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What is a Balance Beam?

By K T Solis
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The balance beam is a gymnastics apparatus used in women's gymnastics competitions. The wooden beam measures 16.4 feet (5 m.) long and 4 inches (10 cm.) wide. The balance beam stands 4.1 feet (125 cm.) high.

The female gymnast mounts the beam by a vault or jump. She is then required to do a variety of steps including jumps, flips, turns, running, sitting, and posing. A balance beam routine lasts between 70 and 90 seconds. The gymnast must travel the entire the length of the beam. Routines must be performed with flexibility, grace, confidence, and self-control, and points are deducted if the gymnast falls off the balance beam.

In the 1952 Olympic Games, the first balance beam gold medal was awarded. The gold medalist that year was Nina Bocharova from Russia. Nadia Comaneci, from Romania, won the balance beam gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. Comaneci is widely considered to be one of the most gifted gymnasts to ever grace the balance beam. She is famous for performing an elegant routine on the beam during the 1979 World Championships. This feat was accomplished despite blood poisoning she had received from an infected cut on her arm.

Gymnastic coaches around the world saw the perfection of Comaneci's performance on the beam and wanted to learn Romania's secret for churning out rock-solid female gymnasts. They knew it was necessary to teach their gymnasts the Romanian method in order for them to be competitive on the world stage. Romania's balance beam teaching method is called the Romanian Beam Complex and is a training method designed to teach gymnasts how to balance on the beam.

The method is performed by Romanian gymnasts each day before their beam exercises. Drills last between 30 to 45 minutes daily, and the method teaches students how to keep the body centered as the arms and legs move. This manner of training reduces or eliminates the number of times a gymnast falls from the beam. Students are taught to keep their hips and shoulders squared with the apparatus. Hips and feet are turned out, a practice that ballet dancers have employed for centuries.

Another method to train young gymnasts on the beam is the Soviet Beam Complex. In this method, gymnasts practice handstands on the beam in order to build up their strength. This gradual building of strength permits a female gymnast to learn to exhibit greater control on the beam and move about while in a handstand. The Soviet Beam Complex teaches students good landing habits as gymnasts tumble across the beam. By practicing landings in a specific way, a margin of error is created, thereby avoiding or eliminating falls from the beam.

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Discussion Comments

By Scrbblchick — On Apr 10, 2014

@Rotergirl -- Yeah, I saw that performance. I was just a little kid, but I remember it clearly.

Gabby Douglas had an incredible beam routine in the 2012 Olympics, too. I know she got a monster score on it in the team competition. It was like she had velcro on her feet to keep her on the beam.

I love watching balance beam routines. I'm usually torn between, "How did she do that?" and "She makes it look so easy!" when I know it's anything but.

By Rotergirl — On Apr 09, 2014

Balance beam and the uneven bars are the two events that always make me hold my breath, mostly because those are the ones that seem to have the highest degree of danger for the gymnast. A fall on floor exercise might be painful, but probably won't be life-threatening, while a fall from the beam or bars could be extremely serious.

I saw Comaneci's performance in the 1976 Olympics and it was incredible. She was an amazingly talented woman and she's passing on her skills as a teacher now.

A great beam routine is one of the most entertaining 90 seconds in sports.

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