Le fitness qui a captivé Madonna: La Gyrotonic.
Gyrotonic exercises aim to create leaner, stronger body
Posted Friday, Mar. 25, 2011
By Jan Jarvis
Imagine churning butter until your muscles stretched farther than ever before and your limbs turned rubbery, kind of like a giant Gumby.
Sound scary? It's really not. It's Gyrotonic, an approach to fitness that has captivated Madonna, Teri Hatcher and other celebs hooked on having the long, lean body of a dancer.
As a workout, Gyrotonic looks a little like Pilates, gymnastics, swimming, ballet, yoga and tai chi all thrown together and practiced on a device that looks like a torture rack. The circular and fluid movements of Gyrotonic can improve flexibility, strength and balance.
Michele Gifford brought Gyrotonic, with its system of pulleys and weights, to Fort Worth with the hopes of helping people do something she has done for decades as a professional ballet dancer.
"I wanted to start helping people move," said Gifford, who offers individual sessions at her Fort Worth home and also teaches for Pilates at Dancescape.
As a dancer with the New York City Ballet, Gifford was no stranger to injuries when she discovered the value of Gyrotonic for herself.
"At first I didn't get it," she said. "But two sessions into it, I was hooked."
In 2000, she became a certified Gyrotonic instructor and brought the unique workout to Fort Worth, where she also performed with Texas Ballet Theater. Over the past decade, she has built a reputation for her Gyrotonic classes, which attract teens to 70-somethings.
Today, Gifford does indeed get people moving, starting off slowly with gentle circular movements that help unkink the body. Breast cancer survivors have found that Gyrotonic opens the chest and helps them feel more at ease. Athletes have discovered that the workouts can be as vigorous and demanding as they need to be. And just about everyone finds in Gyrotonic a workout that helps reduce stress.
"The movements help people get in tune with their body," Gifford said. "It's all about creating space in the body and decompressing."
It's a concept that is easy to understand once you consider how much time we spend compressing muscles.
"People work at desks or they are in their cars driving all the time," Gifford said. "Everything is about compression, nothing is expansive."
While Gyrotonic hasn't made it into the mainstream world of workouts quite yet, it is catching on around the country, especially during these stressful times when people are looking for ways to relieve tension.
"It's so healthy for you," Gifford said. "And it just feels good for the body."
Participants work out on various equipment, including a tower with pulleys and weights. In one exercise, straps are attached at the ankles and, while lying down on a bench, you move your legs in large circles. For another exercise, you get down on all fours with your hands on one disc and feet on the other. The discs slide apart, causing you to stretch your hands and feet in opposite directions. Michele Gifford coaches students along the way and gently guides them into the correct positions, but it's up to the student to do the hard work: using those core muscles.
Gyrotonic builds core strength, increases flexibility and stretches the tightest muscles.
Those who have had back and knee injuries find Gyrotonic to be especially helpful.
The technique is also very effective for athletes who tend to develop a lot of strength in specific areas of the body. Golf, for example, is a one-side sport. "You get stuck swinging that same side," said Gifford, who teaches Gyrotonic in Fort Worth. "That's why your back hurts."
Gyrotonic stretches the whole body.
It helps improve posture and ease the tension from sitting at a desk all day. Some people have said that it feels like getting a massage from the inside out.
The Gyrotonic Expansion System was created in the 1970s by Juliu Horvath, a Romanian ballet dancer. The workouts have been slow to go mainstream, but there are classes in New York and along the West Coast. Gifford is the only certified teacher in Fort Worth. Dallas has a few teachers.
The equipment really looks like something that could be used to torture people, but the workout is very relaxing and soothing.
What participants say
Becky Beasley of Fort Worth said Gyrotonic makes her feel taller, straighter, more flexible and connected to her body. It also helps with balance, and it's never boring. "With Gyrotonic, I can push the envelope using different equipment, and it doesn't bother me at all," she said. "I never have any pain."
The pulleys used in Gyrotonic help users stretch and strengthen muscles while stimulating connective tissue around joints.
In this Gyrotonic exercise, the user pumps his legs to relieve stiffness in the leg, hip and knee joints.
The twist-and-pull movement with the pulleys helps users stretch and strengthen the upper body and increase mobility.
Michele Gifford teaches Gyrotonic, a system of exercises performed on special equipment, to professional sky diver David Hickey.
A spiral movement with the spine increases flexibility.
Photos: Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner.