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Gyrotonic vs. Pilates

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Gyrotonic vs. Pilates
The subtle differences between mind-body exercises can be confusing. Photo Credit artyme83/iStock/Getty Images

Gyrotonics and Pilates look exceptionally similar. Pilates has the reformer — a frame that features a sliding carriage, pulleys and springs to guide and add resistance to movements that emphasize your core. Gyrontics exercise is also based on a machine — the Gyrotonic Expansion System — which features rotational discs and weighted pulleys so you can move in a flowing, circular style to train your entire body.

While both gyrotonics and Pilates are mind-body exercise systems designed to improve your movement patterns so you're stronger, stand taller and feel better, the exercises and breathwork involved with each differs. Which one is superior really depends on you, your body and your personal preferences. Both are influenced by gymnastics, martial arts and dance, but gyrotonics borrows more from yoga with its focus on unique breathing.


Pilates and gyrotonics look eerily similar, especially when you first look at the workouts. The machines feature cables and pulleys; gryotonics equipment involves weights and pulleys, and the Reformer works with spring resistance. The movements are precise and it takes only minor adjustments to enhance sensation. Each workout is about increasing the function and range of motion in joints to improve your health, muscular balance and alignment.

The Reformer is a spring-loaded machine.
The Reformer is a spring-loaded machine. Photo Credit jovanjaric/iStock/Getty Images

Both Pilates and gyrotonics have an equipment-free version, too. Mat Pilates is the Pilates version, done simply with your body and, well, a mat. Gyrokinesis is performed on a mat and with a chair.

Read More: Pilates Workout Differences: Reformer and Mat

You need to practice both exercise systems as just that — systems. They benefit from regular practice multiple times per week. You can't expect to gain results from a one-off session, rather both exercise programs are best understood after multiple (five to 10) sessions. Plus, choosing just the mat or only the equipment versions of either program limits your benefits — explore all the aspects of either discipline to get the most out of your efforts.

A gyrotonic machine features discs and pulleys.
A gyrotonic machine features discs and pulleys. Photo Credit Caroline Schiff/Blend Images/Getty Images

The history of the founding of both systems is quite similar, too. Juliu Horvath, the founder of gyrotonics, developed the system after struggling with pain and injury following years of training in swimming, gymnastics and ballet. Joseph Pilates was motivated to develop controlology, later known as Pilates, after a sickly childhood and from later pursuits in boxing, diving, gymnastics and skiing. He was particularly inspired by fellow internees in a war camp at which he was housed during World War I. He used mat methods and rigged pullies up on beds to help them heal from various infirmities.

Nuances of the Movements

The difference between the two programs comes down to execution of the movements. Pilates emphasizes muscle length and linear movements. Gyrotonics is circular and three-dimensional. Both can be rigorous and foster improvements in athletic performance, or can be gentle enough to be used for rehab from back pain or arthritis.

In gyrotonics, a specific breath is taught to accompany each movement. In Pilates, you generally execute the same inhale/exhale technique for all movements.

Because the focus of Pilates is the core, you'll learn spinal imprinting and various ab exercises first. Hip and leg movements follow. Gyrotonics has a more total-body approach, but an introductory gyrotonic session will look similar to Pilates as it starts by teaching you control over the base of your spine. Gyrotonic exercises then progress up your body, to your head, neck and shoulders — and only after you're thoroughly warmed and worked do you target your legs.

The Better System?

Both Pilates and gyrotonics offer great physical benefits. Gyrotonics is more fluid in nature, so those who like yoga often gravitate to it. However, many students benefit from beginning with Pilates to get a firm base in core control and stability, particularly when back pain or a recent injury is an issue.

Book private sessions or join a class in either discipline.
Book private sessions or join a class in either discipline. Photo Credit razyph/iStock/Getty Images

Ultimately, book several sessions in both modalities to determine which resonates best with you. Always seek out a certified teacher and studio for either discipline. Some studios offer both gyrotonics and Pilates — you might actually enjoy including both practices in your regular routine.

Read More: The Health Benefits of Pilates

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