Joseph Pilates & the History of Pilates

History of Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 in Germany. A sickly child who suffered with asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, his childhood illnesses left him with twisted limbs and a stunted bone structure. Rather than accept his limitations, he was determined that with exercise he could correct his disabilities and lead a full and active life.

His belief that ‘Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness’ led him along an experimental journey where he tried many different health and fitness regimes. Through his hard work and determination, he rebuilt his body.

Using movements taken from yoga, martial arts, gymnastics, skiing, self defence, dance, circus training and weight training, Joseph Pilates developed an exercise system which promoted the perfect balance of strength, and flexibility. He called this exercise method ‘Contrology’

He went onto create a series of 34 mat work exercises and developed apparatus such as the Reformer, Cadillac and Barrel, all of which where intended to facilitate movement and enhance the effectiveness of the mat work exercises. Many of these pieces of apparatus were so well engineered that they remain fundamentally unchanged in their design today.

Pilates taught self defence and fitness to the police and army in both England and Germany and then emigrated to America in 1926, where he met his wife Clara and set up his studio. Many of his early clients were from the boxing community but word of his methods and success at treating injuries travelled and he soon started to work with ballet dancers, many of whom became teachers of the method themselves.

Joseph Pilates was convinced that one day his method, which he believed should be part of a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, would be known around the world. Sadly he didn’t get to see it happen. However, after his death in 1967, his method became known as “Pilates’ instead of ‘Contrology’ and his committed students went on to keep his method alive, training others in the system and spreading its popularity. 

His methods and philosophy have now become clinically accepted in studies carried out after his death. He believed in self discipline, self help and taking responsibility for your own health. This along with the “Pilates fundamentals’ such as core strength, breathing and concentration, and the fantastic results achieved by working with the method, mean that Pilates’ continues to grow and evolve for a new 21st century generation.

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