Slacklining is Stupid: A totally unbiased study

Slacklining. I don’t understand it. I don’t enjoy it. Today, I present a thoroughly objective and undeniably cogent argument as to why slacklining is nonsense.

By now, I’m sure most people are familiar with the practice. However, for those who aren’t in the know, let me ruin your existence by introducing you to an activity that ranks on pointlessness somewhere between hula hooping and stand-up paddle boarding:


Slacklining
 refers to use of webbing tensioned between two anchor points to balance and walk. Slacklining resembles slack rope walking and tightrope walking as the line is held under tension. Slacklines differ from tightwires and tightropes in that they are tensioned to create a dynamic line with stretch and bounce like a long and narrow trampoline. Tension can be adjusted to suit the user, and different webbing can be used for a variety of tricks. The line itself is flat. Slacklining is popular due to its simplicity and versatility.
(Source: Wikipedia.org)With that out of the way, let me outline my concerns:It has a stupid name
I had to do some research to root out the origin of the confusing term “slacklining”. After all, the line isn’t slack at all. It’s under significant tension. I assumed that there must be some legitimate reason for it to be labelled this way. As it turns out, I was wrong in that assumption.

The prefix “slack” simply indicates that the rope or webbing is “less tight” than a tightrope, which essentially has no give whatsoever. This is an utterly ridiculous naming convention. It implies a binary existence between the most extreme example and any subsequent examples. For instance, it is the same as calling an assault rifle a non-lethal weapon simply because it doesn’t have the destructive force of an atom bomb.

Here’s what a few things would be called if we followed the lead of slackliners:

It’s a gimmick
Slacklining is just another trend in a long list of cultural anomalies. Right now, its novelty and apparent coolness is being exploited by shrewd businessmen. A quick search on google for slacklines will bring up kits for sale that range anywhere from $100 to $500. I shit you not. $500 for a piece of webbing and a ratchet.

You could easily make your own slackline using standard materials from any hardware store for less than $50. Better yet, you could construct one out of basic climbing webbing and some biners. For a practice championed by the Dirtbag culture, you’d expect to see a lot of these homemade rigs kicking about… but you don’t.

That’s because slacklining isn’t a sport; it’s an image, a gimmick performed for the gaze of the public. As a trend, I can only hope it goes the way of the Tamagotchi.

There are no demonstrable benefits
The most frequent defence of slacklining as a pursuit is that it provides benefits that contribute directly to one’s climbing skill. This “evidence” is anecdotal at best, supported largely by the promotion of slacklining by prominent climbing figures such as Dean Potter. However, to say that Potter was an exceptional climber because of slacklining is a bit of a stretch. Correlation does not equal causation.

It’s undeniable that slacklining requires a high degree of skill in order to simply walk the line, let alone perform acrobatic tricks. However, these skills are in no way mirrored by the sport of climbing (I will concede defeat on this point as soon as someone establishes a route that includes a horizontal piece of tape webbing and requires a backflip).

The lack of correlation between slacklining and climbing skill is further demonstrated by a complete absence of scientific corroboration. Here are a few oft quoted studies and their implications.

A 2010 study by the International Journal of Sports Medicine (Granacher et. al, 2010) examined the effect of slacklining on balance and strength training. It found no direct evidence that slacklining made strength training more effective, but the rate of muscular contractions increased. In other words, you’ll still be weak, but you’ll be more effective at being weak.

In its extensive use in the promotion of the benefits of slacklining, no mention is ever made of the findings on balance training, so you can assume that’s a fail also. To quote the study, “Unfortunately, slackline training did not result in significant improvements of static/dynamic postural control variables.”

A 2011 study (Hüfner et. al, 2011) showed a correlation between slacklining and the growth of the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with navigation and memory. This correlation merely echoes many others that show that exercise and complex movement helps brain development. I would argue that the time spent achieving this development by slacklining could be equally and more beneficially devoted to climbing.

Then we have a few more general studies on balance training, often used in conjunction with those above.

In 2005, a Canadian-Australian study (Kean et. al, 2005) found that balance training increases vertical jump height. How does this apply to climbing? It doesn’t.

A 1999 study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Physical Therapy showed that a 4 week balance training program was an effective means to improve weak ankles. I would argue that walking on an elevated slackline, with a high chance of the participant ending as an ungainly heap on the earth, is not exactly the sort of balance training thatRozzi et. Al had in mind.

The main benefit to be gained is, of course, balance. However, it’s very specific and not directly compatible with the balance required for climbing. If slacklining was SO FUCKING GOOD FOR YOU, then it would be prescribed by coaches of professional athletes the world over. It isn’t. It would also have been studied more closely. There are millions of dollars poured into sports science every year and the fact that they aren’t falling over themselves to study the benefits of slacklining is telling.

If you’re training for climbing, you’re better off spending your time doing yoga, strength workouts or (you guessed it) climbing.

I’m not good at it
Ok. I’m going to level with you now. The main reason I think slacklining is stupid is because I can’t do it. I’m uncoordinated.

At the end of the day, the connection between slacklining and climbing is tenuous at best. Can’t we just be honest and say they don’t really have any real correlation and that its participants just do it for shits and giggles?

Even though I think it’s a bullshit enterprise, I support your right to slackline. If I didn’t agree with the concept of pointless athletic pursuits, I’d hardly be a good spokesman for climbing, now would I?

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
Originally published in September 2015

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?