The main requirement for success on beam is to have a beam training system that includes, both beam skill mastery and proper beam equipment progressions. A systematic approach to training is important on all events but is even more critical to success on beam, because of the very small margin for error.
Beam Equipment Progressions
A successful beam training program very much depends on following, not only beam skill progressions, but the proper beam equipment progressions. The primary lesson of beam equipment progressions is that skills should be learned and mastered first with correct technique and without any worry about falling off a beam. When a gymnasts learns skills on the floor and foam floor beam perfectly, moving up the rest of the beam equipment progressions is easy.
Teach Skills on Beam? Not!
I don’t know how many times I have gone into a gym and see coaches spotting gymnasts on skills on high beam that they obviously cannot even come close to doing by themselves at all, much less do correctly. And I mean everything from cartwheels to flip-flop layouts. Adding even a small element of fear completely distracts gymnasts from doing skills properly and with ideal technique. If that is the way gymnasts learn skills for beam, they will almost never do the skills with perfectly correct technique. When gymnasts have to worry about getting their hands or feet on the beam to avoid falling and getting hurt, that is a distraction from fully concentrating on learning and doing a skill correctly. The resulting skill execution then suffers from technical errors resulting from learning it on the beam, instead of the floor.
Master Skills on Floor
The first step in a successful beam training system is to completely master skills on floor. Notice that I did not say “do” skills on floor. I said “Master skills on floor.” To be able to control skills on beam and complete them consistently, you need to master their execution on floor first. One of the (only?) advantages of the old Olympic Compulsories was that gymnasts had to master basic skills and perform them with style. It was not (and still is not) okay to just do skills, they must be done technically correctly and with flair and style. A lack of sophistication in the execution of beam skills on floor means that gymnasts are not really ready to do them on the beam yet.
Master All Variations on Floor First
So many coaches put gymnasts up on beam too soon with skills. Too many gymnasts get a skill on floor and right away rush it up onto beam. Don’t get me wrong – we all want beam skills and want to learn and get them on beam at a good rate of speed, but we are more interested in making rapid long-term progress and building the proper skill basics to allow future success on beam. To do this, gymnasts should learn each variety of a skill on floor before they put it up on beam or even before they pick which variation and style they are going to use on beam. Variations can include two-foot landings, step-outs, different arm lifts, one-arm variations, etc., depending on what type of skill it is.
Practice on Floor the Way You are Going to Do Them on Beam
I see so many gymnast practicing or warming up skills for beam in a way that cannot possibly help them on beam. The most common example I see is gymnasts doing back handsprings for beam on floor with their hands 12 – 18 inches apart. This is of little to no value in helping gymnasts get real practice for beam. It gives them absolutely no practice in doing the skill correctly for beam and can potentially be building a bad beam habit.
Master on Foam Floor Beam
One of the solutions for gymnasts who don’t seem to practice beam skills on floor the way they should is to use a foam floor beam. The great thing about these foam floor beams is that they are as safe as doing a skill on floor but the gymnast knows for sure whether they are on the beam or not. Girls can go all out for skills and not have to worry one bit about falling off and get instant accurate feedback about whether they stayed on or not. Gymnasts can experiment with different styles and variations of skills without worry. Every gym and gymnast should have foam floor beams in their beam equipment progression arsenal.
Dance and Tumbling
Because some beam skills are not as difficult or dangerous to do on a high beam, again you see gymnasts trying to learn skills on a high beam. A successful beam training system works for all beam skills, not just beam tumbling skills. Where is the place to master a 180 degree split leap for beam? The same place where you master a flight series for beam – on the floor first and then on a foam floor beam. All jumps, leaps, turns and other beam/dance skills should be mastered using the proper beam equipment progressions.
Favorite Beam Equipment
In case you did not already notice, the foam floor beam is my favorite piece of beam training equipment. Deary Gym Supply has a 16′ foam floor beam for only $92.00, the best current price. You should definitely get the 16 foot length, so you will be able to fit any and every tumbling series and skill you will ever want to do on beam. My second favorite floor beam is the 16′ Basic Competitor’s Suede Floor Beam from GMR. I firmly believe that every gym should have multiple sets of both beams in their gym, set up all the time for beam training.
Overtrain Skills for Beam
Perhaps no gymnastics event benefits from overtraining more than balance beam. The ability and confidence that comes from over training skills on beam leads to confident and consistent beam skill and routine execution. For example, when a gymnast is going to compete a back walkover or back handspring on beam, learning to do a one-arm back walkover or back handspring on beam (or even on the foam floor beam) can give a gymnast tremendous confidence. “You mean I get to use both arms when I compete? How easy will that be?”
Your Beam Training System
The above information should give you a good idea of how and what should be in your beam training system. Not every gym has all the equipment or the same equipment, so there may be some minor variations, but the important part is that you have a beam training system and that you use it and stick to it for all your beam skills and routines.