An Olympic Runner’s Perspective on Training With the GYROTONIC® Method
Olympic runner Steven Solomon discovered the Gyrotonic Method through Master Trainer Erika Parisi in Sydney, Australia. We were able to get on a call with Steven shortly after he competed in the 2021 Tokyo games to ask how this work has helped improve his running. We also did a follow up interview with his trainer, Erika, and you can read her perspective, here.
How did you discover the Gyrotonic Method
Steven: A neighbor came over to the house for dinner and was telling me about this great instructor he was working with on this method called the Gyrotonic Method, which I had never heard of at the time. I’m very rigid in my routine and often I don’t introduce things to it because I know what is working, but he was very persistent that I needed to try the Gyrotonic Method. Still, I don’t know why I did it because this guy is in his mid-70s and plays golf and that was his saviour. Whereas for me, you know I’m trying to run as fast as I can against the fastest guys on the planet.
So, I went and had a session with Erika [Parisi] who was his great instructor. My first impression was, “Wow, this is like nothing I’ve done before.” I went in with a decent amount of apprehension because I’d had a history of lower back injuries; a couple of disc bulges in my lower back, and I’d lost a lot of mobility and range through my lumbar spine. Anything that was around the back always put on my alert senses because I knew it was still an injured area and an ongoing management issue. I still went and met with Erika and went through our first class.
While all the movements felt strange because I’d never done them before, I did feel a bit of relief in my back. So, Erika and I kept talking and I said I needed to learn more about what we were doing and what was the underlying principles behind the movements. The machinery was obviously different to anything I’d seen before, and I told her what I was looking for, in any coach that I work with, is someone to make me faster.
You know, one of the really important things about high performance sports is that you align the incentives of everyone you work with. For example, that’s me going to my gym coach and saying, “I don’t want you to measure your success on how much stronger I am because I don’t care how much stronger I am, I only care about how much faster I am. Although you would typically measure your success with your other clients in strength, I need everything to be thought of through the lens of speed. You need to be able to measure your success on how much faster I get.
To that end, I asked Erika if we worked together, could she find one tenth of a second. She went away, thought about it, and came back and said that she could if we work together, and I kinda put my trust in her. That was the other thing, regarding a coach, you’re always looking for someone you have trust and belief in. From the very outset, I had trust and faith in Erika which is unlike me in general around anything to do with athletics because usually that’s something that’s earned. Erika came from a dancer’s background, had worked with some professional tennis players, but hadn’t done anything in the world of track and field and was still able, at the very beginning, to make me feel comfortable in both her as a new coach and the Gyrotonic Method as a new modality of training, which is quite a significant thing.
Talk about specific workouts, or movements that you see have been useful in your training.
Steven: So, Erika designs all of our classes on the fly. She has a preconceived notion of what we’re going to do in class, but that’s what makes working with me so challenging-that I come to every class off other training sessions. Erika will adapt at the time to whatever she feels is going to be best for me to recover and get my body ready for the next running workout.
We do a lot of arch and curl, really trying to get some mobility through my thoracic spine and lumbar spine, which I’m still amazed at how much that was able to change. We do a lot of the hamstring series as well. We do stretching and breathing exercises to release the hips. I think the most amazing thing for me is that there is so much change that happens through my
spine, I often wake up the next day, after my body has had a chance to rest through sleep, and I’ll feel really insecure in my spine. I’ll have to slowly get up and then about five minutes after starting the day, all of that disappears. To me, that’s really significant because it’s a signal that there had been a lot of work done, a lot of mobility created, and it was when I was able to be at full rest during sleep that the body was able to start recovering and feel o.k. and safe around all of the movements that we’d been doing.
A lot of what we’ve been doing in the studio is about trying to get my body to relax through the trauma of previous injuries. We do a lot of rotational movements, you know running has a lot of cross-body sling work, you know opposite arm, opposite leg, driving forces when you’re running. We also do a lot of opening up through the hips, a lot of extension, trying to get length through the toes, through the heels. And that’s what I’ve also found that I really enjoy about working with Erika and the whole Gyrotonic Method is that it’s full body.
So, that’s a little bit about how our sessions really go. They’re really from the mastermind of Erika and her looking at the body.
Were you able to tell a difference going into these Olympic games vs competitions prior to finding this work?
Steven: I could definitely tell a difference. For me, ever since my back injuries which came about in 2012, my whole running has had to be different, like my whole postural chain has modified and I have to run with different technique. One of the things that the Gyrotonic work has given me, again, is this feeling of length through the body.
As a runner, you want to be tall, you want to feel like you’re striking the ground underneath you, you want to feel powerful and make sure your energy is being driven from the correct muscle patterns and everything like that. That’s what I think the Gyrotonic Method helped with. It helped me be able to get my body back into positions optimal for sprinting and running really fast. So, without question, and I told Erika at the start, as a professional athlete coming into a new methodology, amongst a very busy training schedule as it is, I’m always under the impression with my training that I will continue to do something up until the point that I feel like I’ve exhausted the benefit, and then I need to move onto something else. But I haven’t moved on to something else because I’m still finding the benefit with Erika and the Gyrotonic Method.
