Effect Of Level Of Coordination Abilities On Motor Learning Progress In Slacklining
Slacklining (walking on slackline) as a sport activity is a specialized motor skill with great demands on variability, anticipation and responding to external conditions. The research study works on an assumption that motor learning progress in slacklining is influenced by the level of coordination skills. The purpose of the study was to investigate how the level of coordination abilities affects progress in slacklining. The research question relates to coordination abilities being a performance precondition for motor tasks with similar coordination demands. 40 university students (19-24) participated in the study. Indicators of the level of coordination abilities were standardised 1-leg standing balance test and Iowa-Brace battery. The participants trained slacklining within 8 sessions (10 attempts once a week). Motor learning progress was recorded. Statistical significance of difference across the sample was evaluated by Mann-Whitney test (p < 0.05). The progress in acquiring slacklining was recorded in terms of the best performance and the total number of attempts on slackline. A significant difference (p < 0.05) was found out across the sample in both selected indicators of coordination abilities, which suggests that the progress in slacklining of the participants with higher level of coordination abilities was faster. In conclusion, the level of coordination abilities, especially balance, can help the progress of motor learning in slacklining. However, slacklining is a complex and concentration-demanding skill and the progress can also be influenced by other factors, such as external conditions, personality and motivation.
Keywords: “Slacklining”“coordination abilities”“balance”“motor learning”
Slacklining was originally developed as a leisure activity of Yosemite climbers. Later on it was
recognized as a good method for improving postural stability and strength. Slacklining can be
characterized as balancing on a narrow flat nylon ribbon fixed between two anchor points. The activity
itself is a specialized open motor skill, with demands on muscle coordination and postural stabilization
with respect to variable external conditions and their anticipation. It involves neuromechanical response
of a whole body, and active strengthening of body segments against the effects of external force. The
ability to control our body’s position in space emerges from complex interaction of musculoskeletal and
neural systems (Shumway-Cook, & Woollacott, 2007).
Most of the previous research focused on slacklining as a technique developing balance and
strength skills, coming to the conclusion that whether slackline training (balancing over a narrow nylon
ribbons) serves as an appropriate training strategy to improve static and dynamic balance performance is
as yet unclear (Donath et al., 2016). Very large task-specific balance training adaptations have been
observed in individuals taking part in slackline training. Slackline training induced moderate to large
improvements of slackline-specific and dynamic balance performance. Static balance performance only
marginally benefited with small effects from slackline training alone (Donath et al., 2016). Research
carried out by Serrien et al. (2016), confirms that balance on slackline is specifically bound to an instable
base. The main findings from this analysis are that subjects learned to increase their postural control on
the slackline (significantly longer standing time) by adopting a strategy consisting of higher range-of-
motion and lower velocity and frequency of most degrees-of-freedom. A second important conclusion
concerns the lack of transfer to balance on the flamingo task, indicating that the strategy that is being
learned is strongly dependent on the external stimulus from the slackline (Serrien et al., 2016). Similarly
next studies that evaluated postural control on the slackline itself and transfer to other tasks have reported
mostly limited muscular or kinematic responses (Donath et al., 2015; Gabel, Osborne and Burkett, 2015).
The influence on balance, in terms of its physiological causes, was studied more deeply by the latest
research of Dordevic et al. (2017). Their results indicate that one month of intensive slackline training is a
novel approach for enhancing clinically relevant balancing abilities in conditions with closed eyes as well
as for improving the vestibular-dependent spatial orientation capability; both of the benefits are likely
caused by positive influence of slackline-training on the vestibular system function.
Other studies focus on the effects of slackline training on human health as postural control under
dynamic or unexpected perturbations is essential for reducing injury risks in sport (Granacher et al.,
2010), and prevention of falls in general (Mansfield et al., 2015). Strejcová (2012) came to the same
conclusions, her results indicate that the activity on slackline could be used as the prevention of injuries,
ankle rehabilitation program and the postural stability exercise.
Definition of slacklining and training methodology
A slackline is basically a small nylon rope, 2.5 cm wide, stretched between two anchor points upon
which people try to maintain their balance on one or two feet or try to walk, turn, jump or perform other
functional exercises. By adjusting the length and tension in the slackline, the exercises can be made easier
or harder. When people make their first attempts on a slackline, the standing leg and rope swing
uncontrollably and assistance is almost always necessary (Keller et at. 2012). The perturbations caused by
this fast and frequently moving base of support provide a strong impulse for which the neuromuscular
system must provide an appropriate response in order to stay on the slackline (Serrien et al., 2016).
Two training methods have been described currently. The first method is based on training without
methodological aids while slackline walking is trained through repeated attempts. The second method
uses various aids and preliminary exercises (Thoman, 2013). A methodology involving a 4-stage protocol
that consists of 20 steps for progression of slackline training in a clinical setting was developed by Gabel
and Mendoza (2013) in order to achieve standardization of the methods used to support the motor
learning process, which can promote the safe and effective use of slacklining as a rehabilitation activity.
