Pilates History

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 in Germany.

His father was a gymnast and his mother a naturopath. His mother’s healing philosophy and his father’s physical achievements greatly influenced Joseph’s ideas on therapeutic exercise.

As a child Joseph suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, but he was determined to overcome these physical disadvantages and dedicated his life to improving his health and strength.

He focused on breathing techniques to help with his asthma and exercised outside to cure his Rickets. By the age of 14 he was fit enough to pose for anatomic charts. He loved skiing and he studied bodybuilding, yoga, martial arts, and gymnastics. We can recognise the influence of these activities in the Pilates exercises we do today.

In 1912 Joseph moved to England and earned a living as a professional boxer, circus performer, and self-defence trainer.

During WW1 he was at a British enemy citizen camp. The health conditions in the camps were poor but Pilates insisted that everyone participated in daily exercise to help their physical and mental well-being. Some of the injured soldiers were too weak to get out of bed so Pilates took springs from the beds and attached them to the headboards and footboards to turn them into resistance exercise equipment. These beds became the inspiration for the spring based exercise machine, the Reformer. During the flu epidemic of 1918 not a single soldier under his care died.

After the war, Joseph returned to Germany. He collaborated with experts in dance and physical exercise, trained police officers and was also pressured to train members of the German Army. He later left Germany disappointed with its conditions and moved to the United States.

On the way to the US he met his future wife Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York, close to many dance studios and taught and supervised students well into the 1960s.

The Pilates method encourages the mind to control muscles, and it focuses attention on core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and provide support for the spine. Pilates’s exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.

Pilates believed that modern lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health.

Joseph passed away in 1967, he maintained a fit physique throughout his life and photographs show that he was in remarkable physical condition in his older years.

Pilates was also said to have a flamboyant personality, he liked to party, smoked Cigars, and wore his exercise briefs wherever he wanted!

Although Joseph and Clara had no children his legacy and techniques were preserved and developed through the work of his disciples; at the time it was mainly dancers and elite athletes that utilised the Pilates technique. The technique has been passed down through their disciples and training has now been developed all over the world.

Fortunately Pilates has now made it to the mainstream and is widely recognised as being of great benefit to the health and well being of all types of people, no matter their shape, size, or gender.