Buying the Best Kind Of Practice Beam

Subject: Best Kind of Practice Beam?

Dear Coach,

What is the best kind of practice beam that can be bought for the home environment. My daughter is 6.5 yrs old and is on a mini-team at the local competitive gym. Should we buy one that is a but 5 inches off the floor or one that rests directly on the floor (4 inches on top and 6 inches on the bottom). What is the advantage and disadvantages of both items. Also, what length is best?

First, for a general discussion of buying home gymnastics equipment, you may want to read about that topic first. Turns out that you should most likely buy additional mats for home equipment, so the cost may be more than you thought and there are other considerations, too.

Beam practice is one of those things that a gymnast is not likely to ever have too much of. While we would like all gymnastic practice, especially beam, to be closely supervised, there are things that can be worked on at home. In fact, our “Secrets To Staying on Beam” book details many of these very skills and drills.

In addition to the two beam types you mentioned, we have a third that you might consider, the foam beam that is 4 inches wide and about 1 & ½ inches high. This is actually our favorite and what we consider the most important training beam in the gym, especially at the early stages of a gymnast’s career and at the beginning of skill training progressions. If your gymnast does not have access to or does not regularly use one of these at the gym, I would certainly consider buying one of these. They are hard foam and either come with a suede-like beam cover or the original layered foam model.

This beam is hard enough for any size gymnast to practice balance skills. It is low enough that ankle sprains are not likely even if the foot partially misses the hard foam beam. With a 4-foot wide mat under it, it is great for working on beam tumbling skills, including and especially for working on round-offs.

If the beam has Velcro on the bottom, that makes it good for sticking directly onto a rug, if you are not going to buy additional mats (not highly recommended). The hard layered foam model approximates the solid feel and soft pad of a real beam. The suede-like covered model has the same surface texture as a real beam.

This beam is appropriate for both beam balance skills, like outlined in our Staying on Beam e-Book, and if used with sufficient matting is useful for any level of beam tumbling. Recommended minimum matting would be a 4 foot wide, 1 & ¼ inch thick panel mat the length of the foam beam, preferably plus an additional 4 – 6 feet of the same matting or a crash mat at one end of the foam beam. This is the absolute minimum matting requirement and is the same for any home beam.

As far as the beam that rests directly on the floor (4 inches on top and 6 inches on the bottom). The foam beam that is 4 inches on the top and wider at the bottom (4 – 7 inches, depending on the model) is most appropriate for tumbling skills. But usually the foam in this foam beam is too soft to get the same feel as on regular beam when doing balancing and dance skills. Since it would be used more and is more effective for learning tumbling, we would believe that additional mats on the sides (and the end) would be a safety requirement. One of the advantages of this beam seems to be that its softness and wider base again protect from ankle sprain injuries from partially missing the beam.

The beam that is raised five inches and the beam that sits on the floor are hard (usually wooden) carpeted beams that may or may not be padded. They may even be similar to or exactly like the low beams used in the gym. These beams are pretty much limited to practicing balance and control skills (e.g, cartwheels and back walkovers, but not back handsprings. They are not appropriate for doing tumbling and new skills without considerable expensive matting.

The primary problem with these beams is that the bases of the beam are hazards if a gymnast falls or steps off the beam onto them. Also I would be very hesitant to set these directly on the floor without putting at least the minimum beam matting would be a 4-foot wide, 1 & ¼ inch thick panel mat the length of the foam beam. The higher the beam the more you need wider mat coverage. If I were to put these beams in a gym, I would only feel comfortable with 4 – 6 inch thick mats on both sides the full length of the beam – a considerable expense for a home piece of equipment.

As far as the length of the beam, most less than regulation length home beams are useful only for single skills and not useful for skill combinations, the correct approach for leaps and practicing routines. If there is sufficient room, I would always opt for the full 16 foot long beam.

My personal choice – a full 16′ length hard foam floor beam – which with matting can be used for both tumbling and balance skills at any level and used to practice full routines.

Next I like the foam beam that is 4 inches on the top and wider at the bottom. Again I could never bring myself to not put it on at least the minimum 4-foot wide, 1 & ¼ inch thick panel mat the whole length of the beam. This is a fun beam and one that with proper matting can be used to learn and practice new tumbling skills. It is less useful for balance and dance skills because it is softer and therefore has a different feeling than a regulation beam, but still can be used to practice them.

My last choice would be the hard regulation type beams, which are pretty much useful only for balance elements and control skills that a gymnast already has somewhat mastered. In terms of safety, they also require more matting to be truly safe and that is more expensive.

Finally, I would look at whether I really wanted to invest in the expense of home equipment with enough mats to be safe with or whether I wanted to use the money to secure additional training for my gymnast like private lessons, gymnastics camps and clinics.

Since your daughter is young and likely not going to the gym every day, she will likely get some fun and use from a home beam until she starts going to the gym every day. Please remember that while mats may seem expensive now, they are in no way nearly as expensive as an injury, both in terms of money and pain. Safety first always!

Good luck to you and your daughter.

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