Balance beams used in international gymnastics competitions must conform to the guidelines and specifications set forth by the International Gymnastics Federation Apparatus Norms brochure. Several companies manufacture and sell beams, including AAI (USA), Jannsen and Fritsen (Europe) and Acromat (Australia).
Most gymnastics schools purchase and use balance beams that meet the FIG's standards, but some may also use beams with carpeted surfaces for practice situations. While learning new skills, gymnasts often work on low beams that have the same dimensions and surface of regulation apparatus, but are set a very short distance from the ground. They may also work on practice beams, mini beams or lines on the mat
Originally, the beam surface was plain polished wood. In earlier years, some gymnasts competed on a beam made of basketball-like material. However, this type of beam was eventually banned due to its extreme slipperiness. Since the 1980s, beams have been covered in leather or suede. In addition, they are now also sprung to accommodate the stress of high-difficulty tumbling and dance skills.
Measurements of the apparatus are published by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) in the Apparatus Norms brochure.