8 of the Most Common Balance Beam Skills

01
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Balance Beam Skills: Wolf Jump

Alicia Sacramone
© Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

All gymnasts do jumps in their routines, and some are obviously named, such as the straddle jump, pike jump, and split jump. Some, like the wolf jump, are not. For whatever reason, this jump, in which a gymnast jumps and folds at the hips while keeping one leg straight and one bent, is thought to resemble a wolf in some way. It's essentially a pike jump with one leg bent under, and gymnasts often perform it with a twist as well to increase the difficulty level.

Difficulty Level: Easy

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02
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Balance Beam Skills: Switch Leap

Koko Tsurumi
© Adam Pretty / Getty Images

The switch leap is often the beginning of a leap series for gymnasts. When doing it, the gymnast swings one leg forward, then leaps off the other leg while simultaneously swinging that same leg, creating a split with her two legs while in the air before landing back on the beam on her front leg. It sounds complicated, but it's actually a simple move to perform.

Variations include the switch side, in which the gymnast swings her leg then does a quarter turn when she takes off, completing a center split position in the air; and the switch-half, in which a gymnast does a complete half turn rotation of the hips and ends in a split, facing the opposite direction.

Difficulty Level: Easy

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03
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Balance Beam Skills: Full Turn

Jordyn Wieber
© Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

The full turn is often a requirement in balance beam routines, and though it's easy, many gymnasts wobble on it or dislike doing the skill. The gymnast performs a 360-degree turn on one leg while up on toe, with the other leg in a variety of positions -- straight at horizontal, bent in a triangle shape at her ankle, or even high in the air, held by her hand.

Some gymnasts perform more than a full turn, completing a double turn or even a triple turn, called the "Okino" after American gymnast (and fabulous turner) Betty Okino. A few gymnasts have even done quadruple or quintuple turns.

 Difficulty Level: Easy (double, triple and higher turns are hard)

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04
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Balance Beam Skills: Back Handspring to Layout Step-Out

Chinese gymnast Deng Linlin on the beam at the 2010 Asian Games
Deng Linlin (China) competes at the 2010 Asian Games. © Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

One of the most common combinations of skills on beam, the back handspring to layout step-out acrobatic series, is done by many elite gymnasts in the sport. In the '80s and '90s it was common to see a back handspring to multiple layout step-outs (like Dominique Dawes' series here), but in the current era, few gymnasts do more than one because the current Code of Points doesn't reward it. (One notable exception: Three-time world all-around champion Simone Biles does two layouts in a row.)

To do it, the gymnast directly connects a back handspring to what looks in many ways like a no-handed back handspring. Gymnasts must keep their hips in line with the beam at all times in order to stay on.

Difficulty Level: Medium

05
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Balance Beam Skills: Front Aerial

Fan Ye
Fan Ye (China) performs on the balance beam at the 2003 Worlds. © Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

A front aerial looks similar to a layout step-out, it just moves in the opposite direction. The gymnast pushes off of one leg while kicking the other one behind her, flipping forward and arching her back as her her back foot heads back around to the balance beam.

Difficulty Level: Medium

06
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Balance Beam Skills: Front Tuck

Hollie Dykes
© Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

The front tuck is simple to explain (it's just a front flip, in the tucked position), but is not at all simple to do. It involves a blind landing on the beam during which the gymnast can't see her feet until they hit.

Difficulty Level: Medium/Hard

07
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Balance Beam Skills: Back Tuck

Carly Patterson
© Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

It may seem counterintuitive, but most gymnasts view the back tuck as easier than a front tuck to perform on balance beam. The back tuck is simply a back flip in tucked position, and though the gymnast is going head-over-heels backwards, she can see the beam for most of the flip.

Difficulty Level: Easy/Medium

08
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Balance Beam Skills: Arabian

Chellsie Memmel
© Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

The Arabian is super-difficult because it involves a half turn to a front flip while on the beam. Gymnasts do it from a stand (called a standing Arabian) or in combination, usually from a back handspring. Russia's Viktoria Komova has done an impressive back handspring layout step-out to Arabian (at :30) combination, and a few gymnasts have braved a round-off Arabian mount onto the beam.

 

Difficulty Level: Hard