Pilates History


Joseph H. Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach Germany, in 1880. His father was a prize-winning gymnast. His mother worked as a naturopath. He was a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, and he dedicated his entire life to becoming physically stronger. He sought out, and studied, many types of self-improvement , including practices such as Yoga and Zen Buddhism.


He was inspired by the ancient Greek ideal of 'man' perfected in development of the body, mind and spirit. Joseph Pilates studied anatomy, and developed himself as a body builder, a wrestler, gymnast, boxer, skier and diver. He fine- 

tuned his wellness regimen while interned in England during the First World War and, legend has it, it helped him and his fellow internees resist the influenza epidemic of 1918. While working as an orderly at the infirmary, he engineered a way to rig the springs of hospital beds to offer light resistance exercises to the bedridden patients, and thus the seed for the Pilates equipment work was planted.


After WWI, Joseph briefly returned to Germany where his reputation as a physical trainer/healer preceded him. He worked briefly training the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training. In 1925 he was asked to train the German army. Instead, he packed his bags and took a boat to New York City. On the boat to America he met Clara, a nurse, who would become his wife.

Joseph Pilates then went on to establish a studio in New York City with Clara working alongside him, helping him evolve the Pilates method of exercise, developing the Pilates exercise equipment, and training students.
Pilates originally called his work Contrology. He defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body mind and spirit”. Pilates was a firm advocate of quality over quantity with regard to exercise. He was looking for efficiency in movement. Each movement had to be accomplished with full attention and done smoothly with control. With that goal, Pilates created exercises that develop what we now call, core strength, in order to maximize the ease and flow of each movement. Concentration, Awareness, Correct Breathing, Control of movement and Precision are key principles of the Pilates method and are integral to receiving the full benefits of the practice.Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 87.