When choosing the best practice balance beam, you should consider who will be using it, what it will be used for and where it will be used. There are many types of balance beams that come in a variety of sizes, shapes and coverings. The age, size and ability of the gymnast should determine which balance beam to choose. A practice balance beam that is used to learn a new trick would be different from one used to master a gymnastic balance beam routine. Finally, you should consider whether the practice balance beam will be outdoors, in a gym or for home use.
Children, gymnasts and adults need different practice balance beams, so your choice will depend on who will be using it. In general, a kids’ balance beam is lower, shorter, wider and softer than an adult balance beam. An intermediate or advanced gymnast would want to learn new tricks on a beginner’s balance beam. As the gymnast improves, he or she will progressively master the trick on a intermediary practice beam before attempting it on the high beam. An adult in physical therapy might use a small, short balance beam to improve balance in conjunction with other balance equipment such as a balance disk.
If you want a practice balance beam for training purposes, it likely will be be much shorter than a professional balance beam. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) sets the standards for all gymnastics equipment and has defined the height of a balance beam to be about 4.1 feet (exactly 1.25 m). When starting out, a beginner might use a practice balance beam that is resting flat on the floor. As the gymnast’s skill improves, he or she might use a practice beam that has short legs that raise the beam a few inches (a few centimeters) or a few feet (a meter) off the ground. Some practice balance beams' height can be adjusted, so you might choose an adjustable beam if the gymnast is beginning but it likely to progress.
Newcomers to the balance beam might want to start with a wider beam, so you might need to consider various widths. Standard balance beams are about 4 inches (10 cm) wide and rectangular in shape. Wooden balance beams can be made as wide as necessary. A high-density foam balance beam is great for learning because it is trapezoidal shaped, with a wider base than top. Sprung beams, with springs inside, come only in the standard width.
The length of your practice balance beam should correspond with the space you have available for gym equipment. A balance beam gym would have the space necessary for a full practice beam that is 16 feet (5 m) long. A playground balance beam might not be a straight beam but a zig-zag or other shape, with an indefinite length.
A practice balance beam’s covering determines its slipperiness. A carpeted balance beam is the least slippery, and provides a little cushion in case of falls. Foam balance beams are covered with vinyl, which might be slippery if feet and hands are sweaty, but they provide the softest landing. A competitive gymnast would want to get used to a suede balance beam. Outdoor balance beams need to stand up to the elements and typically are made out of uncovered wood, metal or plastic.