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Gymnastics 101: Apparatus Guide

Aly Raisman stares at beam at 2012 London Olympics
USA Today Sports

Gymnastics 101: Apparatus Guide

First thing to know: the plural of apparatus is apparatus. 

Apparatus used by both men and women are the floor and the vault.

Floor Exercise

The Mat
The performance area has surface elasticity to allow for power during take-off and softness for landing. The cover material is foam covered with heat-absorbing felt carpet, designed to not cause skin burns.

Dimensions: 12x12 meters (40x40 feet)

The Routine:

Women's floor routines are performed to music and last between 70 and 90 seconds. A gymnast is required to cover the entire floor area during his or her exercise. Women's routines combine dance movements and sequences with a variety of tumbling and acrobatic elements. Required elements include: two acrobatic series, one with at least two or more saltos; and a dance series with at least two elements. The various maneuvers should be blended harmoniously. Mood, tempo and direction should vary.

Men's floor routines, unaccompanied by music, must last between 50 and 70 seconds and feature three to five tumbling passes performed in at least two directions. Also included are a variety of tumbling and acrobatic elements, combined with other gymnastics elements such as strength and balance, elements of flexibility, handstands and choreographic combinations. Each routine must include at least one forward and one backward tumbling series. A static balance or strength element (held for two seconds), during which the gymnast demonstrates his ability to rest on one leg or arm, must also be incorporated. Transitional skills should be executed with proper rhythm and harmony.



The Vaulting Table
The vaulting apparatus used in international competition was officially replaced in 2001. Instead of the traditional rectangular vaulting "horse," the apparatus is now a larger vaulting "table." The new structure was designed to be safer -- both in the push-off area and in collision situations -- with protective padding. It is designed to evenly distribute rebound across the whole surface. The body of the vault is made from heavy-duty, galvanized steel. The gymnast takes off from a birchwood springboard with hardened chrome silicon steel springs, giving the vaulter added speed and height. The runway is one meter wide (about 3 feet) and 25 meters long (about 82 feet). It is covered with 25-millimeter thick felt carpet with an anti-slip springboard zone and distance indicators.

The Vaults
Vaults are quick but complicated. Gymnasts gather speed running toward the vaulting table, launch themselves off the springboard toward the vault, then propel themselves into the air with a push off the vault, then execute a combination of twists and somersaults before landing on the mat with as much control as possible. Marks are awarded for the control of the body and the landing position. The majority of women do "Yurchenko" style vaults, which involve a round-off onto the springboard and a back handspring onto the table, while men typically choose "Tsukahara" vaults -- a forward entry with a quarter or half turn onto the table.

Vault height (men): 1.35 meters (4 feet, 5 inches)
Vault height (women): 1.25 meters (4 feet, 3 inches)
Vault length: 1.20 meters (3 feet, 11 inches)
Vault width: 95 centimeters (3 feet, 1 inch)
Approach run: 25 meters (82 feet)

Apparatus used by just women are the balance beam and uneven bars.

Balance beam

The balance beam is made of aluminum and covered with vinyl, with foam padding on the top.

Height from floor: 1.25 meters (about 4 feet)
Length: 5 meters (16 feet, 5 inches)
Width: 10 centimeters (4 inches)

The Routine
Requirements for beam routines include a connection of two different dance elements, one with a split of 180 degrees, a turn on one foot, an acrobatic series of at least two flight elements, acrobatic skills in different directions (forward, sideward or backward) and a dismount. A good beam performer exhibits flexibility, rhythm, balance and elegance. A beam exercise must last no more than 90 seconds; a deduction will occur if the routine is not within that time frame. If a gymnast grasps the beam to avoid a fall, she incurs a 0.50 point penalty from her execution score. If she falls off the beam, she incurs a 1.00 point penalty and has 10 seconds to remount and continue her routine.

Uneven Bars

The Bars
The two uneven bars are oval and are made of a fiberglass core covered with a birch wood laminate. The bars are parallel to each other, but the distance between them can be adjusted depending on the size of the gymnast.

