Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 near Dusseldorf in Germany.  Pilates was an extremely disciplined man who passionately believed in his system as a way of life.

Joseph Pilates teaching a mat class
Joseph and Clara
Joseph Pilates
Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 near Dusseldorf in Germany.  In order to overcome several childhood infirmities such as asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, he developed an exercise regime including boxing, skiing and gymnastics to improve his physical strength and health.  By the age of 14 he posed for anatomical charts.  

In 1912, he moved to England and worked as a self-defence instructor, circus performer and boxer.  With the outbreak of the World War 1 as a German national he was first interned at Lancaster and later at a camp on the Isle of Man.  During his time he trained the other inmates in physical fitness and developed rehabilitation programmes for those injured adapting the bed, adding straps, pulleys and springs to help regain their muscular strength and control.  They can be seen as the blue prints of the Cadillac and Reformer used in studios today.

After the war he briefly returned to Germany and was invited to train the new army, realising the implications of this involvement he moved to America.  On the passage to New York he met his future wife Clara who played a fundamental role in the development and teaching of his method.  In 1926 they set up their first studio in New York City.  Their diverse clientele included socialites, gymnasts, circus performers, actors and athletes.  But arguably, it was the dance community where he achieved most notoriety; his clients included George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Ted Shaw and Hanya Holm.  Joseph and Clara spent many summers at Jacob's Pillow, a famous dance camp in the Berkshire Mountains.  Training with his method, Contrology (the method was not called Pilates until after his death in 1967) was by apprenticeship and once trained students were encouraged to set up their own studios, evolving the method and introducing their own ideas.  These first generation teachers have played a profound role in the development of the method.  

Pilates was an extremely disciplined man who passionately believed in his system as a way of life.  In his book Return to Life through Contrology, he writes, "Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong posture, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit".  

He  dreamed of his work being taught in schools and colleges.  The other book he wrote is Your Health which is a corrective system of exercising that revolutionises the entire field of physical education.

In January 1996 a trademark class-action lawsuit began.  A court ruling in October 2000 stated that Pilates is a generic designation for a method of exercise and that as such couldn't be owned or called by any other name.

Today, Pilates can be seen in so many different environment.  The secret behind the popularity and appeal of Pilates lies in its versatility and adaptability.  Its benefits can apply to a wide cross section from the professional dancer and elite athlete to the young, old and those recovering from injury.

J Pilates Education and Training

Images of Joe Pilates courtesy of I.C. Raport