Effect Of Level Of Coordination Abilities On Motor Learning Progress In Slacklining

Abstract

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”

Introduction

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.

Problem Statement

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

sport discipline.

Research Questions

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

coordination skills?

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 whether the progress of learning relates 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.

Research Methods

Research sample

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.

Intervention

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.

Methods

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

(2007).

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).

Analysis

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 4 , which means that

the participants scored more that 3m of slackline walking as their best result. The participants who

achieved only section 2 or 1 as their best within all the 8-week training were included to group B (worse

performance).

Findings

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 01 ). This can be interpreted

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.

Figure 1: Figure 01. Results Iowa Brace test, Mann-Whitney U Test
Figure 01. Results Iowa Brace test, Mann-Whitney U Test
See Full Size >

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 01 ). The comparison of a part

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.

Table 1 -
See Full Size >

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.

Conclusion

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

motivation.

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Publisher

Future Academy

First Online

18.12.2019

Doi

10.15405/epsbs.2017.06.4

Online ISSN

2357-1330