A balance beam is a gymnastics apparatus made of a long beam usually from wood, which is covered by multiple layers of padding material. The standard beam is set 1.25 metres high, at a length of 5 metres and 10 cm wide. The balance beam's width has become somewhat of a cliche amongst sports commentators.

History of the Balance Beam

The balance beam got it's start in the Turnbourses of 19th century Germany, where they resembled a very elongated cornucopia set on two stands very close to the ground. This form of beam was the precursor to "home beams", beams set low to the floor set up by many a gym-mom in her front living room.

The Elements of an Balance Beam Routine

Different moves and releases on the balance beam are valued differently in the Women's Technical Committee Code of Points, and a gymnast can obtain connection bonus points for connecting certain moves together in one fluid motion.

The are seven groups or categories of moves on the balance beam:

  • Mounts: The gymnast can either launch onto the beam using a springboard or lift herself onto the beam using her hands.
  • Leaps & Jumps: Launches that lose contact with the beam.
  • Walkovers, Cartwheels, & Handsprings: Leaps and jumps done with the hands.
  • Saltos:
  • Turns: When gymnast rotates on the beam using her feet.
  • Rolls: When a gymnast travels along the beam using her back for the majority of the movement.
  • Dismounts: When a gymnast finishes her routine by launching off the balance beam to land on her feet.

The are six move skill levels:

  • A (0.1p), B (0.3p), C (0.5p), D (0.6p), E (0.7p) and Super E (0.8p),

and connection bonuses are assigned as follows (for acrobatic and jump elements):

  • BBDjump,BD,CC (+0.1p each)
  • BBDacro,BBEjump,BCDjump,BDCjump,BEjump,CCC,CD,CDBjump,DC,DBCjump,DCBjump,EBjump,EBBjump (+0.2p each)
  • BBsEjump,BCDacro,BCEjump,BDCacro,BEacro,CDBacro,CDC,CE,DBCacro,DCBacro,DCC,DD,EBacro,EC,sEBjump (+0.3 each)
  • BBEacro,BCEacro,CDD,DDC,DE,EBBacro,ED,sEBacro,sEBBjump (+0.4 each)
  • BBsEacro,DDD,sEBBacro (+0.5p each)
  • CDDD (+0.6p)

Note that connection bonuses are awarded for each forward permutation in a sequence.

Each complete balance beam has a set of requirements:

  • One acrobatic connection with a minimum of two flight elements.
  • One dance and one acrobatic dance connection.
  • One turn of at least 360°.
  • One hop, jump or leap of 180° with cross split legs.
  • A dismount with a minimum C value.

The Stages of Development of Balance Beam Skills

The first stage in teaching balance beam skills is to develop a gymnast's ability to perform rolls, leaps and jumps on the floor exercise. Gradually, coaches stress the ability of a gymnast to perform each skill in a straight line, and draw chalk lines as guides during training. At this stage, large classes of gymnasts (usually about 20) will line up and do their skills one after the other.

After mastering the floor exercise skills, gymnasts are then trained on balance beams that are on the floor; that is the chalk line is replaced by an unraised balance beam. Gymnasts then repeat their skills on the beam with specific emphasis on hand control and body lifting skills. Different static supports like L-Support in straddle (where the gymnast lifts herself up of the beam with her hands and legs to each side) and dynamic moves like walkovers are taught at this stage.

During later stages in training, gymnasts learn more advanced skills on increasingly higher beams. Low beams are used first to teach the gymnast how to roll and do basic jumps from the beam. During intermediate training after a gymnast has developed her abilities so that she requires less spotting, foam pits are often used around the beam to allow gymnasts to fall off the beam without injury.

The Construction of a Balance Beam Routine

In the same style as the construction of an uneven bars routine, we will analyze the balance beam routine of Hollie Vise (2004). In the language of gymnastics, Hollie Vise's balance beam goes like so:

  • Flexibility hold with chest support mount;
  • back handspring, back tuck 1/1 (Shishova), switch leap, ring jump, split jump with back arch (Yang Bo), front aerial from side to rear support, sheep jump;
  • full turn; switch ring leap;
  • back walkover, back handspring, back handspring, double back dismount.

Each group of elements separated by a semi-colon comprise a set, that is a group of movements for which, if the gymnast performs them in a fluid sequence without pause, she will obtain connection bonuses for performing the entire sequence.

Converting each movement into its skill value as assigned in the Women's Technical Committee Code of Points (2002), the sequence is:

  • A,B,E,C,C,D,D,D;
  • A,E;
  • A,B,B,D.
This routine has a Start Value of 10.0.

The Balance Beam as Fluff Cliché

Besides commentators constantly mentioned the width of the beam, the beam is the most often used piece of gymnastics equipment to film fluff (or "personality") pieces for intros to gymnastics.

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