Precise and powerful footwork in rock climbing often makes the difference between sticking a move and falling off the wall. All too often I have the finish of a boulder problem within reach, only to have my foot slip out from under me.
As routes get more difficult, it is incrementally necessary to have great footwork. This means trusting in your feet to provide balance, stability, and propaganda on even the tiniest of footholds.
This coordination can be very difficult, especially when you're tired and technique begins to falter. However, with correct training, good footwork can become second nature. This will get you up the wall faster, with less time spent thinking about your feet. Overall, this will take more strain off your arms and leave you energy and strength for harder climbs.
What is slacklining?
Slacklining is the sport of balancing on a narrow piece of webbing suspended between two anchors. This is different from traditional tightrope walking in two ways. First, the webbing is flat instead of rounded like a rope. This provides a better surface to balance on. Second, webbing is stretchy and dynamic, allowing the line to bounce like a trampoline. This aspect of slacklining opens up many possibilities and variations that are not feasible in tightrope walking.
You can make your own slackline out of climbing webbing, or purchase one online. Gibbon slacklines are very popular with beginner slackliners.
When learning, it is best to practice with a slackline set close to the ground. A height of two feet allows the line to flex, but is low enough to be fairly safe. Slacklines can be set up on almost anything, but two trees about twenty or thirty feet apart perfectly work and are easy to access. Try to set your line up over grass for a soft landing. Cover any dangerous objects you might fall on and use crash pads if in doubt about your safety.
How to train on slacklines
The first goal of slacklining is simply to walk from one end to the other. Slacklining is difficult, and it takes lots of practice to be able to walk on one. When you are first beginning, try to use as short a line as possible. This will make the line more stable and easier to practice on. As you get better, extend the length of the line for more of a challenge.
Going barefoot helps to grip the line better and gives you more tactile feedback. Start in the middle of the line where it is more stable. It is helpful to have something to hold on to while you get used to walking the line. Run a rope above the line at chest level that you can hold on to while learning. This assistance while balancing will make starting out less frustrating and will help you learn faster.
You will fall a lot at first, but keep at it! Building balance is tricky, and can be frustrating at times. Balancing on only one foot is easier than on two, so focus on just standing on one foot at a time in the beginning. You will be shaky at first, but after a few days your legs will adjust. Then you can try walking by quickly switching between which foot you are balancing on. Train a little bit at a time and you'll see progress.
Once you can balance for a few seconds, practice walking along the line. If you can make it from one end to the other you are doing great! Reaching this level can take a few weeks, and even then it is never simple to traverse a line. Even pros still wobble and have to concentrate.
If you are looking for more challenges, try turning around on the line. Walk one direction, then slowly turn around and walk the other way. Balancing well enough to turn in place is tricky!
Apply your new skills to rock climbing
After training with slacklines for a few weeks your legs will become stronger. You'll notice that you shake less when standing on the line and balance will come to you easier. These are all great skills that you can now apply to rock climbing!
Next time you are climbing, focus on how you can use these slackline techniques to help you on the wall. Trust yourself to balance on one toe, and notice how your legs feel more powerful when pushing you up the wall. Since your legs are stronger you can do less work with your arms. This will allow you to save energy on longer climbs, as well as give you the extra edge you need to exceed very difficult moves. Enjoy your new rock climbing prowess courtesy of slacklining!