Odds are good that if you are teaching Pilates you have heard of the GYROTONIC®method, 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 the GYROTONIC® method, it is worthwhile to better understand what it is about and to try a session on your own body to judge for yourself.
The GYROTONIC® method 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® method 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 the GYROTONIC® method 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 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® exercises.
From my perspective, the similarities between the GYROTONIC® method 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® exercises 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® exercise 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® exercise is not as widely recognized as Pilates, but its versatility and functionality should catapult it into the public arena before long. GYROTONIC® exercise is an “alive” method, constantly evolving and improving under the tutelage of its originator Juliu Horvath. Even if you do not plan to teach the GYROTONIC® method, studying with first generation teachers is a golden opportunity that should not be missed.