History of Pilates

joseph pilates age 57

The Pilates Method was created by Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Mr. Pilates was clearly a man ahead of his time in understanding how the body works and how the body can be improved.

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 in Monchengladbach, Germany. He was a sickly child plagued by asthma and rickets. His method sprang from his determination to strengthen his frail and sickly body. These factors developed his commitment to becoming a self-taught athlete, excelling in all sorts of kinetic sports such as gymnastics, boxing and skiing. In his early years he discovered the miraculous results of an exercise and fitness method that he applied to himself and taught to others.

By the age of 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. He moved to England in 1912 and earned a living as a professional boxer, circus performer and self defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. During World War I he was forced, along with other German citizens, into an internment camp on the Isle of Man. During his involuntary stay he served as an orderly in a hospital where he began working with non-ambulatory patients. He attached springs to their hospital beds to strengthen their healthy limbs allowing the rest of their bodies of heal and he began to develop his concept of integrating physical exercise which he called CONTROLOGY. It is told that these patients survived the 1918 flu pandemic due to their good physical shape.

After WWI ended Pilates returned to Germany. While living in Hamburg he trained their police officers and military in his method of exercise. When he was pressured to train members of the German army he decided to leave his home country because of its social and political conditions.

In 1925 on a ship to America he met his future wife Clara. The couple opened “Joe’s Gym” on 8th Avenue in New York City in 1926. Both Joseph and Clara directly taught the Contrology method and supervised their students for the next 38 years. Pilates defined Contrology as the comprehensive integration of body, mind and spirit.

Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967. He had maintained a fit physique throughout his life, and many photographs show that he was in remarkable physical condition in his older years. He is also said to have had a flamboyant personality. He was a cigar smoker and liked to party. It is also said that he was an intimidating, deeply committed instructor. Clara continued to teach and run the business for another 10 years after Pilates’ death.