Xcel gymnastics. These levels used to strike fear into the hearts of judges, when they were first being developed. The rules were so different from J.O. that some judges said they wouldn’t even judge them! We’ve come a long way since then. The rules make a lot more sense now, and it’s much easier to provide the gymnasts with consistent scoring. I’ll tell you a quick story about Xcel bars from a number of years ago, before many of the current clarifications were in place.

Once, several years ago, I was judging Xcel Gold bars. An entire team from a different state performed a routine beginning with a kip, cast, back hip circle, squat on. At the time, there were no rules listed in the Xcel book that differentiated the extra swings from J.O. rules. So my judging panel deducted for an extra swing. Twice, actually, because the gymnasts performed a similar sequence on the high bar. The coaches were livid. Unfortunately, I had nothing in the rule book to tell us not to take the extra swing deduction. The following year, that rule changed and the extra swings were clarified. If only we had had that clarification a few months earlier!

Xcel bars is an event that can still be difficult to understand, at times. And even if the rules make sense, it can be tough to see all of the errors because bars just moves so fast! No worries. I’ve compiled all the important information about Xcel bars into two articles. This is the first article, featuring the Bronze, Silver, and Gold divisions.

front support on xcel bars

Xcel Bars: Bronze Division

The Bronze Division is the first competitive division in the Xcel program. Bronze level athletes can perform any “A” skills from the Xcel Code of Points, or from the Xcel Bronze chart. Please note, there are four Special Requirements that must be included in the routine. If a Bronze gymnast has extra swings in her routine, no deduction will be taken for the extra swings. Also, there are no deductions for the amplitude of the casts in any Xcel division.

Special Requirements

First, each Special Requirement is worth 0.50. The deduction comes off the Start Value if the Special Requirement is missing.

The Bronze Special Requirements are as follows:

  1. Minimum of 4 “A” skills
  2. Cast (not mount or dismount) in which hips leave the bar
  3. 360° Circling Skill (not mount or dismount)
  4. Dismount from the low bar (no saltos)

Difficulty Restrictions

Next, each Xcel Division has difficulty restrictions. If a gymnast performs a restricted skill, it is a 0.50 deduction from the Start Value, each time.

Here are the Bronze Difficulty Restrictions:

  • No B or harder skills
  • No skills on high bar
  • No salto dismounts
  • No giants on low bar

Considerations for Bronze Bars

Bronze bar routines should be quick. The routine only requires four skills, so do the four skills you need to do, making sure that two of them are a cast and a circling skill, then get off the bar. Since the routines are so quick, it’s hard to get a lot of deductions. However, I have really seen them add up when skills are performed with bent legs, bent arms, and poor body position. These are the three biggest deductions I see in a hit Bronze bar routine. Also, while we can’t take extra swing deductions, we can deduct for rhythm errors. Make sure your Bronze routine flows together nicely, with no pauses or stops between skills.

kip on xcel bars

Xcel Bars: Silver Division

Special Requirements

  1. Minimum of 5 “A” skills
  2. Cast to minimum 45° below horizontal (not mount or dismount)
  3. 360° circling skill (not mount or dismount)
  4. Dismount from low bar or high bar (no saltos)

Difficulty Restrictions

  • No “B” or harder skills
  • No giants on LB or HB
  • No salto dismounts

Considerations for Silver Bars

The Silver cast requirement is only 45° below horizontal, but some gymnasts don’t quite make it. A common reason for this is poor body position. When the judges evaluate a cast, the angle evaluated is from the shoulders to the lowest body part. This means that if the gymnast is arched, a line is drawn from the shoulders to the belly. If the gymnast is piked, the line goes from the shoulders to the feet. A gymnast who has good body position will have the line drawn straight down the length of her body.

If the gymnast has exactly 5 skills in her routine, and her cast is not high enough, she will not only lose the 0.50 Special Requirement for the cast, but she will also lose the 0.50 Special Requirement for lacking 5 skills in the routine. If the cast is questionable, make sure to add an extra skill to satisfy the 5 skill requirement. An easy skill to add in is a glide swing, if the gymnast is already doing a pullover.

Just as in the Bronze division, good body position is very important in Silver. The gymnast should focus on keeping her arms and legs straight, maintaining a hollow body position during her skills, and keeping good rhythm.

