GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM® VS. PILATES

You may be familiar with Pilates, but may not have heard of the GYROTONIC® Method. Gyrotonic is a fairly new fitness program that was developed in the late 1970’s. Today, it is used by various celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga, Madonna and Jennifer Aniston.

At first glance, Gyrotonic may seem similar to Pilates, as both programs are designed to build flexibility and strength and use specialized equipment. Some other commonalities include:

  • A focus on core strength and movement from the center of one’s body.
  • An increase in dexterity, balance and flexibility.
  • A coordination of movement with breath.
  • Can be taught in private or group-setting classes.
  • Can be performed with or without equipment.
  • Can be performed at an athletic or more restorative pace.

Despite the similarities between the two systems of movement, their approach to developing flexibility, strength, and endurance is what really distinguishes the two systems. If the two movement methods were likened to dance, Pilates would be ballet, while the GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM® would be compared to interpretive dance.

Just as Joseph Pilates created his program in the 1920s and 30s to sooth his own ailments, Romanian-born dancer Juliu Horvath developed the Gyrotonic Expansion System to help rehabilitate his own Achilles tendon injury, as well as his back. Both systems are a culmination of other exercise philosophies, in addition to the healing arts and movement. Pilates incorporated stances from gymnastics and yoga, reflexology during footwork, and the use of movement to “massage” the internal organs. In Juliu’s work, he drew upon QiQong and the acupuncture meridians. Both the Gyrotonic and Pilates methods are total mind-body motion systems. 

Pilates focuses on pelvic stability, core strength, building and toning flexible muscles, proper body mechanics and alignment. Most Pilates exercises are performed while lying down on a mat, particularly when practiced without equipment.  Pilates exercises are largely a linear, two-dimensional technique. The exercises themselves include extension, flexion, rotation and side-bending. Beginner Pilates exercises tend to incorporate one of these motions at a time, graduating to two or more motions contained within a single exercise as the exercises become more advanced. Classically, there are six principles of Pilates: centering, breathing, concentration, ease of movement, control and precision. The principal apparatus used to perform Pilates exercises is called a Reformer, which consists of ropes or leather straps attached to a moving carriage with resistance provided by springs.

Gyrotonic exercise is a three dimensional, spiraling, constant motion movement methodology. Its exercises include extension, side-bending, flexion, with constant rotation (spiraling) and it's known for its undulating and fluid moves (like swaying palms or waves). Gyrotonic exercise focuses on moving the whole body at all times (like dancing), to maintain a mobile spine and pelvis using dynamic breathing patterns. Most exercises in Gyrotonic are done while sitting. When performed without equipment, the method is called GYROKINESIS®, and is done mostly using sitting stools. The body’s core muscles are strengthen from the inside out and the entire body works as a coordinated unit, rather than having individual body parts operating on their own. The principle apparatus used to perform Gyrotonic exercises is called the Gyrotonic Pulley Tower, which is comprised of rotational discs and weighted pulleys. The major principles of the Gyrotonic method are: 

  • Decompression (allows the joints to move freely without restraint)
  • Stabilization (stabilizes the body throughout each movement)
  • Intention (guides the body to where you would like it to go)
  • Coordination (focuses on calmly taking breaths while in motion)

Another emphasis present in Gyrotonic exercise that distinguishes it from Pilates is a focus on the fascia, nervous system and skeletal system in addition to muscles. The goal is to train the body to have complete mobility of the spine and joints first, and strength then naturally follows. Like Pilates, professional athletes and dancers have used Gyrotonic to cross-train for the last 30 years, as most motions performed in sports can be incorporated into work with the equipment. 

SHOULD I DO PILATES OR GYROTONIC?

Both systems have demonstrated therapeutic benefits, as Pilates is utilized in many medical and rehabilitation communities in the U.S., while the Gyrotonic Expansion System is heralded in Europe for its benefits in orthopaedic rehabilitation. At SOMA Movement Studio, we generally suggest to our students that they start with Pilates, so that they establish stability in their core and the ability to coordinate movement with breath. This is particularly important when recovering from an recent injury, instability, or back pain.

The Pilates and Gyrotonic systems of movement go hand-in-hand very smoothly, with one complimenting the benefits and the qualities of the other. Though a client may prefer one over the other, we think just about anyone can benefit from training in both systems.