The introduction of a novelty, especially new sports activities, such as slackline or walking on flat webbing is always challenging but at the same time exciting. When users perform something new as part of their rehabilitation, they do not know whether they will succeed or not, regardless of the experience - if they have already tried it before the injury or not, it causes an increased level of stress for them.
The introduction of novelties is also a particular challenge for employees. The employees of Center Naprej tried first themselves walking on flat webbing. They tested their balance, focus, giving and receiving feedback, managing waves on the webbing, managing fear of falling, persistence, and so on. When they had familiarized themselves with the various aspects, possibilities and critical points of slacklining, and gained the appropriate skills and knowledge, we started introducing users to this interesting but also challenging sports activity.
What is slackline?
Slackline is a suspended length of flat webbing that is tensioned between two anchors. It is most often tensioned between two strong trees about 30 - 50 cm above the ground. We can tension it just above the ground or above water surface, and we can stand on it, walk, jump, perform tricks, do yoga, etc. It differs from the ordinary rope because slackline is more elastic therefore it can function similarly to a narrow trampoline.
In the beginning, we try to keep the balance on the tape, and from time to time, we try to take a step across the whole length or even make a more demanding exercise.
Why slacklining with persons with acquired brain injury (ABI)?
Walking along the nylon tape is a sports activity with multiple aspects, where awareness of one’s own body, balance and coordination is extremely important, and at the same time it influences a wide spectrum of other human psychophysical abilities. While slacklining, people with ABI develop different abilities:
Sense of the position of one’s own parts of the body - proprioception
Proprioception is the perception of motion and the positions of the body parts. While slacklining, we perceive the movement, the positions of the limbs, the pressure on the feet, the speed of movement and the force of inertia that arise during the activity. Thus they improve their proprioception. It is important to focus the sight to the horizon. For even more proprioceptive challenges, we close our eyes and try to stand and walk on the mice tape.
Slacklining is a test of balance. Some users’ goal is to remain on the webbing, others’ to take a few steps or to move from one end to the other, others to stretch on the tape. While slacklining, we are constantly trying to hold our body in a stable position and are constantly on the border between stable and unstable state.
When we step onto the webbing we leave the ground (the comfort zone) which we are used to, and enter the state of uncertainty (no comfort). The line swings. The main problems are caused by the body and the mind that like known situations. Let’s confront the unknown, which is a good training for all and it is happening to us in everyday life. In fact we are never sure how the day will end. Therefore, slacklining can be said to be an ‘’ out of comfort zone ‘’ activity or opportunity to cross the threshold of our own uncertainties.
Stabilization and strengthening of the core
Slacklining requires a fairly tight central part of the body (the core), the upper part of the legs, while the arms are released. In this way, we stabilize the transverse bandwidth of the tape.
A social and healthy entertainment for everyone and psycho-physical abilities training
Slacklining is a social and healthy entertainment for anyone who is able to stand upright and take a step on solid ground. It is a good physical as well as mental exercise that improves the management and stabilization of the body and helps to cope with feelings (fear, excitement). In addition to the above mentioned positive effects, it is observed to help improving body posture, reaction time, concentration, focus and perception. It can be a relaxation technique and help with remaining calm in difficult situations and in achieving greater determination. It is a preventive activity and helps the treatment of joint damage. It is a good workout for the ankles, knees or hips and strengthen the whole body.
Tips before starting your employment with persons with ABI
First, let’s get familiar with the rules important for all aspects of slacklining. They are especially useful for beginners (Nahtigal, 2012) and of course when working with our users - athletes with acquired brain injury.
Preparation of the surface
- We select and prepare the surface: the ground should be flat, preferably grass, preferably we placed a thin protective pad under the line, for safety in case of fall.
- Select the appropriate tension points - the distance of the tensioning. We have to secure enough space around the line (at least 5 meters on each side of the line) to prevent damage in the event of fall.
- Tension the tape to fixing points (e.g. two trees). The best fit is with original clips. We must not forget to protect the trees so they do not get damaged (e.g. wrap them with a foam sponge).
- The distance from the ground should be big so that the tape in the middle at the largest part is just above the ground (10 to 20 centimeters), and the distance between the fixing points should be short, 5 to 10 steps, to be as close as possible to the ground to jump.
- Stretch the webbing to the desired extend (the shorter and more tense it is, smaller and faster is the wavelength of the oscillation).
- On both sides of the tension point (i.e. on both trees), we mark the point of sight (the horizon).
Preparing the users
- Before commencing slacklining it is important to prepare the users appropriately psychophysically: we perform various exercises for balance training and coordination, teach them relaxation with breathing, managing emotions, awareness of body parts, etc.
- Users have to take off their shoes before slacklining. They are barefoot on the tape. Bare feet improve the feeling for the line and help them to start balancing faster.
