All About Log Rolling, the Unique Sport That’s Much Tougher Than It Looks

It’s not just for lumberjacks anymore.

I recently caught up with a college friend and she couldn’t stop talking about her latest fitness obsession: log rolling. Yes, log rolling—and no, she is not a lumberjack. She’d tried the absurd-sounding activity at a local recreation center in Denver, which I later learned is one of hundreds of facilities across the country that offers this niche (yet growing) sport.

Log rolling is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: A log, real or synthetic, is placed in a body of water and people try to run on top of it (rolling it as they do) for as long as possible before tumbling off.

The activity can either be solo, or performed as a duel where two competitors climb on one log and attempt to outlast each other.

“It’s a primal balance challenge,”Abby Delaney, co-founder and president of Key Log Rolling, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of synthetic logs, tells SELF. Key Log Rolling’s log rolling equipment is sold to recreation facilities, aquatic programs, college campuses, and summer camps across the country.

You can get the general gist by watching this Instagram video via @keylogrolling:

From this clip, you can see that log rolling is an undeniably legit (and mesmerizing) workout. But how did it become a “thing”?

Log rolling, turns out, dates back nearly 200 (!!) years.

The sport began in the 1800s with the advent of the logging industry, explains Delaney. Rivers were the main thoroughfares for transporting timber, and lumberjacks who managed the flow of the resulting log traffic quickly learned how to balance atop the floating wood as they crossed from bank to bank. In their spare time, they translated this skill into friendly competition, says Delaney, challenging their co-workers to matches once the work day had wrapped. Per the Key Log Rolling website, the first unofficial log rolling world championship took place in 1898 in Omaha, Nebraska, and from there, the sport spread beyond the lumberjack community.

“Women were competing as early as the 1930s,” says Delaney of log rolling. “As soon as people had more time to recreate, this was an early form of recreation and entertainment.” The tradition, Delaney explains, got passed along by a “small but dedicated group of athletes.”

One such athlete is Delaney’s mother, Judy Scheer-Hoeschler, who grew up in Hayward, Wisconsin, a small town on the western side of the state and longtime site of the World Log Rolling Championships.

“As an active girl in the 1960s, she tried it and fell in love with it,” says Delaney. Scheer-Hoeschler won her first log rolling world title at age 16 and went on to win six more. She also taught log rolling at the local YMCA, where Delany and her siblings learned to log roll at ages 3 and 4, and grew up to be competitors themselves.

Due to the challenges of sourcing and transporting the logs themselves (a standard cedar log weighs around 500 pounds), it was difficult to grow log rolling beyond regions that are naturally rife with timber and bodies of water. When Delaney graduated college, she and her family set out to change this by developing a solution: a portable, 65-pound synthetic log that could be easily shipped across the country for use in essentially all types of water, including lakes, oceans, rivers, ponds, outdoor pools, and indoor pools. Their product, The Key Log, debuted in 2012, and in the years since, the sport has spread.

There are now more than 500 log rolling programs across 49 states, says Delaney. (Wyoming has yet to get on board).

It’s most popular in warm-weather, pool-saturated states like California, Arizona, and Texas, says Delaney, but can be done essentially anywhere where there’s a body of water, either man-made or natural, shallow or deep.

“The sport is really fun, but it’s also intense,” Delaney explains. Because of this combination, “it can be a recreational activity that you do with your friends and family, a fitness tool, or a competitive sport.”

The World Log Rolling Championships are still held annually in Hayward every summer as part of the Lumberjack World Championships, Key Logging now sponsors three regional collegiate competitions throughout the year, and the United States Log Rolling Association lists more than 20 log rolling tournaments on its website for 2018.

The sport requires a unique combination of core strength, balance, and super fast footwork.

If you’re brand new to the sport, your initial attempts on the log will likely be short. Very short. “Most people stay up about 10 to 15 seconds their first time,” says Delaney. When you break down the unique combination of skills required to master this sport, it makes sense.

“As soon as you get on the log, you have to bend your knees, engage your core, and start moving your feet very quickly,” says Delaney. “The log is constantly spinning, so you are constantly trying to work your way up to the top of the log, which make it kind of like climbing," she says. "You’re also in a squat-like position the entire time, which requires lots of core and lower-body strength.”

Hopping on the log is similar to hopping onto a moving treadmill, she explains. “You have to immediately move your feet—and keep them moving—in order to stay on.” But unlike a treadmill, where your feet are only moving in the forward direction, successful log rolling involves motion in both the forward and backward directions. Also unlike a treadmill, log rolling is a low-impact sport, Delaney says, but you'll still get a cardio workout.

“The most important thing is that you have to constantly be moving your feet,” Stephanie Duong, a certified log rolling instructor, tells SELF. Duong started log rolling three years ago as a student at the University of Texas at Dallas and discovered she had a natural knack—and passion—for the sport. She’s since competed in various log rolling competitions, received her very own Key Log as a graduation gift, and recently became a certified coach.

Because the correct body positioning is not exactly intuitive, beginners typically practice proper techniques on dry land first.

Balance is an obvious component of successful log rolling, but footwork and core strength are also important.

“It really is a pure feat of athleticism,” says Delaney. “It’s important to practice your stance and footwork on dry land because as soon as you are in the water and step up on the log, everything is happening so fast,” she explains. “You want to create the muscle memory first.”

Dry land practice involves getting into a quasi-squat position—similar to Chair pose in yoga—with your knees bent, your hips facing forward and pushed back, your head in line with your shoulders, and your core braced. From there, try taking small, speedy steps with your feet—the faster, the better, says Delaney. Ladder drills can also help, she adds, but in terms of mimicking the sport, “there really is nothing else like log rolling.”

First-time log rollers should know that "it's OK to fall in,” says Duong, who serves as the on-site instructor during weekly three-hour open log rolling sessions at a local rec center in Plano, Texas. Tumbling quickly and often is an unavoidable, necessary component of the sport, she says. “You’ll fall a lot when you first start, and you just have to keep trying.”

Once you move onto the actual log, you’ll be making many micro-adjustments to keep your core over the center of the log, says Delaney. “Everything should come from the hips,” she says. “You want to sit back and deep, tuck your core, and take super fast steps.”

Beyond the log (obviously), you don’t need any fancy gear to get started.

There’s no special uniform required for log rolling—participants just wear any sort of water-wicking material, like swimsuits or running gear, explains Delaney, who favors Spandex running shorts and a sports bra herself.

As for footwear, beginners on a synthetic log can go barefoot, but the more expert log rollers will wear minimalist athletic shoes for more traction, says Delaney. “Anything that doesn’t have a thick sole works well.”

Interested in giving the sport a try? With the aforementioned 500+ log rolling programs across the U.S., there’s a chance a facility near you may offer the activity. Check out this map from Key Log Rolling to get started. Consider giving it a go—for the strength, balance, and coordination benefits, and also purely for fun.