Gymnast performing 50 degree cast on xcel bars

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Xcel Bars: Gold Division

Gold is the first division that allows gymnasts to do B skills on bars. In the Gold division, gymnasts can perform any A or B skills from the Xcel Code of Points, with a couple of exceptions. At this level, gymnasts can not perform giants or release moves with a bar change. Any other A or B skills are allowable.

Special Requirements

  1. Minimum of 6 “A” skills
  2. A skill finishing in clear support at or above horizontal (not mount or dismount)
  3. 360° circling skill (not mount or dismount)
  4. Dismount from the high bar

Difficulty Restrictions

  • No “C” or harder skills
  • No giants (LB or HB)
  • No release moves with bar change

Considerations for Gold Bars

Gold gymnasts must perform a skill that finishes in a clear support, at least at horizontal. This skill could be a cast or a circling skill such as a clear hip circle. If the gymnast casts to horizontal, she would not need to perform a clear circling skill (back hip circle would be ok). However, many gymnasts fall short of the horizontal requirement during their cast, and end up losing this 0.50 Special Requirement. Additionally, if the gymnast was counting on the horizontal skill as one of their 6 elements, she could also lose another 0.50 Special Requirement because she now does not have 6 skills.

Gold is the first level in which gymnasts can perform clear hip circles. There are NO amplitude deductions for clear hip circles in the Gold division only. Execution deductions, however, will still apply. A gymnast performing a clear hip circle will want to be sure she can do it with straight arms and good body position in order to minimize deductions.

In the Gold division, just like in the Silver division, gymnasts can perform a tap swing/counterswing or an underswing/counterswing twice, and receive “A” credit both times. If it is performed a third time, no VP credit is given. Execution deductions still apply, but an extra swing deduction will not be taken. A tap swing is a great extra skill to add in if a “buffer” skill is needed for a gymnast that does not always get her cast to horizontal. If the gymnast can perform it with good body position, deductions should be minimal.

Special Circumstances

Xcel gymnastics is unique because there are some rules which only apply within the Xcel divisions. This can be hard to follow, particularly for those who also participate in the J.O. Program! Here are some of the Xcel-specific rules that apply to these routines.

Casting into a skill

When a skill begins with a cast, both the cast and the skill receive separate Value Part credit. This means that the gymnast will receive credit for 2 skills, as long as her cast meets the angle requirement for her division.

Example: Cast sole circle dismount

In a Bronze routine, as long as the hips leave the bar, the cast will receive “A” credit, and so will the sole circle. Total = 2 “A” skills.

In a Silver routine, the cast must reach 45° below horizontal prior to the sole circle in order to receive “A” credit. If the cast meets the criteria, the gymnast will get credit for 2 “A” skills. If not, she will receive 1 “A” skill. This can be important if she is expecting to get the “A” for her cast, and she only has 4 other skills in her routine. She will lose 0.50 Special Requirement credit for only having 4 skills in her routine if she does not add an additional skill.

A Gold routine might include a sole circle dismount off the high bar, and this same concept would apply. For a Gold gymnast, her cast would need to reach horizontal before the sole circle to receive Value Part credit. In my experience, it’s not common for the cast to achieve horizontal before a sole circle. If you have a Gold gymnast doing this dismount, make sure she has 5 other skills and don’t rely on the cast into the sole circle.

Exceptions to the skill/cast rule
  • Cast squat, stoop, or straddle on to high bar
  • Cast shoot through
  • Cast off to stand dismount

All of these skills are worth only 1 “A” Value Part.

Cast Angle Deductions

As stated previously, there are NO cast angle deductions in the Xcel program. Casts are evaluated solely on body position and not amplitude.

Extra Swings

Extra swing deductions are NOT taken at the Bronze, Silver, and Gold divisions. A gymnast can cast as many times as she wants to between skills, and she will not receive an extra swing deduction. She can perform tap swings all day long, and will only receive execution deductions. Once a gymnast reaches the Platinum division, she is allowed to perform one tap swing/counterswing which counts as an A skill. After that, all other tap swings are considered extra swings. Also, in the Platinum division, extra casts between skills will receive the 0.30 extra swing deduction. In the Diamond division, all extra swings receive deductions.

Further Reading

Interested in reading more about Xcel gymnastics? Check out the following articles:

Xcel Vault: What You Should Know

Xcel Bars: Platinum and Diamond

Xcel Beam: How to Score Big

Xcel Floor: How to Score Big

Xcel Bronze Requirements

May 2020 J.O. Updates

References: USA Gymnastics Xcel Code of Points, 2018-2022.