Research carried out by Kroiss (2007) did not prove any significant differences in the learning progress.
The second method is preferred due to greater motivation during the learning process.
The technique of slacklining, which is important for the motor learning process, was described by
Horáková (2015), Kroiss (2007) and Balcom (2005).
Factors influencing motor performance on slackline
In this research the focus is on an importance of coordination abilities as complex performance
pre-conditions. Měkota and Novosad (2005) defined the importance in the following aspects: facilitation
and accelerating of the process of learning new motor skills, contribution to stabilisation and refining the
already adopted skills, participation in the determination of the level of condition abilities utilization,
influence on aesthetic feelings, joy and satisfaction from the exercise.
This research studied also the progress of motor learning, which takes place in three phases. The
cognitive phase involves the rejection of ineffective strategies and adoption of effective strategies, which
usually leads to rapid improvement. The associative phase lasts for weeks to months, during which skills
are acquired and consolidated, and performance consistency improves. The autonomous phase lasts for
months to years, during which skills can be executed without conscious effort. This motor learning
process leads to improved control of the natural oscillations that occur when standing on an instable
suspended strap (Gabel, and Mendoza, 2013).
Factors influencing the progress of motor learning and therefore the rate of learning were
described by Horáková (2015). She differentiates somatic, technical, mental, tactical, and fitness factors.
Balance skills represent a key factor for walking on a slackline. A good level of postural stability is
required to master the slackline (Granacher et al. 2010, Balcom, 2005). Postural stability can be defined
as the ability of maintaining such posture that prevents an uncontrolled fall. Stabilisation is understood as
a constant process of maintaining optimum posture. It is an active and dynamic process, that is
characterised by motoric coordination that supports the spine during all the motions (deep spine-
stabilising system). Postural stability belongs to those skills, that are influenced by visual control, the
vestibular apparatus, and by proprioreception at the same time (Giagazoglou et al., 2009). The ability to
maintain and control the balance is the basis for the design and construction of more complex motor skills
in the context of sport performance (Altavilla, Tafuri and Raiola, 2014).
Another factor influencing the rate of learning slackline walking is the level of condition abilities –
when standing and balancing on one leg the muscles of the foot, shank, or calf must actively regulate the
motions. The neuromechanical dynamics of the body is coupled with the external dynamics of the rope
which itself moves in response to body swaying. (Paoletti, and Mahadevan, 2012).
The mental factors include fatigue, which impairs performance. Fatigue impairs sensorimotor
performance, reduces spinal reflexes and affects the interaction of antagonistic muscles in complex motor
tasks. The study evaluated response to postural perturbation during a fatiguing balance task. The number
of failed attempts significantly increased with fatigue (Ritzmann et al., 2016). Motivation also influences
slackline learning, which may negatively impact the performance testing. Relatively high motivation is
presumed in slackline learning, as slacklining appeals to young people as a new, innovative, and attractive
The research questions work on an assumption that coordination skills and balance are a
performance precondition to motor learning progress in slacklining. We suggested that better participants
have better developed coordination and balance.
In this research it was investigated whether the progress of slacklining relates to the level of
For learning slacklining, balance, as one of the components of coordination skills, seems to be the
key factor. We therefore defined the research question as to
the level of static balance?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study was to investigate how the level of coordination abilities and static
balance affects progress in slacklining. The secondary aim was to survey the progress made by walking
on slackline and to observe influence of the motivation on performance.
40 university students participated in the research (age 19-24, 28 men and 12 women). They
studied Economics and Management programmes, all of them attending voluntary classes of indoor
climbing. The classes were offered to students of University of Hradec Kralove, as a part of a complex
system of voluntary physical activities. The volume and frequency of physical activity is 1.5 hour once a
week and the aim is to compensate for sedentary study demands, to prevent from muscle imbalances, and
to motivate students to regular and targeted physical activity. The key selection criterion for inclusion in
the research sample was no preceding slackline experience and no sport on professional level.
Slackline was trained within 8 weeks, with a regular frequency once a week. In every session the
participants had maximum of 10 attempts to walk. The line width was 2.5 cm and the length was 8
meters, divided in 8 equal sections. Learning progress was recorded in every lesson, with regard to a best
performance (number of section) achieved and the number of attempts. Training was preceded by
individualized instruction and demonstration how to walk on slackline. The method used was based on
practice by repeated attempts, without additional aids (see Introduction). Running and non-controlled
walking was forbidden.
