- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

Greg Brown had never heard of the Gyrotonic Expansion System before undergoing back surgery to correct severe stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal column — and a herniated disk. Today, three years after the surgery, the Silver Spring resident credits Gyrotonic exercises for helping him back to health — and keeping his back pain free.

Mr. Brown, 53, is one of a growing number of area residents who have discovered the benefits of an exercise mode already embraced out West.

Studio Infinity, an exercise facility focusing primarily on Gyrotonic exercises, opened two months ago in Northwest. The posh SportsClub/LA in Northwest will be adding Gyrotonic classes by year’s end. Body College Pilates/Gyrotonic has two area locations to serve its client base.

Gyrotonic exercises, developed by Juliu Horvath, a principal dancer in the Romanian State Opera in the late 1980s, promise to stretch, strengthen and tone our bodies using circular, sweeping movements.

The Gyrotonic Expansion System, a contraption that features pulleys, springs or heavy plates to add resistance and a bench (similar to one used to press weights) with two rotating heads on one end, allows people to stretch and strengthen their bodies. Similar exercises also can be done on mats — those movements are known as Gyrokinesis. The exercises invite comparison to yoga and Pilates, both of which focus less on muscle-building and more on the mind-body connection.

Mr. Brown describes Gyrotonics as a form of exercise that tries to increase one’s range of motion — a plus for an avid golfer like Mr. College’s Northwest location, where he takes Gyrotonic lessons. Body College charges $75 an hour for a one-on-one Gyrotonic session. A class of 10 performs Gyrokinesis for $20 per person.

Mr. Brown supplements his Gyrotonic work with some weight lifting and plenty of walking.

“All that has helped, but Gyrotonic got me on the right path,” he says. “I feel it’s been a real asset to my road to recovery.”

That road might be bumpy without the proper consultation, says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise.

“It’s important to have an instructor who really looks at them as an individual, understanding what, if any, muscular-skeletal problems they’ve had in their history,” Mr. Bryant says. “If they don’t do that, I’d be concerned about the quality of the instructor and the information.”

He adds that interest in Gyrotonic fitness might be dulled by the need for the Gyrotonic Expansion System — a modest version of the system sells for about $900. The exercises can be completed without the device via Gyrokinesis moves, but Mr. Bryant calls such movements “Pilates by another name.”

That said, interest in all things Gyrotonic is growing, he says, along with yoga and Pilates.

“Much like yoga and Pilates, it emphasizes the controlled breathing and resistance,” he says.

Body College Pilates/Gyrotonic owner Mike Wright says Mr. Horvath created the Gyrotonic Expansion System and its accompanying exercises after the dancer suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. Mr. Horvath also hoped to find relief from chronic back pain, Mr. Wright says.

“He used to crawl to the bathroom [from his bedroom] his back hurt so bad,” Mr. Wright says.

Some exercises are meant to move one vertebra at a time, what Mr. Wright calls segmented articulation. Other exercises allow for full circular motions of the legs, giving the hip joints a thorough workout.

“We’re expanding the joints … to decompress and strengthen them,” he says.

Older clients, he says, use the Gyrotonic system to restore their range of motion.

Mr. Wright sees interest in Gyrotonic exercises “exploding,” but he estimates it lags behind the Pilates craze by about five years.

Pilates deals with more linear movements. Gyrotonic exercises are more three-dimensional in nature, he says. The exercises are performed slowly, with no jagged motions.

“It is the attention to detail and the subtlety that makes the work what it is,” he says. “Form dictates function.”

The different exercises keep us in touch with our bodies, he says.

“We don’t have an owner’s manual. We don’t know what to do with our bodies,” he says.

We may not have that set list of instructions, but performing the Gyrotonic exercises feels natural even to the uninitiated, says Elizabeth Jackson, fitness instructor at the SportsClub/LA in Boston.

Miss Jackson says interest in Gyrotonic movements is soaring, from teens to adults and from the overweight to the injured.

“Newcomers do it, and they almost know what the next exercise is,” Miss Jackson says. “Your body wants to move in that direction.”

Miss Jackson credits the increasing interest in how it makes people feel.

“People get it. It’s very intrinsic,” she says. “It’s as natural as a yawn when you wake up in the morning … it catches the smallest part of your body that’s tight or weak and balances it.”

The Gyrotonic Expansion System includes seven families of exercises.

“Our goal is to do at least two or three from each family for each [60-minute] lesson,” she says.

The exercises also mimic movements we all make as weekend athletes. The twisting, for example, echoes how our bodies move in baseball, golf, tennis and swimming, she says.

“It really teaches you how to move from the core of your body,” she says.

That core, from the pelvis up through the spine, is becoming more of a concern for today’s personal trainer, she says.

“The stronger your core is, the stronger your body is,” she says.

Mr. Wright says core muscles are the key. Those six-pack abdominals may grab all the headlines, but the transversus abdominus muscles, which wrap around the body’s midsection, are far more important to a person’s overall balance.

“The six-pack is just show-off muscles,” he says.

Alesia Fowler, an instructor with Studio Infinity, says Washington’s Gyrotonic users tend to be women, which bucks the national trend.

“In New York or L.A., there’s quite a male population [using Gyrotonic machines],” Ms. Fowler says.

Mr. Brown, for one, is a convert.

“It’s not a strenuous exercise, but at the end of the hour, sometimes I have trouble standing up,” he says. “You don’t notice [how hard you are working]. … It’s not like I’m sitting there huffing and puffing.”

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