remember: don’t bite off more than you can chew, and take your safety seriously. It only takes one failed backflip to leave you in a wheel chair for life.