The level of acquisition of the specific skill – walking on slackline – was evaluated by an
individual performance in slacklining as a sport discipline. The test is a locomotive-type and individual
performance represents an objective score for evaluation. Both the motor content and conditions of
evaluation and sport performance correspond for logical validity, in agreement with Měkota and Novosad
Motor performance of participants was diagnosed in input testing by the selected standardised
indicators of coordination: 1-leg standing balance test and Iowa-Brace battery. Monopedal static balance
was tested on 2 cm wide balance beam. The tested subjects stood with the foot of their dominant leg on
the balance beam, arms akimbo, and upon command they lifted the supporting leg from the ground and
tried to maintain balance for as long as they could. Every subject had two attempts, and the better of the
results was recorded (Měkota and Blahuš, 1983). The level of coordination abilities we diagnosed by
Iowa-Brace battery, which is also used to measure the motor educability – the ability to learn a variety of
motor skills. This test includes track and field items. This test developed Brace in 1927 involving 20
stunts (Morrow, 2000) and in the Czech Republic it was first used by Štěpnička (1976). The test
originally involved 21 tasks, but Štěpnička modified and standardized it to the currently used 10 tasks.
The test battery includes coordination-demanding motions, balance and skill testing physical exercises.
Completion (performance without fail) on the first attempt means two-point gain, completion on the
second attempt means one-point gain. The maximum gain is 20 points (Havel, 2010).
The statistical significance of differences among groups was tested by Mann-Whitney (p<0.05).
The analysis was done by IBM SPSS Statistics 24. The data were changed to ranks, disregarding whether
the scores were for group A or group B. The evaluation was based on mutual comparison of all the
measurements from group A to all the measurements from group B and testing in favour of which group
the results gave evidence. The groups were divided according to the results achieved in slacklining. The
criterion for inclusion to group A (better performance) was to achieve at least section
the participants scored more that 3m of slackline walking as their best result. The participants who
achieved only section
Normality was disproved (K-S, p<0.05) and the scores were analysed by non-parametric test of
statistical significance of difference (Mann-Whitney, p<0.05). The selected indicators of motor
coordination abilities to verify the hypothesis were 1-leg standing test and Iowa-Brace test battery. The
sample was divided as to the motoric performance (best result in sectors and attempts on slackline) and
the distribution across the groups was tested. A statistically significant difference across the groups (A/B)
was found out both in 1-leg standing balance test and Iowa-Brace test (Figure
that the participants who achieved better results in slacklining had higher level of static balance abilities
and also the level of coordination. This verified the predictive value of balance, coordination and
precision in acquisition of a specialized sport skill of slacklining, which is in agreement with the findings
of Cagno et al. (2014) who investigated coordination and motor learning in gymnasts. Orth, Davids and
Seifert (2016) aimed at climbing, which is similar to slacklining in postural stability demands. They
verified that perceptual and motor adaptations that improve skilled coordination are highly significant for
improving climbing ability level.
The comparison of A and B group statistics shows a significant difference in the static balance
test, where the median of group B was only 7 seconds while of group A 27 seconds. The maximum
performance of the entire group of tested subjects was 121 seconds (Table
of group A is also significant; in the slackline test this part got as far as to the sector 7 or 8 (i.e. the
subjects walked 7 or 8 metres). In the overall evaluation they placed 1st to 8th. The same group of
participants identically placed 1st to 9th in the static balance test. It is therefore possible to assume that
persons with above-average static balance skills learn slackline walking much faster and more efficiently
than persons with average results.
Upon the observation during the testing we came to other interesting topics to be studied in further
slacklining research. We assume that group B failed to master the technique, even roughly, whereas group
A mastered the technique of slackline walking on the level of the 2nd phase of motor learning
(associative). If a participant already reached sector 4 then he mastered the technique on the level of 1st
phase of motor learning (cognitive) and their further progress in training was much faster. None of the
tested persons reached the 3rd phase of motor learning, as a much longer process of learning is required
for reaching the autonomous phase. The motivation factor was significant as well. We can assume that the
degree of motivation increased the level of concentration on the learning process, which, as a result, was
much more efficient. Motivation also influenced the coordination skills tests, which are sensitive to
external influences that may easily distort the results.
In future studies it would be interesting to extend the test portfolio by motor function examination
with special focus on the function of the deep stabilising system inaccordance with the findings of
Hrušová (2014). Effective involvement of the deep stabilization system is essential for stabilization of
spine and major joints and for effective movement. To improve stabilizing function specific exercises,
such as slacklining, can be used.
The progress in acquiring slacklining was recorded in terms of the best performance and the total
number of attempts on slackline. A significant difference was found out across the sample in the selected
indicators of coordination abilities, which suggests that the progress in slacklining of the participants with
higher level of coordination abilities and static balance was faster. The research survey verified the
predictive value of balance, coordination and precision, which can help the progress of motor learning in
slacklining as a specialized motor skill. However, slacklining is a complex and concentration-demanding
skill and the progress can also be influenced by other factors, such as external conditions, personality and
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