Stepping into her office on the top floor of Olympia's 90-year-old remodeled former American Legion building, I needed just one glance to realize Rachel Friedman's Motion in Balance Studio is anything but typical.
Just past a couch and her desk sits a row of what appear to be three elegantly crafted wooden torture devices. Straps and pulleys hang from the 6-foot tower in front of a bench accented with rotating arms.
As I stumbled for a polite description of what I saw, Friedman smiled and let me off the hook. “Looks like a torture chamber,” she said.
But that description couldn’t be any further from what Friedman’s studio is really about.
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Friedman is a Gyrotonic trainer who uses these strange contraptions to help athletes of all types free their bodies from torture. The 75-minute workouts are designed to prevent injuries and improve strength, flexibility and coordination. Prices range from $30 an hour for groups to $50 for private sessions.
“It can be gentle and relaxing or it can be pretty rigorous,” said Friedman, whose clients range from a 12-year-old ballet dancer to a 90-year-old.
As she helped strap my feet into one of the tower pulley systems and taught me some exercises to stretch and strengthen my back and legs, the movements felt like a combination of yoga and Pilates. Friedman says Gyrotonic also uses elements of dance, tai chi and even swimming.
I started in a sitting position, slowly cranking one of the two large wooden arms with both hands, and stretching my back with each rotation.
Some of her clients have reported feeling taller after several weeks of doing this and similar exercises. I can’t say I felt taller after 15 minutes on the apparatus, but my back definitely felt looser.
The same could be said for my perpetually tight hamstrings and thighs after stretching them on the Gyrotonic tower. With my feet strapped to the weighted pulley system, I laid back with my legs in the air, creating a human L. She then instructed me to make a series of circular motions with my legs.
“It gives you a sense of stretching and lengthening,” Friedman said of the exercises.
Gyrotonic was created in the 1970s by an injury-plagued Romanian ballet dancer, Juliu Horvath. The program has grown to modest popularity in areas such as New York and Seattle, but Friedman’s is the only studio in Pierce or Thurston counties.
Friedman was introduced to Gyrotonic by a family member who was a dancer. As a marathon runner, dancer and triathlete, Friedman’s body was regularly in pain.
After a few sessions of Gyrotonic, her joints felt looser, she was in less pain, she was more relaxed and she was hooked. She purchased a tower and, four years ago, decided to open the South Sound’s first Gyrotonic studio. Her client list has slowly grown to about 75 people.
“It’s been an amazing adventure,” Friedman said.
Joslyn Trivett of Olympia has been doing Gyrotonic with Friedman for almost two years and she says it’s made a significant impact on her fitness level.
“I’m learning how to use my body the best way that I can to be strong and not hurt myself so I can do all the things that I want to do,” Trivett said.
Trivett, 40, loves to run and dance but says she didn’t embrace an active lifestyle until she was in her 30s.
“So I had this desire to be physical, but I also had this klutziness,” Trivett said. “So this has been really helpful.”
Trivett wasn’t intimidated by the tormenting look of the towers and immediately realized this was the perfect workout for her.
“I found the movements to be very beautiful,” Trivett said. “I felt good and had a sense that the movements were elegant – nice to look at. ... I love to be a graceful and strong person instead of being klutzy.”
She’d discovered Friedman’s studio at the recommendation of her massage therapist while she was recovering from an injury. After the first workout, Trivett thought, “It’s worth it to be injured if I get to do this.”
But as the injury healed and the pain faded, Trivett continued the Gyrotonic workouts as well as Gyrokinesis, a seated workout with similar dancer-like motions that don’t require the tower.
Two years later, Trivett says she feels more flexible and coordinated than ever.
“Sometimes I think, ‘Wow, I’m 40 years old and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,’ ” Trivett said. “That’s a pretty great feeling.”
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