Height of upper bar from floor: 2.46 meters (8 feet)
Height of lower bar from floor: 1.66 meters (5 feet, 5 inches)
Length of bars: 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10 inches)
Distance between bars: 1.3 to 1.8 meters (4 feet, 3 inches to 5 feet, 11 inches)

The Routine
Continuous swinging movements are predominant on this apparatus. The exercise should include movements in both directions, above and below the bars. The gymnast must move from the high bar to the low bar, incorporating grip changes, releases and catches, and circle swings through the handstand position. Elements with twists and somersaults with multiple grip changes and high flight should be demonstrated for maximum scoring. If a gymnast falls, she incurs a 1.00 point penalty from her execution score and has 30 seconds to get back on the bars and resume her routine. The gymnast also incurs a full point deduction if she hits the mat with her feet during the routine.  


Apparatus used by just men are the high bar, parallel bars, rings and pommel horse.

High Bar

The Bar
The high bar, also called the horizontal bar, is made of extremely high-tension stainless steel. It is supported and stabilized by columns and a dual cable tension system.

Height: 2.8 meters (9 feet, 2 inches)
Length: 2.4 meters (7 feet, 9 inches)
Bar diameter: 2.8 centimeters (1 1/8 inches)

The Routine
A routine consists exclusively of swinging movements without interruption and with various grip positions. The gymnast should perform continuous clean movements and must not touch the bar with his body. Requirements include changes of grip and swinging movements both forward and backward. The gymnast also must execute at least one move in which he releases the bar and has a visible flight phase before re-grasping the bar. A good dismount is high, acrobatic and cleanly landed.

Parallel Bars

Height: 2 meters (6 feet, 6 inches)
Length: 3.5 meters each (11 feet, 6 inches)
Distance between bars: 42 to 52 centimeters (16 1/2 to 20 1/2 inches)

The Routine
A parallel bars routine consists primarily of swinging and flight elements, plus intermittent holds. The gymnast should travel along and work both above and below the bars. Requirements include two swinging elements, one in support and one from a hang. The exercise may contain at most three stop or hold parts. Additional pauses equal to or greater than a second are not permitted.

Still Rings

The Rings
The rings are made from multiple layers of wood and are attached to long, non-twisting, pre-stressed, plastic-covered, stainless steel cables with a shock absorption system.

Height: 2.8 meters above the floor (9 feet, 2 inches)
Distance between rings: 50 centimeters (1 foot, 8 inches)
Diameter of rings: 18 centimeters (7 inches)
Length of cables: 3 meters (9 feet, 9 inches)

The Routine
Ring routines should include a variety of movements demonstrating strength, support and balance. The gymnast should perform a series of swings and holds with both forward and backward elements and the routine should finish with an acrobatic dismount. Gymnasts are also required to hold all strength and handstand positions for a minimum of two seconds. Deductions will be taken for unnecessary swings.

Pommel Horse

The Horse
The pommel horse is a rigid wood body covered with foam and high-quality chrome leather. The pommels are mounted on an alloy base and are covered with a rubber compound designed for a good grip.

Height: 1.15 meters (3 feet, 9 inches)
Length at the top: 1.6 meters (5 feet, 3 inches)
Width: 35 centimeters (13 1/2 inches)
Distance between pommels: 40 to 45 centimeters (15 1/2 to 17 1/2 inches)
Height of pommels: 12 centimeters (4 1/2 inches)

The Routine
During the pommel horse routine, a gymnast must cover all three areas of the horse - the middle and both ends, divided by handles - while performing continuous, circular movements interrupted only by required scissors movements. The hands are the only part of the body that should touch the apparatus. The entire exercise should flow with a steady, controlled rhythm, with at least one element of value performed on both ends of the horse. 

Gymnastics 101

Learn more about gymnastics:

Basics | Competition format | Scoring | Qualification | Venue | Equipment | Apparatus | Glossary | Olympic History

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