Pilates History

Brief History of Pilates

Joseph Pilates (1883-1967)

Born in Germany.  He was a sickly child plagued with a weak respiratory system.  To improve his own health, he began exploring ways to strengthen his body and his mind.  He participated in boxing, fencing, wrestling, and gymnastics. Joe was in England touring when World War 1 broke out.  He was held as a resident alien in an internment camp on the Isle of Man for the duration of the war.  While in the camp, he studied the movement of animals, in particular cats.  He analyzed their motions, watched how they stretched keeping their muscles limber and alive.  He had his fellow detainees perform a daily set of exercises that he created.  None of the inmates following his workout regimen got sick during the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Joe’s success resulted in a job as an orderly in a hospital for wounded soldiers.  His exercises helped his patients recover faster.  During this time, Joe developed his first piece of exercise equipment by attaching springs to the patients bed frames – what we now know as the Cadillac.

Joe left on a boat for America after the war and met his future wife, Clara.  She was a nurse who became a partner working beside him in the studio everyday.   After arriving in New York in 1926, they rented a small studio in the same building as the NYC Ballet.  Joe referred to his method as Contrology.  He made a strong impression on the dance community working rehabbing injured dancers.

He had a dream of introducing his vision of mind-body fitness into every aspect of life from schools to military training.  He was so far ahead of his time, recognizing that the “modern” lifestyle of bad posture, improper breathing and inactivity created poor health.  He taught small groups of devoted teachers and students, a few of whom went on to continue his work and kept it alive until the rest of the world caught up to his revolutionary thinking.  The Pilates Method is now being taught across the world.

Joe designed the Universal reformer, Wunda chair, Cadillac, Ladder Barrel, Spine Corrector and many other inventions during his lifetime.