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Intro to Gymnastics: 8 Types of Apparatus Used in Artistic Gymnastics

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 5 min read

Succeeding at the highest level in men’s and women’s gymnastics involves mainly the mastery of a gymnast’s own body over how well they use a piece of equipment, like a ball or shoot into a goal like in other sports. There is plenty of equipment is necessary to compete in the sport of gymnastics, however. This equipment is collectively referred to as gymnastics apparatus.

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What Is a Gymnastics Apparatus?

In competitive gymnastics—such as during an Olympic Games competition—the term apparatus refers to a piece of equipment that’s used in gymnastics, like the vault table or the balance beam. Each gymnastics apparatus effectively serves as a medium on which gymnasts demonstrate their strength and agility. Furthermore, the term apparatus describes the events themselves. The term apparatus, therefore, has two meanings in gymnastics: it refers to the individual events and the equipment that makes these events possible.

4 Apparatuses Used in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics

Women’s artistic gymnastics features the following pieces of apparatus and competitive events:

  1. Vault: The vault event involves feats of skill that begin with a running start, a jump off a springboard, and the use of a stationary device called a vault or a vaulting horse. The event involves different body positions, including tucked, piked and stretched. Vaulters are judged on proper body alignment, form, repulsion, height and distance traveled, saltos, and twists. Lastly, gymnasts should "stick" their landings, which means landing in place without needing steps to steady themselves. Required apparatus includes a springboard and vaulting horse. Learn more about the vault in our guide here.
  2. Uneven Bars: This event involves a series of maneuvers performed on two horizontal bars set at different heights. Gymnasts are required to transition from one movement to the next without pauses or meaningless swings on the bars. Judges pay special consideration to high-flying release moves (including pirouetting) and dismounts. Judges also look for exact handstand positions, with large deductions for any deviations. Required apparatus include the horizontal bars (and plenty of chalk to counteract sweaty hands). Learn more about the uneven bars in our comprehensive overview here.
  3. Balance Beam: In this event, gymnasts perform routines on a four-inch wide solid beam. They must present the same grace and execution one might expect if they were performing on the floor. Judges look for routines that showcase excellent height, flexibility, and power. A balance beam routine may not exceed 90 seconds and must cover the entire length of the beam. Handsprings, back handsprings, saltos, back saltos, turns, and split jumps are all common in beam routines. The key balance beam apparatus is the beam itself. Find out more about the balance beam here.
  4. Floor: The floor exercise is set to music and involves gymnasts performing a series of tumbling and athletic feats interspersed with dance choreography. Judges look for versatile use of floor space, changes in the direction and level of movement, theatrics, command of music, and height and distance of jumping and tumbling maneuvers. The floor routine lasts no more than 90 seconds and must cover the entire floor area. The apparatus is a performance area measuring 1,200 centimeters x 1,200 centimeters (± 3 centimetres). Learn more about the floor event in our guide here.
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4 Apparatuses Used in Men’s Artistic Gymnastics

Like women’s artistic gymnastics, men’s artistic gymnastics features floor and vault exercises. Men’s artistic gymnastics does not include the balance beam or uneven bars, but it adds the following:

  1. Pommel Horse: Pommel horse routines consist of continuous circular movements plus required scissored leg elements. The hands are the only part of the body that may touch the pommel horse. Judges look for flow with steady, controlled rhythm. Hand placements should be quick, quiet, and rhythmic. The apparatus is the pommel horse itself, which looks like a vaulting horse with two handles jutting upward.
  2. Still Rings: In this event, gymnasts perform maneuvers on two rings suspended in the air. Throughout the rings event, the rings must remain still and under control at all times. Arms must never shake, and the gymnast’s body must remain straight with no arching. Judges look for maneuvers like a swing to handstand, a cross, an inverted cross, and a swallow or Maltese cross. Unnecessary swings and instability result in lower scores. The apparatus includes two rings suspended from high above the floor.
  3. Parallel Bars: Instead of uneven bars, male gymnasts use parallel bars. Male gymnasts use parallel bars to demonstrate swing and flight elements. Judges look for the gymnast to execute swinging elements from a support, hang and upper arm position. An under swing (aka a basket swing) is also part of the routine. The parallel bars themselves represent the apparatus.
  4. Horizontal Bar (High Bar): A particularly high flying event, the horizontal bar competition runs gymnasts through a series of swings, release moves, and dismounts. Judges expect high bar entrants to execute a series of continuous swings and turns. Each gymnast must perform an in-bar skill (for instance, a stalder circle) and demonstrate at least one element in el-grip, dorsal hang, or rearways to the bar. Extra consideration is given for somersaults, twists, and dramatic dismounts. The high bar itself represents the apparatus for this event.

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What Other Equipment Is Used in Gymnastics Competitions?

Other gymnastics equipment that can commonly be found in other levels of competition include various gymnastics mats (including landing mats, training mats, throw mats, tumbling mats, incline mats, panel mats, folding mats, and even a plain old exercise mat). Trampolines (even a mini trampoline), skill cushions, training bars, gymnastics grips, trapezoids, and a vault table represent still other gymnastics equipment that can be found in professional and recreational gyms.

Want to Become a Better Gymnast?

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Gold-winning Olympic gymnast Simone Biles teaches her training techniques—from beginner to advanced—so you can practice like a champion.

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