- Before users start the activity, we calm them down and make them relax and gain control of their breathing. If he/she is appropriately prepared, his/her legs on the tape will be less shaky.
- Before slacklining, they need to be lead as to how to step on it, to focus eyesight on the indicated point on the tree.
Some general instructions
- The recommended width of the line is 3.5 cm and the length for beginners is between 4 and 8 m.
- We start with demonstration of each exercise.
- Often, the first attempts to tackle the tape are unsuccessful and the user cannot stand alone on the tape. That is why we offer him support and encouragement to persistently repeat the exercise.
- When stepping down from the tape, make sure that the user does not jump quickly from the line. The line is dynamic and will respond to the jump with stretch, and consequently the user will lose control and fall uncontrollably from the tape.
- It is best to start in the centre of the tape, especially for safety reasons. It is more likely to hit and get injured in case of a fall near the tension point. In the middle, the tape is at the lowest point and thus reduces the height of any fall.
- When slacklining, the user will initially be most hindered by the fluctuation of the tape, but continuous exercising may improve control or even eliminate the fluctuation over time. The tension of the line depends on the distance between the fixing points. The wavelength of the oscillation in the middle is the largest and slowest; when approaching the fixing points, the wavelength of the vibration is always short and quick. The fluctuation also depends on the length of the tape and the force with which the tape is tensed.
- The line is very tense, so care should be taken to ensure that in case of falling line does not hit the user.
- Even if the line is only a few centimeters above the ground, the fall can cause injury (strains, bumps). Injury depends on the surface under the webbing and the type of fall. Therefore, a protective lining is recommended under the tape.
Photo: Center Naprej, 2017
Exercises with assistance while slacklining:
- Exercises with assistant (holding the user for the hips).
- The assistant sits on the tape.
- The user is holding the assistant’s shoulder.
- Training with running poles (2 poles, one pole, the length of the poles is approximately to the shoulders of the user)
Examples of exercises for preparing users for walking along the tape with various forms of assistance
- Exercises on the ground:
- walking along the line with open / closed eyes,
- walking on a low bench, low lath
- exercises on soft surfaces - soft pillows
- exercises on sticks, walking, squats, turns
- exercises on balance boards
- breathing exercises, relaxation exercises
Exercises for getting used to the webbing - we start all exercises in a way that the user is placed in front of the tape:
- with one foot on the line and pushing it in all directions;
- with one foot on the line, swings, so that the tape pushes the foot back to the ground;
- with one foot jump on the line, so that the line pushes foot back to the ground;
- with one foot on the line and cross it with the other foot.
Exercises for balance position on the line - all exercises are performed while the assistant is sitting on the line.
- We start with the exercises as we are about 2 meters away from the user. Later this distance between the user and the assistant sitting on the webbing is increasing. We can perform:
- walking with the help of poles,
- walking with the help of an assistant.
Movements - basic instructions for implementation
1. Stepping on the line
Start position: Basic start position.
Implementation: We focus our weight directly on the leg on the line, and then with a calm and balanced motion we step on it. Keep the body upright throughout the movement. Finish in the basic position on the tape with one leg on.
Note: Do not press down on the foot on the tape, as the tape is moving away and the pressure is higher, feet are shaking quicker. In order to get on the tape, you need some determination.
Photo: Center Naprej, 2017
2. Walking forward - backwards
Start position: Basic start position.
Implementation: From a balanced basic position, we begin to move the body’s center of gravity to the foreleg. Gradually we begin raising the heel of the leg behind. When the body’s center of gravity is already completely on the front leg, we make a steady step forward with the rear. The foot leaves the tape with the fingers, we step on the whole foot, and the center of gravity of the body rests on both feet. The body is upright all the time while the arms are in a slightly bent position. The joints of the feet, the knee and hip joint are slightly bent.
- Get on the line.
- Stand on the line on one leg.
- Stand on the line on the other leg.
- Stand on the strap on both legs, one leg should be behind the other, then replace the legs.
- Stand on both legs to swing the tape in the direction up - down.
- Stand on both feet to carry the center of gravity from one leg to the other.
- Stand on the line on one leg; touch the line with the other foot first in front of the holding led then behind it.
- Take a short step forward.
- Take a short step backward.
- Stand on the line with your eyes closed.
- Stand on the line with your hands on your body.
- Take a few steps forward.
- Take a few steps backwards.
- Step on the line side laterally (the shoulders parallel to the tape) with both legs on.
- Try to make a turn on the tape.
Nahtigal, A. (2012), Učenje hoje po najlonskem traku, Diplomska naloga, Univerza v Ljubljani, Fakulteta za šport, Specialna športna vzgoja, Gorništvo z dejavnostmi v naravi, Ljubljana