The Uneven Bars in Gymnastics

Young gymnast performing on uneven bars

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The uneven bars are an apparatus in women's artistic gymnastics. The bars are the second exercise, completed after the vault. In Olympic order: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor.

The uneven bars are sometimes called the "uneven parallel bars," "asymmetric bars" or simply the "bars."

Dimensions of the Uneven Bars

The bars are parallel to each other and set at different heights, with the low bar at about 5 and a half feet, and the high bar usually taller than 8 feet.

This height is adjustable, and Junior Olympic gymnasts and collegiate gymnasts often use the bars at different heights. For elite gymnasts, however, these measurements are standardized.

The width between the bars is approximately 6 feet. Again, this is adjustable in Junior Olympics and collegiate gymnastics but not in international elite competitions.

Types of Uneven Bar Skills

The most recognizable skills on uneven bars are release moves, pirouettes, and circles.

In a release move, a gymnast lets go of the bar and then re-grasps it. He or she can perform a release move from the high bar to the low bar, from the low bar to the high bar or on the same bar.

Common release moves for advanced gymnasts include the Jaeger, Tkatchev/reverse hecht, Gienger, Pak salto, and Shaposhnikova. These skills are named after the first person who performed the move and then submitted it to a special committee, so these sometimes unusual names are just the names of gymnasts. 

In a pirouette, a gymnast turns on her hands while in the handstand position. She may use a variety of different hand positions during the turn.

Circles, such as giants and free hip circles, are exactly like they sound: The gymnast circles the bar, either stretched out in a handstand or with his or her hips close to the bar.

A Bar Routine

Gymnasts perform three phases of a bar routine:

1. The Mount

Most gymnasts simply hop onto the low bar or high bar and get started. Sometimes, though, a gymnast will do a more interesting mount, such as jumping over the low bar or even doing a flip to catch the bar.

2. The Routine

A bar routine consists of about fifteen to twenty skills and should flow from one move to the next and use both bars. There shouldn't be any pauses or extra swings. There is no time limit on bars, but routines usually last only about 30 to 45 seconds.

Combining two or more skills together earns the gymnast a higher difficulty score, and you'll see many gymnasts attempt pirouettes immediately into release moves or even pair multiple release moves.

Good form is important throughout. The judges are looking for straight legs, pointed toes and an extended body in handstand positions.

3. The Dismount

To dismount, the gymnast lets go of the bar, performs one or more flips and/or twists and lands on the mat below. Both height and distance from the bar are judged. The goal of every gymnast is to stick the landing on his or her dismount. That is to land without moving his or her feet.

The Best Bar Workers

The uneven bars have not always been a strong event for the United States, but there are still stand-out competitors.

Olympic champion Nastia Liukin excelled in the event, winning the Olympic silver medal, two world silver medals, and one world gold. Watch Nastia Liukin on the bars here.

Gabby Douglas led the U.S. team on the uneven bars at the 2012 Olympics and made the individual event finals there as well. Watch Gabrielle Douglas on the bars.

Madison Kocian tied for gold at the 2015 world championships. Watch Madison Kocian on the bars.

Worldwide, Aliya Mustafina (Russia), Viktoria Komova (Russia), Huang Huidan (China) and Fan Yilin (China) have been other top bar workers.

One of the best ever on bars was Russian Svetlana Khorkina. Khorkina won two Olympic golds (1996 and 2000) and five world golds (1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2001) on the event.