That’s as great a compliment as I can give to my belief in Erika and this method to help me. Everyone has their own personal circumstance and I don’t think anything is a one size fits all solution, but if there is anyone who’s had lower back disc injuries in the past, and their looking to increase mobility, decrease pain, and kind of re-find that sense of self in their body that they had prior to injury, I think the Gyrotonic Method is better than anything that I’ve discovered so far at achieving all of those things.
Given how much training you do, and how many other movement professionals you work with, what would you say to another movement professional regarding how this work is potentially different from, or could enhance, the work they are already doing with professional athletes?
Steven: Yeah, that’s a really good question because obviously before I got clearance to work with Erika, I had to run it by my physiotherapist, my strength coach, my track coach, my whole performance team, basically. This was brand new to them. You know, in high performance athletics, you try to mitigate risks and make sure you’re not increasing your chances of injury because at the end of the day that’s the biggest breaking force to progress, is having to take time away from whatever sport.
For me, it’s running. Taking time off running is the biggest threat to my performance. They, my performance team, had to look at the method, see it and understand it. It was one of those things where they had enough trust in me to say we know that Steve hasn’t gone and done a billion other things and worked with a billion other people. My performance team has been in place, some of them, for the last ten years. So, there was a certain amount of trust there. So, we said we’ll give it a go and see and monitor.
They were able to see very quickly the results that the Gyrotonic work was able to give me. That’s another thing that makes the Gyrotonic Method an interesting training modality vs some of the other things that you can be doing-it’s hard work on the body, but it’s soft work on the body. What I mean by that is it’s not like I’ve gone and added another training modality that’s taking a lot of energy away from me, physically.
The Gyrotonic work, I’ve found, is physically not that challenging. It’s more mentally challenging for me, understanding the coordination of the movements and also taking my body to a point where it doesn’t feel comfortable. We’ll do the arch and curl and I haven’t had a lot of flexion in my back for 8, 9, 10 years. All of a sudden, I’m trying to put flexion into it and that’s an uncomfortable position or the body to be in, but when it’s done in a safe and trusted environment it gradually lets go and I’ve been able to find great effect through it.
Erika is not trying to reinvent the wheel of how I move through the Gyrotonic work, she’s trying to help my body recover, gain some extra mobility, gain some extra awareness, all these things that I can take with me when I get onto the athletics track and it works really well.
That’s great. We often say that this is the work that helps you do whatever else it is that you do, better.
Steve: Perfect. I mean, that’s the way to say it.
Yes, it seems that having your other coaches, other movement professionals, clearly seeing the positive impacts for you is as good a testament to the benefit of the work as any.
Steven: Definitely. And for me, the benefits mostly come in the way of a feeling. In terms of degrees of motion, and things like that, those can all be measured. But the most important thing for me is how I feel when I move. If that’s getting better, and I’m feeling better while I’m moving, then that’s so exciting and it’s something that is a clear performance factor for me in helping me get to what I was saying to Erika from day one, faster. You know, I haven’t run a personal best in nine years and I just did in Tokyo. So, it’s been nine years between my fastest runs and one of the things that’s changed in the last 18 months of that journey is starting to work with the Gyrotonic Method and starting to work with Erika as a performance coach.
So, I’m seeing the results both on the track in my times and also in how I’m feeling in my body. That’s why I’m so excited about sharing my experiences with Erika and the method because I’ve even surprised myself with how great the results have been.
I was very skeptical coming in. I think it’s because when you look at the machinery it’s like nothing else you’ve seen before and when you look at the movements, they don’t look particularly taxing. You know, I’m used to everything being hard. The movements aren’t particularity hard, but they’re getting your body to become comfortable in otherwise quite bizarre movements. Nothing can speak for it like the results.
It is exciting and we would love to check in with you again later to see how it’s going for you. One of the things many find so interesting about this work is how often trainers who have been practicing and teaching the Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Methods for 15-20 years still say they are discovering fresh nuances in their bodies and understanding of the work. Juliu himself (the creator of this work) says the same thing.
Steven: I can see that. Erika and I have a great working relationship and I think one of the things about working with high performance athletes from an instructor point of view, is we’re a different group of people to train because we are obsessed with the results and high performance impact. So, that challenges you as a coach. Erika has to think, “How can I get Steve faster, what can I do, what do I have in my tool box that I can use and what am I missing in my tool box that I need to gain.
So, some of the most exciting parts of our last 18 months together is me walking into class and Erika saying she’s done a new breathing workshop, or just revisited something she hasn’t done for a long time because she was thinking about how we’re going to get together and this came to mind. She’s kind of up-skilled herself in the process.
That’s always exciting for an athlete to see and also it’s brought a nice challenge and motivation to Erika to keep thinking about the work and pushing herself as an instructor to beyond the limits of where she was by working with someone who’s so performance orientated.
Well, congratulations on your personal best in this year’s Olympic games, and I hope we get to check in with you after your third Olympic competition!