Monthly Archives: July 2009

Spice Up Your Pilates Palate with GYROTONIC®

Odds are good that if you are teaching Pilates you have heard of GYROTONIC®Gyro, but you might not be familiar with how it can expand and improve your perspective as a Pilates instructor. There are some people who tout the merits of each method as being the “be all, end all” movement experience. Personally, I tend to gravitate toward the philosophy that the more tools you have, the better equipped you are to assist your client’s needs. Even if you do not plan to get certified in GYROTONIC®, it is worthwhile to better understand what it is about and to try a session on your own body to judge for yourself.

GYROTONIC® is the brilliant creation devised by Juliu Horvath utilizing three-dimensional movement with resistance. Although one of my friends affectionately refers to it as “gin and tonic” the name actually derives from “gyro” meaning a circle and “tonic” referring to something that is good for you. There are several pieces of equipment in the GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM®, but the most commonly used piece found in studios is The Pulley Tower. This apparatus consists of two handled wheels attached to a movable bench that sets next to a tower with a weight and pulley system with upper and lower resistance straps.

The genius of this system is that it allows for freedom of movement in all planes in space, while calling upon strength with flexibility to perform the exercises with fluidity and attention to one’s breath. The joints of the body experience lengthened range of motion, and the exercises with handled wheels allow the spine to spiral with complex articulation. This type of spiraling is not practiced using typical push/pull gym equipment, and makes it an ideal exercise method for golfers hoping to improve their swing.

The more extreme demand for shoulder mobility in some of the wheel exercises have allowed my clients with residual problems from shoulder surgeries or injuries to make remarkable improvements in their strength and flexibility. Over time, one of my clients who could barely open her arm laterally after completing physical therapy resumed full range of motion. In the hamstring series, the participant lies supine with legs supported in straps allowing for non-impact full range of hip motion. Several of my clients have commented on how much they enjoy the supported range of motion, and have been able to move from their hip joints without tension.

The GYROTONIC® perspective observes how energy is directed in the body and physical holding patterns from past injuries can be identified (rather than the more placement-driven viewpoint of Pilates). Physical issues tend to reside where there is a break in the flow of energy, so being able to observe this is useful for honing in on areas of concern. Similar to Pilates, the exercises in GYROTONIC® initiate movement from the core, and then radiate the energy outward through the limbs. An ex-dancer client enjoys the rhythmic quality of the movement and says that the exercises can sometimes feel like dancing.

The principles found in the GYROTONIC® exercises can also be performed without equipment (similar to Pilates matwork) using Mr. Horvath’s method called GYROKINESIS®. These specialized exercises are done sitting on a stool or lying on a mat and can be performed separately or complimentarily with GYROTONIC®.

From my perspective, the similarities between GYROTONIC® and Pilates include core driven movement initiation, eccentric strength, attention to breath and its integration with exercises, and the importance of mental participation for body function. Exercises from both methods supply the necessary tools to address and correct dysfunctional compensatory injury patterns through non-impact exercise. Exercises are adaptable to all physical issues, skill levels and body types.

My experience has found Pilates to be more user-friendly and better suited to introductory back injury rehabilitation, while GYROTONIC® mimics our more “real life” three-dimensional complex movement experiences. Pilates seeks balance in the body with bi-lateral development along the sagittal, transversal and coronal planes. GYROTONIC® explores how the body moves through these planes of space with maximum range.

Even though Pilates is now a recognized mainstream exercise method, its widespread popularity did not occur when Jospeh Pilates was alive. Currently GYROTONIC® is not as widely recognized as Pilates, but its versatility and functionality should catapult it into the public arena before long. GYROTONIC® is an “alive” method, constantly evolving and improving under the tutelage of its originator Juliu Horvath. Even if you do not plan to teach GYROTONIC®, studying with first generation teachers is a golden opportunity that should not be missed.

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Addressing Trigger Points to Facilitate Range of Motion

It is common knowledge that stretching can help elongate muscles and reduce stiffness, but there are cases where stretching can actually worsen the situation and increase pain. Stretching a muscle that is already “knotted” and is pulled taut can further irritate it. It can be helpful to release the trigger point (knot) prior to stretching for ease of movement and better range of motion. Although you can refer your client to a massage therapist specializing in myofascial trigger point work, using trigger point release in a Pilates session can expedite improvement for immediate results.

The pioneers of trigger point research, Janet G. Travell, M.D. and David G. Simmons, M.D., define a trigger point as “a highly irritable localized spot of exquisite tenderness in a nodule in a palpable taut band of muscle tissue.” Since we have multiple muscle fibers and these fibers are bundled together to serve a united purpose of joint movement, some of the fibers can remain in a contracted position without all being affected. Releasing the culprits causing irritation can allow the group to work better as a whole. The nodule is very tender to the touch and will elicit a response of discomfort and/or pain when touched depending upon its severity. The pain can be localized to the trigger point or referred to a seemingly unrelated location.

trigger point book picAn excellent user-friendly resource for studio or home use is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief by Clair Davies. This manual takes you through the process of how to find and release the trigger point with diagrams depicting the areas of referred pain. If you want your client to consistently address trigger point release at home, it can be helpful to show your client a picture of the affected muscle and where the referred pain can be found.

Although pressing your fingers into the affected spot can release the tightness, there are tools available that can make this process easier. A tennis ball, Thera Cane, Wooden Knobble, myofascial release balls or foam rollers can all be useful. Doing the work without equipment can improve your ability to find the trigger points by touch, but over time using tools can prevent excessive wear and tear on your hands. In addition, the tools encourage more consistent practice, because your clients are able to use them at home.

Although it seems counterintuitive to press on a spot that provokes pain, the discomfort diminishes once the trigger point has been loosened. The muscle fibers are holding for a protective purpose, which may have been applicable during a situation of stress, excessive load or trauma. Once that situation has changed, the muscle sometimes needs an outside stimulus to break the loop.

It is helpful to have an ongoing dialogue with your client during trigger point release. Since everyone has a different level of pain tolerance, it is worthwhile to have your client communicate with you throughout the process. Let your client know that the pain should register about a “7” on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most intense. As you press on the trigger point, you can have your client count you in “5, 6, 7” so you don’t push beyond the appropriate level of tolerance. If you press in the intensity of a 9 or 10, you will not have good results because the body will resist, and, if you do not press hard enough, there will be insufficient pressure for release to occur.

You can also coach your client to inhale and tighten the muscle breathing into the pain and then relax the muscle during the exhalation. Instead of holding the trigger point consistently throughout, pushing on the trigger point on the inhalation and releasing pressure on the exhalation can at times make it easier for the client to let go. You know if the process is working when you continue to press with the same intensity and your client’s perception of the intensity decreases. It also gives the client a level of comfort to know that going INTO the discomfort has actually DECREASED the feeling of pain providing a positive experience.

Trigger point release in a Pilates session is a means to an end. Your objective is to release the offending trigger points, so that the chosen exercise can be performed with greater ease and range of motion. If the work required is extensive, refer your client to a massage therapist trained in this method. Although it does take time to get the “feel” for trigger points, knowing how to release them can provide immediate benefits to your clients.