Stretch the Limit


Although few clubs offer Gyrotonic®, many fitness professionals think that it's a growing trend. Whether it will surpass Pilates in its popularity is still unknown.

Gyrotonic® has been called the next wave in mind/body fitness. Some say it is at the same stage of popular awareness as Pilates was back in the mid-1990s. And yet only a tiny fraction of fitness center operators currently offer it.

The Gyrotonic Expansion System® is a form of mind-body exercise that was developed in the 1970s and 1980s by Juliu Horvath, a former professional dancer. Horvath devised the program as rehabilitation after he became injured and then taught the program to others.

Currently, 3 percent of fitness centers offer Gyrotonic, according to the 2006 IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey. The survey was completed by 286 respondents representing a full range of fitness centers, including personal training gyms, multipurpose health clubs, nonprofit facilities and mind-body studios.

Although few respondents actually offer Gyrotonic, a whopping 63 percent of them think the program is a growing trend. This compares to 58 percent who think yoga is increasing in participation and 26 percent who think tai chi is on the rise.

Some club operators use Gyrotonic as a complement to their mind/body programs and earning additional revenue in the process. However, many club operators are taking a wait-and-see approach, biding their time to see whether competing facilities offer it and how they fare with it.

The Gyrotonic Expansion System is used to exercise muscles while mobilizing and articulating joints. Gyrotonic training uses specialized equipment, while Gyrokinesis is the mat version of the program.

According to Gyrotonic International, the company Horvath founded, the program “simultaneously stretches and strengthens the body with minimal effort, while increasing range of motion and developing coordination.” It uses movement principles from gymnastics, ballet, yoga and swimming. The movements can be done on a mat, a stool or specialized equipment, the latter of which helps the exerciser move with support and resistance.

Linda Hertzberg, director of group fitness, Pilates and Gyrotonic at Camelback Village Racquet and Health Club in Phoenix, says that yoga and Pilates also lengthen muscles but they don't necessarily focus on creating space within joints.

“That's why Gyrotonic is such a great partner to yoga and Pilates,” she says.

Elizabeth Larkam, director of Pilates, Gyrotonic and Beyond at Western Athletic Clubs, a chain of fitness centers in California, agrees.

“Pilates focuses more on core control, how limbs connect to the center,” she says. “So the vector of force works inward. But with Gyrotonic, it works outward, hence the name ‘Expansion System.’”

Meanwhile, in yoga, the exerciser creates a pose and sustains it.

“The refining force is in the pose, or in the case of power yoga, in the continuous motion,” Larkam notes. Gyrotonic offers a similar flow state. Thus, a good, overall client program would include yoga, Pilates and Gyrotonic — with all three programs complementing one another, Larkam says.

Down to Money

Sonia Lopez, co-owner/studio director of Body Evolutions Studio, has offered Gyrotonic at her studio in Campbell, CA, for seven years.

“When people see the Gyrotonic equipment, they're intrigued,” Lopez says. “If they're not enthralled with their current fitness routine, they may try Gyrotonic. They tend to fall in love with it because it really does work.”

Clubs that add Gyrotonic to their offerings may stay on the cutting edge of servicing America's graying Baby Boomers. Gyrotonic is a “great tool for increasing and expanding a person's range of motion,” thus making it an ideal program for older members, Hertzberg says, a prospect that can be appealing to club owners as the U.S. population ages.

Kathie Davis, executive director of IDEA, agrees, saying that older people generally need more effective ways to stretch and strengthen muscles in a fluid, non-impact manner — a need that Gyrotonic fits. Larkam says many older adults who need age-appropriate general conditioning or rehabilitation after hip or knee replacement are drawn to Gyrotonic at the Western Athletic Clubs.

Charging for Gyrotonic varies by club as much as charging for Pilates does. At the Western Athletic Clubs, Gyrokinesis classes are part of the facilities' regular class lineup, which means there is no extra charge. However, about 25 Gyrotonic personal training sessions per week are scheduled on the pulley tower at the club, and those sessions run $75 to $100 per session, depending on the instructor's training level and discounts for members who buy multiple sessions.

Body Evolutions Studio teaches between 20 and 30 personal training sessions per week on the pulley tower, including one-on-one and duet sessions. Both Body Evolutions Studio and Western Athletic Clubs charge members the same fee structure whether they select Gyrotonic or Pilates sessions.

In general, the start-up costs of a Gyrotonic program are more than those of a Pilates program, especially if a club includes it as personal training sessions. Equipment costs for Gyrokinesis group classes are about the same as equipment for yoga or Pilates group classes, says Larkam. Gyrokinesis requires one stool per person; Pilates requires mats and perhaps rings or rollers; and yoga requires mats, blankets, blocks and straps. However, for one-on-one personal training, the Gyrotonic equipment costs more than the counterparts for Pilates. A Gryotonic tower costs about $5,500, and a basic Pilates reformer costs $3,400, Lopez says.

