Why It’s Good To Be A Slacker
‘Eat a balanced diet’. ‘Ensure a good work-life balance’. Balance your budget’. Notice a trend here? Balance seems to be considered a pretty important thing. Indeed it is, and perhaps nowhere as important as its role within our bodies. Without it, many of our basic motor functions get pretty damn difficult. Just ask anyone who’s suffered from Labyrinthitis, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or Ménière’s Disease.
But even without suffering from one of those disorders, many of us struggle with poor balance. Our ability to balance is a combination of sight, vestibular (ear canals) and proprioception (our body’s ability to know where it is in space, even with our eyes closed). As we get older, our proprioceptive and vestibular systems decline, along with reflexes and coordination, resulting in diminished balance control. This is why so many elderly people fall down and break their hips or other bones. And that is one slippery slope we’d like to avoid!
So how to do that? Train your balance and coordination of course. The trusty old phrase ‘use it or lose it!’ applies here, I’m afraid. But the good news is that there are far more fun ways to train your balance than just standing on one foot. The brilliant folks at GMB recommend a programme consisting of jump spins, walking around with eyes closed (but shins beware!), as well as more advanced hand balancing techniques.
Here at Backs Etc., our training programmes often contain floor-based exercises that require a degree of balance control, as well as balance-challenging resistance exercises like single leg deadlifts and Bulgarian split squats. But one great tool that we’ve only recently started using is the slackline.
Similar to a tightrope, the slackline is stretched between two trees or other anchor points with the aim being to balance and walk along it. Unlike a tightrope, though, the slackline is a flat webbing, usually around 2 inches wide, making it easier to learn than a traditional tightrope. As the name implies, the slackline is not tensioned as tight as a tightrope. Because of this, the line moves up and down and side to side as you walk on it. The real skill then is to anticipate these slight movements of the line and move your body to compensate for them, improving your balance and core strength. Anybody first attempting to balance on a slackline will experience a violent shuddering back and forth of the line. This is due to the brain trying frantically to overcorrect the sideways motion of the line. This is similar to the way a driver may oversteer the opposite direction when skidding, causing a car to spin out of control. Fortunately, slacklining is much safer than driving!
So, besides improving our motor control and balance, what are some of the other benefits of slacklining?
It’s a full body workout. I mentioned core strength earlier, but slacklining requires the complete use of your entire body, engaging all your muscles and focus to prevent you from falling off the line.
It can boost memory function. A 2011 study in the scientific journal Hippocampus said, “slacklining led to an increase in the structural and functional plasticity of the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for navigation and memory”.
It’s inexpensive. You can buy a good quality slackline for £30-£40.
It’s portable. Take it to the park and stretch it between two trees.
It’s fun! (need I say more?)
It’s worth noting that slacklining is pretty challenging. I’ve been using ours for about a month or so and I’m still pretty bad. But I notice little improvements regularly, and that feels nice. It’s also encouraging knowing that every time I step on it, I’m making positive changes for my body and mind. Being a slacker has never felt so good!