Why don't tightrope walkers fall off? This gravity-defying stunt has enthralled people for centuries. Last Friday, Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope, to the amazement of thousands of onlookers. Want to learn how to walk a tightrope? Read on for a glimpse into the physics of tightrope walking.
How to Walk a Tightrope
The trick to staying upright is to keep your center of gravity (also called center of mass) directly over your feet. This is tricky on a tightrope because the feet are positioned directly one in front of the other so the area of the tightrope walker's base is small: a tiny sway to either the left or the right will position the center of gravity over empty space and the tightrope walker will fall!
Tightrope walkers use a number of tricks to counteract this problem. Read on to find out how to walk a tightrope without falling off.
1. Place your feet at an angle. Rather than pointing the toes straight forward as you would in normal walking, point them out to the side, and curl your foot around the rope. This increases the width of the base you are standing on, making you more stable.
2. Put your arms out to the side. Even better, hold a long, thin pole. This increases your moment of inertia, which means that you accelerate more slowly when a turning force is applied to you. This way, if your center of gravity moves outside of your feet, you will begin falling much more slowly than if you had your arms by your side, giving you time to correct your balance before it's too late!
3. Use a pole that curves downwards at the ends. This lowers your center of gravity. Tightrope walkers with a low center of gravity are more stable, as they are able to lean further to the left or right before their center of gravity moves outside of their base.
The most important thing when learning to walk the tightrope is to set up your rope only a few inches from the ground, and make sure that you either have someone to catch you or something soft to land on.
Tightropes and Slacklines
Gordon D Easingwood from Wakefield, United Kingdom on February 16, 2012:
Some interesting tips can't say I will be taking up tight rope walking anytime soon though!