Sports & Games

Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles’s Beam Drills: How to Do Balance Beam Routines

Written by MasterClass

Aug 20, 2019 • 5 min read

Twisting, turning, and perhaps a few back handsprings on a narrow beam is one of the fundamental exercises of women’s gymnastics. Elite gymnasts hone their acrobatic beam skills through drills and training.

Whether you’re just starting your gymnastics career or have been training for years, Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles’s MasterClass will help you improve your technique by perfecting the basics of the sport and then using those basics to execute more advanced moves. Learn about the gymnastics balance beam and practice some of Simone Biles’s balance beam drills.

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What Is a Balance Beam?

A gymnastics balance beam is both an apparatus (a piece of gymnastics equipment) and one of four main events in women’s artistic gymnastics, the other three being vault, uneven bars, and floor. Both the event and the apparatus are referred to colloquially as “beam.” In the Olympics, the balance beam is the third event.

Four feet off the ground and four inches wide and wrapped in suede, the balance beam is a mental and physical challenge, even for skills that are easily performed in a floor routine. Beam routines are 90 seconds max, and you must use the full length of the beam (which is a little more than 16 feet). Requirements for this event involve performing two or more elements in a row, a turn of at least 360 degrees on one foot, and a leap or jump with a 180-degree split.

What You Need to Practice Balance Beam Drills

Both elite and junior gymnasts master complex skills by drilling the same movements over and over again until they are committed to “muscle memory.” If you do not feel comfortable using a full-size beam, you can use a low balance beam or an adjustable balance beam to practice on. Be sure you have enough gymnastics mats under your beam for when you fall.

The skills you perform on beam include the ones you can do easily on floor—just with one foot slightly in front of the other or with an altered hand position. The main thing about beam is overcoming your fear and building your confidence, which you’ll do by working on the proper technique.

6 Basic Balance Beam Drills

In general, these drills can be worked on in progression: first on the floor with a tape or chalk outline simulating the beam, then on the ground beam, then on the low balance beam or on an adjustable height beam. Be sure to place plenty of landing mats under and around your beam for when you fall.

Note: If the word beam is used in the drills below, know that this can mean a beam shape you draw on the floor.

Handstand Drill 1

  1. Place a spotting block at the end of the beam.
  2. Stand on the beam and face the block.
  3. With your arms by your ears, place your hands on the beam as close to the block as possible.
  4. Kick into handstand.
  5. Hold for 10 seconds, finding your balance.
  6. Step down into a lunge, arms by your ears.
  7. Repeat.

The block is there both to stop you from kicking over and to eliminate the fear of falling over. This will help you practice the hand placement on the beam as well as balance. Your thumbs should be together, and your fingers wrap around the side of the beam. Arms straight, tight body, eyes on the beam.

Front Walkover Drill 1
Start this one on the floor or a floor beam.

  1. Kick into a handstand split.
  2. Let your lead leg drop to the beam.
  3. Look toward the beam and toward your leg so you can spot the placement.
  4. Hold for a moment.
  5. From here, with your leg lifted, push your hips forward to stand up in locked position.
  6. Repeat.

Front Walkover Drill 2
Now try the same on the low beam.

  1. Stack panels to the height of the beam at one end of the beam.
  2. Kick into a handstand split with your hands on the beam.
  3. Lower your lead leg to the beam.
  4. Look toward the beam and toward your leg so you can spot the placement.
  5. Hold for a moment.
  6. From here, with your leg lifted, push your hips forward to stand up in locked position.
  7. Repeat.

Back Walkover Prep Drill
Start this one on the floor or a floor beam.

  1. With your arms by your ears, stand and lift one leg.
  2. Lifting from your rib cage, begin to arch back.
  3. Try to see the line or beam behind you.
  4. Stand back up to locked position.
  5. Repeat.

Back Walkover Drill 1
Start this one on the floor or a floor beam. It can help to have your coach spot you the first time you try this.

  1. With your arms by your ears, stand and lift one leg.
  2. Lifting from your rib cage, begin to arch back.
  3. Try to see the line or beam behind you.
  4. Continue reaching until your hands hit the floor or beam and you’re in a bridge position.
  5. Kick over into a handstand split.
  6. Hold your handstand position.
  7. Step down into a lunge or locked position with your arms by your ears.
  8. Repeat.

Back Walkover Drill 2
Try this on the low beam.

  1. Stack panel mats at one end of the beam.
  2. Stand on the mats.
  3. With your arms by your ears, lift one leg.
  4. Lift from your rib cage, and begin to arch back.
  5. Look for the beam behind you.
  6. Place your hands on the beam.
  7. Kick over into a handstand split.
  8. Hold your handstand position.
  9. Step down into a lunge or locked position with your arms by your ears and stand on the beam.
  10. Repeat.

How to Do Advanced Beam Drills

To practice more advanced dismounts, stack mats higher than the beam at one end of the beam. This way you can practice tumbling uphill—the goal is to over-rotate your timer, whether it’s a back tuck, layout, or full, so that you land on your back on the tumbling mats.

How to Become a Better Athlete

Want to become a better athlete? From training regimens to mental preparedness, learn everything you need to enhance your athletic abilities with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain exclusive access to video lessons taught by world champions, including Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, World No. 1-ranking tennis player Serena Williams, and six-time NBA All-Star Stephen Curry.

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