How to Improve Your Balance on a Beam
You might make it look easy when it comes to running around the floor exercise at gymnastics. But the world looks a little different when you’re on a four-inch-wide balance beam that’s four feet off of the ground. This guide describes techniques that will improve your balance and boost your confidence.
Don’t Forget the Floor
Before you do any skill on a beam, you should be able to perform it solidly on the floor first. Practice landing your skills — cartwheels, leaps, jumps — on a chalk or tape line on the floor. Don’t slack just because you can’t fall off of the floor. Fight for the landings the way you would on the beam.
Perfect the Landing Position
Speaking of landings, make sure you know the proper landing position for each skill:
- Handstands: You’ll finish in a lunge with your dominant leg in front, bent in demi-plie (a slightly flexed knee).
- Cartwheels: On the flip side, a cartwheel requires a lunge with your non-dominant leg in front.
- Jumps with two feet: You should land with one foot slightly in front of the other, with the balls of your feet hitting first. Your knees should bend slightly to absorb the landing.
- Leaps: Like a handstand, your dominant leg will typically land first.
You’ll also want your hips and shoulders to be square on all landings.
Being “square” on the beam means that your hips and shoulders are facing the end of the beam with your stomach hollow. It’s easy to lose balance when one shoulder dips down or your hips twist. By “squaring” your hips and shoulders, your center of gravity remains over the beam, providing a sturdy base for landing and transitioning into skills.
Hot Tip: Beat the Beam
Maybe your wobbles have more to do with the height of the beam than your skills. If that’s the case, try these tricks to build your confidence:
- Stack mats all the way up to the level of the high beam as you work on your new skills. When your confidence grows, remove one mat. Then another mat. Continue this progression until you don’t need any extra mats.
- Keep your eyes on the beam. It’s easy to get distracted when other gymnasts are practicing on the events around you. It’s also easy to panic when you see how high off the ground you are! Look at the end of the beam as your focal point, and take some deep breaths.
To fine-tune your muscles for perfect landings, here are some simple exercises:
- Hold the lunge: Get into a lunge position with your front and back feet slightly turned out, arms above your head, and torso hollow. Squeeze your legs toward each other, as if you’re holding a piece of paper between them. Hold for ten seconds, and repeat. Practice this exercise on both legs.
- Prepare to jump: Place one foot slightly in front of the other. Keep your arms next to your ears, and round your hips. Now swing your arms down near your hips while bending your knees. Quickly lift your arms and push up into releve, making your body hollow. Practice ten in a row without breaking rhythm. This exercise emphasizes both the landing and takeoff position of the jump.
To up your beam game, you’ll need strong calf muscles and ankles to help you stay high on your toes in releve. These exercises target the key muscles responsible for your overall beam performance.
- Stand on the beam so that your heels are hanging off of the edge, feet together. Rise quickly into releve, pressing the balls of your feet into the beam. Lower down slowly, and repeat.
- When using two feet becomes too easy, try this alternative: Stand on one foot and point your other foot to your ankle. Lift into releve and then lower back down. Make sure that you extend your foot all the way when you’re up on toe.
- Walk across the beam in releve without bending your knees. Maintain a hollow torso and keep your arms tight. When you get to the end of the beam, perform a pivot turn and walk back the other way, staying on toe with straight legs.
Olympic gymnasts make the beam look easy — that is, after they’ve put in years of practicing on the floor, perfecting their landings, and working on their strength. Remember that if you’re leery of the high beam, you can stack mats under the beam until you feel more confident. And as you now know, it’s perfectly cool to be square on beam!