As a fitness reporter, I must try a wide variety of exercises, often to prevent you from having to try them. I arrived for a session of Gyrotonic prepared to be pulled, plied, pretzeled and otherwise stretched to the limit. Much of this indeed occurred, but the muscle I used most during the session was my brain.
At one point my instructor, Mike Wright, had me monitoring my "sitting bones" (near the bottom of the spinal column) plus my toes, heels and fingers, all while I curled my spine -- "really curl it," he said in his Tenleytown studio, Body College -- in a funky little hula.
Gyrotonic (formally called the Gyrotonic Extension System) is performed on two blond-wood apparatus, one resembling a tricked-out weight bench and the other looking like an elongated cable-cross unit, replete with dangling cables, straps and pegs to hold weight plates. Advanced practitioners can graduate to mat work.
Conceived in the 1980s in New York by Hungarian dancer Juliu Horvath, who was seeking to help dancers perform a better pirouette (really!), Gyrotonic seems to borrow a lot from Pilates and yoga, but it has unique moves. It is designed to build strength and flexibility, lengthen muscles and connecting tissue, create healthy separation within joints and enhance muscle control and body awareness.
Gyrotonic is slowly seeping into the national fitnosphere, with a few studios and instructors in most states and in Washington (see www.gyrotonic.com; click "studios"). One-on-one sessions cost about $70 an hour, but at least one local outfit offers small-group sessions at $35 per hour.
Wright, a buff 54, sits me on the bench, which is outfitted with two rotating handles positioned at arm's length. Per his direction, I lean far forward, elongating and arching my spine as I hold the handles and sweep my arms in front of me like I'm stirring two large pots on the back burners of a stove.
Wright cautions me to control this movement with my torso, not my arms, because (as Moving Crew readers know) power originates in the core, not the extremities. Meanwhile I have my spine perform a mini-wave, a key feature of Gyrotonic work.
I don't achieve hard breathing during this or other Gyrotonic exercises, though I can see how those who master the mechanics can reach a challenging rhythm. But the moves provide strength, stretching and control training. (No, I didn't perfect this -- thanks for asking -- but I did feel the kinks of my desk-bound day start to unravel.)
"Pilates is great for isolation and stabilization," Wright said. "Gyrotonic is more three-dimensional. With the spiral movements, you can work in all planes at the same time. You probably could get all this benefit" with other exercises, "but not this easily." Like yoga and Pilates, it is said to be good for rehabbing from injuries.
The apparatus offer a surprising range of exercises, for both upper and lower body. The technique is not for everyone -- some prefer thought-free workouts, greater cardio buzz, more muscle accumulation or less expensive regimens. But for some, Gyrotonic delivers.
"This changed my life," said Alan Levine, a 55-year-old dentist who practices in Chevy Chase and has been a Gyro-man for almost a year. "It's taken six strokes off my golf score -- I can turn now -- and my back doesn't hurt when I work." He also likes the variety of exercises.
No chat today; back next week. Meantime, e-mail: email@example.com.
-- John Briley