THE HISTORY OF JOSEPH PILATES 

Joseph Pilates dedicated his life to inventing a unique series of life-enhancing physical exercises designed to combat the stress that modern living imposes on our bodies.

When Joe created his method nearly a hundred years ago, society was becoming more industrialized, and therefore people were using their bodies less and less. He designed his method to deal with society’s ever increasing lack of mobility, which plagues us more today than ever.

                  Photo of Joseph Pilates by permission of I.C. Rapoport ©

Joe believed his method gave him "everlasting youth," and he practiced well into his eighties. He was a walking advertisement for his system, remaining robust and full of vitality until his death at age 87. 

 

THE INITIAL INSPIRATION

Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, Germany, in 1883. As a child, he suffered from rheumatic fever, rickets, and asthma.

In an effort to restore his own health, he began studying anatomy books and a variety of disciplines, including body-building, boxing, and gymnastics. He reinforced his studies by observing animals, which solidified his understanding of healthy and efficient movement.

As a child, I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move, how the mother taught the young.

He began testing his newfound knowledge on himself. By the age of fourteen, Joe was in such good shape the he modeled for anatomical charts. Here he is at age 59, still the model of a well sculpted physique.

 

HIS METHOD BEGINS TO TAKE SHAPE

In 1912, Joe moved to England to further his boxing training. However, when Britain entered World War I in 1914, the British government imprisoned him as an “enemy alien” because of his German citizenship. It was during this period that Pilates, originally named "Contrology," began to take shape.

During his internment, he took on the role of physical instructor, keeping the other prisoners and injured soldiers in good health. Joe had the men who were physically sound perform mat exercises. For those who were bedridden, Joe disassembled the beds and used the springs to create resistance that would safely rehabilitate them.

He boasted that his patients would emerge stronger than they were before their imprisonment. His words were put to the test in 1918 when a flu epidemic swept the world, killing millions. Those who followed his exercise regime were unaffected due to their good health.

In 1919, Joe returned to Germany and began training the Hamburg Military Police. His good work did not go unnoticed and, in 1923, was invited to train the New German Army. However, he declined the invitation due to the German government’s political ideologies and decided to move to America.

 

JOE MOVES TO AMERICA 

In 1926, Joe and his wife Clara arrived in New York City and opened a studio where he taught his developing method. 

At first, most of his clients were men who ranged from in-shape boxers to out-of-shape business men. When dance choreographers George Balanchine and Martha Graham discovered the method’s rejuvenating qualities, they began sending all of their dancers to Joe to "get fixed."

Joseph and Clara operated their exercise studio for over 40 years, restoring the health and vitality of hundreds of people.

 

Gone now for fifty years, Joe's method continues to rehabilitate and transform bodies.

Today, people from all walks of life and around the world use Joe’s method to stay fit, focused, and healthy.

1883-1967