Instructor training for Gyrotonic can also run a bit higher. The program is taught only by instructors trained by Gyrotonic International. The corporation has not licensed other training agencies to teach the system. Pre-training costs $850, plus studio time, for a total of $1,100 to $1,200, according to a spokesperson at Gyrotonic International. Next is Foundation Teacher Training, which costs $1,500, plus studio time. After that, students must log a set number of training hours within a year and take a three-day, $500 course in Miami.

It can take up to 15 months to complete the program, from pre-training to final certification. Factor in travel and lodging expenses, and the costs start to add up. Hertzberg's training and certification cost about $5,000 in all, and her employer, Camelback Village Racquet and Health Club, paid for about 25 percent of it, she says. The rather hefty training and certification costs mean that club owners must pay entry-level Gyrotonic instructors more than they would pay entry-level Pilates or yoga instructors, Larkam says.

That said, Lopez at Body Evolutions Studio says she is making money on Gyrotonic, although she wouldn't say how much.

“The fact that we have more than one mind-body offering makes our studio that much more appealing than if we offered only Pilates,” she says. “We have more services to offer. It has definitely been a plus.”

At Western Athletic Clubs, revenues from Pilates individual studio lessons currently are more than those from Gyrotonic, Larkam says, although she wouldn't say how much revenue either brings in each year. However, Gyrotonic gives her facility a key marketing edge.

“Potential members in the San Francisco area who are looking for a full-service health and fitness club that offers Gyrotonic instruction choose to join here,” she says.

That's not the case at all clubs. Tony Gray, vice president at The Rush Fitness Complex, a chain in Tennessee, says his members probably don't know what Gyrotonic is.

“We're not getting a call from our members for it,” he says. “But we are getting a call for more functional and core training, and Gyrotonic would fit into that. I think if we offered it, it would be well received by our members.”

Controlling Interests

The public throughout the country may not know about Gyrotonic because unlike Pilates, which is not trademarked, Gyrotonic is trademarked by Gyrotonic International. Therefore, Pilates instructors can be trained and certified by one of several companies (increasing instructor numbers) while Gyrotonic controls the training and certification of all Gyrotonic instructors (lessening their numbers).

“Gyrotonic International has tight control on the master training to make sure that what's delivered to the consumer is what the company wants it to be and to ensure that the program is not watered down,” Davis says, calling that control a “positive thing” that owners must be cognizant of before offering the program.

No one would say whether this control, which includes approving all ads in which Gyrotonic is promoted, has limited the growth of Gyrotonic. However, Larkam does say that to move Gyrotonic to a Pilates level, club owners need a champion for the program — someone who knows the system well, is well qualified and is an advocate that lives the form. Unfortunately, she continues, those individuals usually aren't readily found within the fitness industry.

“Most are drawn from Gyrotonic hubs, such as stand-alone studios that have evolved around a Gyrotonic master trainer,” Larkam says.

Moreover, Gyrotonic requires a discipline — what Larkam calls a refined awareness of the energetic state — and that discipline takes a long time to develop.

For various reasons, Gyrotonic's popularity may also take a long time to develop. However, fitness professionals are predicting its rise, and some club owners have already jumped on board, adding Gyrotonic as a complement to the rest of their mind/body offerings.

Reel In Your Target Demographic

Owners at fitness centers and studios that offer Gyrotonic® say the program is ideal for just about any population, but that athletes, dancers, mind-body enthusiasts and older people seem to relish it.

At Western Athletic Clubs, the number of men and women who participate in it are about even, but at Body Evolutions Studio in Campbell, CA, about 75 percent of the male clients do Gyrotonic.

“Men love the stretching,” says Sonia Lopez, co-owner/director of the studio. “They see the weights on the pulley tower and say, ‘Yeah!’”

Given those target demographics, what is the best way to market and promote Gyrotonic? Here are some suggestions:

  • Tout its ability to improve range of motion, advises Lopez.

  • Use client testimonials, including those of dancers, athletes, Baby Boomers and others whom you would like to attract to your facility.

  • Market it to current members by writing stories about it in the club newsletter. Reeling in current members will help spread the word among prospective members.

  • Put the pulley tower in a prominent position in your facility so that members and prospects see it. They may become interested and then want to try it.

  • Offer scheduled demonstrations, short complimentary classes and lectures about Gyrotonic. Every January, Western Athletic Clubs holds an open house for a week. Many complimentary classes and educational seminars are offered, including an introductory course about Gyrotonic. The one marketing method that may not be feasible is to take the equipment to off-site demonstrations because the pulley tower is not portable.

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