Buy And/Or Build Home Balance Beam(s)

Ask The Coach
Subject: Foam floor beam or low beam for home use

Sex: female
Age: 8
Gymnastics Level: 4 (moving to 5 next week)

I am looking into buying either a foam floor beam or a low beam for my daughter to practice beam complexes at home (I just bought your book). I found a used low beam for about the same price as a foam floor beam. I know you usually recommend a foam beam, but given the price is not a factor, does that change your recommendation?

Thanks for your time.

It doesn’t change my recommendation. While price is certainly a factor, safety is the first concern. A foam floor beam is, essentially, just training on the floor, with a device that gives kinesthetic feedback, about whether you stay on or fall off the beam. The foam floor beam is “impossible” to fall off of since it is, essentially, just an extension of the floor.

Foam Floor Beam is “Safer”

Even a regulation low beam can have more serious safety and injury consequences than a foam floor beam, if a gymnast misses a hand, a foot, both hands or falls over out of a handstand, for example. The low regulation beam is still a hard surface (not always wood anymore, but as hard as wood), while the foam floor beam is foam (hard foam, but still foam).

More Skills They Can Practice

The perception, by a gymnast, is that a foam beam is the same as the floor and their choice of skills they are comfortable practicing will, essentially, be the same as they can do on floor. This gives them more skills they can practice in a non-regulation matted situation. The foam floor beam is definitely the more versatile and safer of the two choices for home.

Definitely Use Safety Mat

Incidentally, I hope you are also going to get at least an 1.25″ thick roll-fold type mat to put under either purchase. While most of the balance exercises, in Secrets to Staying on Beam are safe to do without extra matting, eventually, your gymnast is going to start doing, or wanting to do, tumbling skills and at least a minimum of padding for safety should be a requirement. If you do not purchase a mat to go under the whole beam, you should place it on thickly padded carpet, at least.

Regulation Beams Better for Handstand Training

A regulation low beam is actually better for beam handstand training than a foam floor beam (and your daughter’s compulsory beam routines have two handstands). The foam floor beam does not allow gymnasts to grip their hands around the beam in the same way they will grip onto a competition beam. This does not mean that handstand practice on a foam floor beam is wasted, but the training is not as specific. For safety, gymnasts at your daughter’s level should probably still be doing all their home handstand training against a wall (so they don’t fall over) and that includes their beam handstand training (for both side handstands and English handstands).

Finding Handstand Practice Wall Space for Full Length Beams

Since it may be hard to find space, in your house where a full 16′ length beam can be placed by a wall, to do cartwheel to handstands against the wall, without major furniture moving, you simply roll up one end of the foam floor beam (depending on which way your daughter does her cartwheel to handstand) and shorten the beam to 4′ – 5′ length.

Buy or Build Your Own Short “Regulation” Beam

The other option is to use a short “regulation” beam just for handstands against the wall. You can buy a 4′ beam from any number of equipment suppliers. But these can be custom built much more inexpensively from a 2″ x 10″ that is  10 – 12 foot long. Rip the 2″ x 10″ just under 4″ wide and cut to your daughter’s “natural handstand length” (plus room to grow), stack the boards 3 or 4 high, glue and screw them together, round and sand the top edges and put on a flat base to stabilize.

What is Natural Handstand Length

Your daughter’s natural handstand length (just a term I made up to explain this) just means the amount of distance she needs to do a stretched reach into handstand. You can test that by just having her do a handstand on the floor and measuring from her back foot in the starting position to the end of where her hands reach into the handstand. Allow some length for her growing later.

Share With Your Gym Coaches and Owners

If you do decide to go with a foam floor beam, let your coaches and gym owner know of the deal you found. Gyms can never have too many beam stations.

Do you want to learn the same beam secrets Nadia Comaneci used for her 10.0 Olympic routine?

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