Safety Tips For Using The Balance Beam

The balance beam seems like a scary gymnastics apparatus, but it can be the most satisfying when you approach it calmly and confidently.

Many gymnasts consider the balance beam to be their nemesis, but personally, it's my favorite event. It seems crazy to flip, twirl, and tumble on a 4" wide surface 4 feet above the ground, and it probably is. Still, it's unbelievably gratifying to dismount, land firmly on the ground and know that you didn't fall off. Maybe you didn't even bobble.

But how do you get to that point without breaking your neck? Well, if you practice correctly, which means safely, you shouldn't have any problems. Don't expect this to be a quick process, though. You start on the floor.

That's right. Move away from the balance beam and find a humble straight line on the floor. I like to start with cartwheels because you can watch both your hands and your feet as they touch the straight line. Make sure you get your last foot on the straight line, too. It's tempting to celebrate when you get that first foot down, but you're not done yet, and if you don't get that back foot down, you'll fall once you're up in the air.

After you're able to stay on the straight line consistently, meaning many times in a row, you're ready to move up to the low beam. A low beam looks just like a regular beam except it's only 6" to a foot off the ground. You can even pile nice thick gymnastics mats up to be even with the beam, and for blind moves, like front tucks, or even semi-blind moves, like back-handsprings, you'll have to include this step. But for our cartwheel, it's optional because you can just step off if you get out of line.

Don't let the 4" wide beam scare you. A lot of your success on balance beam will be determined by your mental toughness. You're going to do that cartwheel just exactly like you did it on the floor. Not a muscle will you twitch because they need to behave just like they did when you practiced on the floor.

After this becomes a piece of cake, you remove the mats and continue to practice on the low beam until you can do it with your eyes closed. Just kidding. Don't close your eyes. But do allow your muscles to remember what it feels like at each position during the cartwheel.

At this point, your fingers and toes will begin to make friends with the beam, gripping it during their turn. You don't need to consciously do this. Your body instinctively knows how to make itself more stable. When you realize that your body is helping you out in this way, your confidence grows.

Just like before, when you can do your cartwheel consistently on the low beam, move on to the high beam. The first time you try it, breathe deeply and remind yourself, because it's easy to forget, that this is the very same cartwheel you did on the low beam and, long ago, on the floor on that humble straight line.

You fall a couple of times, but that's what the mat down there is for, right? And it doesn't hurt. If you need to regain some confidence, go back to the low beam for a while until you're sticking it every time again. Then go back to the high beam and tell yourself you can do it.

You can. I can't emphasize enough that confidence is the key when it comes to balance beam. When you're lying in bed at night waiting for sleep to come, picture yourself sticking that cartwheel on the high beam, sticking it every single time. Remind yourself what it feels like for each of your limbs to come down on the beam in exactly the right position. It feels so good, and when you anticipate that feeling and tell yourself you can do it, you certainly can.

This is the safe way to learn a trick on the balance beam. Of course, your coach and good safe mats will help, but taking it slowly and confidently, one step at a time, is the key.

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