Everything You Need to Know About Gymnastic Floor Exercise

Dominique Dawes of the USA during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia
Dominique Dawes of the USA during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The floor exercise is both a women's artistic gymnastics and men's artistic gymnastics event.

It's the fourth and last of the women's apparatus, competed after vault, uneven bars, and balance beam in Olympic order. Men compete on the floor first when performing in Olympic order (floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar).

Here's what to know about the floor exercise. 

The Floor Mat

The floor exercise is a square, about 40 feet long by 40 feet wide. It's usually made of foam and springs and covered with carpeting.

Types of Floor Skills

Women perform both tumbling and dance skills on the floor, while men do tumbling and occasional strength moves, or flairs and circles.

Dance skills are often similar to the ones shown on beam and include leaps, jumps, and turns.

Men and women usually do four or five tumbling passes in a routine, and the passes often contain multiple flips and twists.

Some examples of difficult tumbling skills include the double-twisting double back done in a tucked or layout position; a back three and a half twist; and Arabian double pikes or double layouts.

There are also combination passes, in which a gymnast performs one or more rebounding skills right in a row, and roll-out skills (at 0:10). Women are prohibited from doing roll-out skills, and there are safety concerns with this type of move.

Men are required to do a strength move, which often looks like a move similar to one done on rings. The gymnast will hold a position for two seconds before moving on to the next skill. Sometimes, male gymnasts will do circles or flairs similar to those done on the pommel horse.

The Top Floor Workers

The Women

American Alexandra Raisman won the gold on floor at the 2012 games and did some of the most difficult tumbling ever done by a woman. Watch Aly Raisman's floor routine.

Simone Biles, world all-around and floor champion in 2013 and 2014, also did some ultra-difficult skills, including a double layout, half twist, incidentally called the Biles. Watch Simone Biles on the floor.

In the women's Code of Points, tumbling has become more emphasized than dance and artistry, so you'll see current floor routines with much more tumbling than choreography.

Russian Ksenia Afanasyeva won the 2011 world title on floor and is a stronger dancer than many top floor workers. Watch Ksenia Afanasyeva on the floor and see her dance skills for yourself.

Other top floor workers have included Romanian Catalina Ponor (2004 Olympic gold medalist and 2012 silver medalist on the floor); Lauren Mitchell (2010 floor world champ and 2009 runner-up); and Sandra Izbasa (2008 Olympic gold medalist on the floor).

Another highly decorated American on floor is Dominique Dawes, a four-time national champion on the event and the 1996 Olympic bronze medalist. Dawes was well-known for her unique back-to-back tumbling passes to start her routine. Watch Dominique Dawes on the floor.

Nellie Kim, who served as president of the FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) Women's Technical Committee, won two Olympic golds on the floor: in 1976 and in 1980 (tied with Nadia Comaneci). Watch Nellie Kim on the floor.

The Men

On the men's side, China's Zou Kai won Olympic gold in both 2008 and 2012, with very difficult tumbling that sometimes exhibits poor form. Watch Zou Kai on the floor.

Japanese gymnast Kenzo Shirai won floor at 2013 worlds with more twists than anyone had ever done before — including a quad twist at the end. 

Olympic all-around champion Kohei Uchimura won the 2012 Olympic silver medal on floor and was the 2011 world champ with a different strategy: slightly less difficult tumbling, but impeccable form. Watch Kohei Uchimura on the floor.

Jake Dalton and Steven Legendre have been two other top American gymnasts on the floor. Dalton won a silver at the 2013 worlds, while Legendre was fifth at both the 2011 and 2013 worlds. Peter Kormann, who won a bronze in 1976, became the first American man to have medaled on the floor at the Olympics.

A Floor Routine

Gymnasts must use the entire floor mat during their routine, but cannot step off the floor mat at any time or a deduction is taken.

A floor routine lasts up to 90 seconds. Women perform to the music of their choice, while men perform without music.

Watch Now: How to Start a Floor Routine in Gymnastics