Have you tried Gyrotonic? I had definitely heard the name mentioned alongside the likes of Pilates and yoga but, until recently, had no idea what it was. Luckily, Madelyn Puente, a member of the Psycle community (she has been riding for well over a year and has long since past her 200-ride mark...go, Madelyn!) and an instructor in the Gyrotonic Method reached out wanting to share her Psycle experience as well as her expertise in the method. She kindly offered INSPIRE readers an insight into what Gyrotonic is, how it can benefit the avid Psycl-ist and what to expect from a session, all through the lens of a session with Sal! Thanks, Madelyn.
Good Instructors are hard to find. Of course in London we are seemingly spoilt for choice between fitness instructors with impossibly inspiring physiques covered (or not!) from head-to-toe in the latest fitness fashion, who can lead, lift and shout their way through any group or private session. If we are willing to pay the premium one typically pays for studio fitness (I mean "non-gym" fitness), it's not that hard to walk away feeling like you have worked your body, and will feel some kind of burn the next day.
But when I say Good Instructor, I mean an instructor, or teacher, who has most likely all of the above, but more importantly a certain X-factor comprised of passion, empathy and genuine connection to the clients, or students, in his or her class. Of course he has technique, and the body to show for it. But in my mind, a Good Instructor will have, above all, the true desire to see his or her students improve and feel good in their bodies. Over the last two years at Psycle I have worked with several amazing teachers and their commitment to Psycle and the community of riders is inspiring, and by far the main reason why I have stayed committed to the studio for so long. One of the teachers who has had the biggest impact on me has been founding instructor Sal Nidai.
Big Hair Don't Care. Missy Elliott. Jumping on a free bike to ride alongside the rest of us. Thursday 630, Sunday 900. Hugs before, corrections during, and chats after class. Instrumental “power” tracks. And of course Lady Marmalade.
I've been riding regularly with Sal over the last two years and his dedication and consistency has meant I never get bored, continue to learn, and most importantly feel amazing every time I leave his class. Thursday 630am and Sunday 9am? There's no other way. It's because of teachers like Sal that I began my own teacher training in a method called Gyrotonic.
Gyrotonic is a fully body workout designed to strengthen and condition the body's muscles, joints and supporting connections. Offering similar benefits to yoga, swimming, ballet and tai-chi, the workout is comprised of a series of natural, spiralling movements performed in rhythmical sequences. I have been practicing for about 6 years and teaching for 2.
Out of a mix of gratitude, pride and exchange, I brought Sal for a one-on-one Gyrotonic session at my studio in Kings Cross.
For a while I have been seeing the benefits of Gyrotonic as a cross-training method for spinning, from my own practice in both exercises as well as my Gyrotonic clients (remember this guy?) Sal was a great client to give feedback on Gyrotonic: in addition to spinning practically every day, he practices Aerial Hoop and was trained as a dancer, therefore many of the concepts used in Gyrotonic, such as core stability, full body connection and awareness were already known to him.
Many clients have to build up to these concepts. Gyrotonic accommodates from beginners, with limited strength or flexibility, to advanced movers, such as dancers or pro athletes. The equipment used also provides a safe environment for people with injuries so no matter who you are, we can work with it. As Sal came more advanced than the average person, I was quick to give him some of the more challenging choreography to show him the full range of the work and selfishly see what he thought of my method.
However, what became clear throughout the class was that what Sal really wanted, or needed, that day was some of the more basic movements - juicy shoulder releases, lower back openings, and light fluid movement. Although he executed the exotic movements flawlessly, he expressed pure joy and relief in some of the slower, more targeted exercises. Of course, Sal is running back to back Psycle classes and hanging from hoops in his spare time. He gets complex choreography and physical challenge on a daily basis. I wanted him to feel really good when he left the class. Indeed, running back to Mortimer Street, for class number 2. So I switched gears.
We moved from "Vertical Bicycles" and "Dolphin Reverse" to shoulder circles. Opening. Releasing. In Gyrotonic we say each movement should have a yawn-like quality; a slow escalation to a peak and release.
Sal encourages his riders to ride according to what their bodies need in that moment. More resistance, or less? How is today different to last week? This requires us to step back, listen to our bodies, and react accordingly. It's not necessarily easy when we are used to pushing ourselves blindly to our maximum in all parts of our lives. A teacher who can teach us how to read our own bodies and work accordingly is a "good one". For me, that's the kind of teacher I am trying to become and why I look to teachers like Sal for inspiration.
So final verdict on Gyrotonic-for-Spinning? Ask Sal. Ironically, even though I was the teacher for this session, by the end of the hour Sal had taught me again. Go figure.
Ultimately our bodies need some of everything, from cardio, strength training, restorative work (like yoga or Gyrotonic) and of course, pure rest. Cross-training the body across complementary methods makes us stronger and more resilient than training in one method alone, which can lead to muscle atrophy, physical plateaus and boredom.
A final note, for those of you who are interested in knowing more about the benefits of Gyrotonic for Spinning:
1. Move in three dimensions: On the bike, we face forward and by and large move in two dimensions. Gyrotonic uses the idea that once we step outside of the studio, or the gym floor, we live our lives in 3D. And often we get injured in 3D: bending over and pulling your back, pivoting quickly and twisting a ligament... in other words, places where our 2D strengthening didn't reach (particularly tissues, tendons and ligaments). Thats why so many pro-athletes and dancers, including Andy Murray, supplement their training with Gyrotonic.
2. Open your side body: Much like point (1), we can easily forget the side body much beyond our oblique crunching. Not many forms of exercise reach this area. A Gyrotonic session starts with spinal motions: forward and back, twisting, and side arching. Often the first time clients try this movement it feels like they are cleaning out the cobwebs between their lats, ribs, and obliques. Basically it feels really good.
3. Stretch your Psoas: A lot of the strengthening we do in Psycle is in a curved and clenched position of the abdomen, with our hips tucked underneath. That means we are firing the abdominals but potentially shortening the psoas, the super-muscle responsible for things like core stabilization, hip flexion and rotation. One side effect of a short or tight psoas can again be lower back discomfort. Many of the movements in Gyrotonic target the lengthening of the psoas to keep it long and flexible, a good counter-stretch to working on the bike.
4. Activate your hamstrings: With our bums back over the saddle, we take the work out of our quads and into our glutes AND hamstrings. We often forget about the hamstrings but tightness there can be a major cause of both lower back pain and poor posture. In Gyrotonic we dedicate a whole series to the hamstrings, to lengthen the muscles and strengthen their connection with the lower back and core. It gives a whole new meaning and feeling to "bum back" when you are back on the bike.
5. Find your internal rhythm: Yes, we all love getting lost in our favourite Psycle tunes and riding to the beat. Gyrotonic also works to a fluid rhythm of beats following your own inhales and exhales, that you eventually learn to control. Working with internal rhythm will help you to follow the external rhythm of the Psycle playlists, and vice versa.