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What Is the Gymnastics Balance Beam?
The balance beam is one of the events that comprise a total artistic gymnastics program. In women’s gymnastics competition, the other events are floor exercise, uneven bars, and the vault.
In balance beam competition, 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. 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 gymnastics skills that are common to beam routines. The key balance beam apparatus is the beam itself.
How the Gymnastic Balance Beam Is Judged
In artistic gymnastics, gymnasts are judged by the Code of Points, a rule book issued by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) that outlines the point values of various skills in international competition.
A gymnast’s final score is calculated from a start value, where the gymnast begins with the highest possible score and then has points deducted for elements that may have been lacking in their routine. A technical committee of judges determines these deductions. Judges look for routines that showcase excellent acrobatic skills, height, flexibility, and power.
In the past, FIG’s scores used to have a maximum value of 10—you’ve probably heard the expression “a perfect 10.” But in 2006, FIG altered its system to factor the difficulty of skills and routines into its scores. These days, the total score for a gymnast’s routine is actually the sum of two scores: the Difficulty Score (D) and the Execution Score (E).
- The Difficulty Score reflects the total difficulty value (DV) of skills plus the connection value (CV) and compositional requirements (CR). Two judges make up the D Panel. Each judge independently determines their Difficulty Score, and then the two judges must come to a consensus.
- The Execution Score rates the performance in terms of execution and artistry. The Execution Score is determined by six judges on the E Panel. The score begins at 10, and deductions for errors in execution, technique, or artistry are subtracted from this baseline. Judges separately determine their scores for a routine, the highest and lowest scores are dropped, and the average of the remaining four scores becomes the final Execution Score.
When you’re creating and executing a routine, familiarize yourself with the Code of Points that relates to your level of competition and the organization within which you’re competing. That way, you can make sure your routine is designed to achieve maximum points for your skill range and that you hit all the requirements.
What Are the Compulsory and Optional Scores in Gymnastics?
The compulsory score in gymnastics is based on the performance of a specific routine that all amateur gymnasts must learn to be judged against one another. Compulsory routines vary depending on what official level a gymnast is competing at. These levels range in difficulty from Level 1 (the simplest) through Level 5 (the most challenging).
The optional score in competitive gymnastics is based upon routines that the gymnast designs to showcase his or her own strengths. An Olympic gymnast will design a routine to, whenever possible, let her personality shine through.
Complete List of Balance Beam Skills
The balance beam shares many individual skills with the floor exercise. Most of these skills are intrinsically more difficult on a four-inch wide beam than on a spring floor, so beam routines tend to be slower than floor routines. Whether you’re watching Simone Biles in gymnastics world championships or your niece in a local competition, here are some of the most common balance beam maneuvers to look for:
- Back handspring: a key tumbling move involving a backward flip into a handstand position, and then a forward flip back to your original standing position. Learn how to perform Simone Biles’s back handspring drills here.
- Front handspring: the same as a back handspring, only the gymnast starts by running, and does a forward front flip. Learn how to perform Simone Biles’s front handspring drills here.
- Front tuck: a forward salto that combines elements of a front handspring and a tuck jump.
- Back tuck: the same as a front tuck, but with a back flip that starts from a standing position
- Front walkover: Similar to a front handspring, but in a front walkover, the gymnast’s legs move one after the other, resulting in a smooth, fluid motion.
- Back walkover: the reverse of a front walkover where once again the gymnast’s legs fluidly move one after the other.
- Roundoff: a cartwheel-style maneuver that involves a half-rotation, a brief pause in a handstand position, and a return to the original standing position.
- Cartwheel: a sideways rotation of the body where a gymnast begins in a standing position, rotates sideways with hands on the floor and legs in a split position, and continues rotating until once again in standing position.
- Aerial cartwheel: Also known as a side aerial or just an aerial. In it, the gymnast will take off and then perform a cartwheel in midair, where hands do not touch the ground.
- Aerial walkover: also known as a front aerial, it is similar to an aerial cartwheel in that the gymnast performs a complete revolution without touching the ground. An aerial walkover involves a forward tumble, not a sideways one.
- Straight jump: A forward jump where the gymnast keeps straight legs during flight and when landing.
- Straddle jump: Sometimes called a toe touch, a straddle jump is a leap where the gymnast is in side-to-side split position at the apex. It is built on a simple vertical straight jump.
- Scissors leap: Also called a switch leap, this is a forward leap where the legs move in a scissors-style motion.
- Split leap: A running forward leap where the gymnast passes through split position while airborne. (Also known as a split jump.)
- Pike jump: A vertical jump with legs straight out in the pike position.
- Cross handstand: A variant on a handstand where the hands are planted close together on the ground.
- Full or full turn: A 360° rotation around the vertical axis of the body. This movement can occur in a floor or beam routine with one foot on the floor in relevé. A “full” can also refer to a full twist during a vault or dismount. A full twisting layout is built upon a more basic gymnastic skill known as a back layout.
- Half twist: A 180º rotation around the vertical axis of the body.
Many balance beam skills fall into a broad category known as saltos. Saltos are gymnastics moves that involve total body rotation around an imaginary axis. Aerial walkovers and aerial cartwheels are examples of a particularly impressive front salto on the beam. A back walkover is similarly an impressive back salto. A double salto and triple salto are particularly difficult to execute. They will challenge even a skilled Olympian and require careful maneuvering at the end of the beam. But they can result in a higher score if done properly, and therefore they often comprise a championship gymnast’s signature moves.
All balance beam routines end in a dismount—a skill that allows you to leave an apparatus at the end of a routine, whether for uneven bars, beam, or vault.
When practicing these balance beam skills on your own, build up slowly. Always warm up before you start — a warm-up can involve everything from stretching to aerobics to leg lifts, a planche, or basic tumbling. Your goal is to build up strength that will provide the front support, hand support, and core support you need to succeed on the balance beam.
Want to Become a Better Gymnast?
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