Pilates History

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” 

A Brief History of the Man behind the Method

German-born fitness innovator Joseph H. Pilates (1881-1967) developed the Pilates exercise system in the 1920’s. His interest in physical fitness stemmed from a determination to strengthen his own body and improve his health after a sickly childhood.

With a background in yoga, Zen meditation, martial arts and other ancient fitness techniques plus some success as a gymnast, diver and boxer, Joseph Pilates devised a unique sequence of movements that worked the mind and muscle in harmony.

He fine-tuned his wellness regimen while interned in England during the First World War, claiming it helped him and his fellow internees resist an influenza epidemic.

Working as an orderly at an infirmary, he engineered a way to rig springs on hospital beds to offer light resistance exercises to bedridden patients, and thus the seed for Pilates equipment was planted.

After the war, Joseph Pilates moved to New York and with his wife, Clara Pilates, opened up a studio near the New York City Ballet in 1926. It wasn’t long before he drew a following with dancers who took to Pilates for its ability to create long, lean muscles and a strong, streamlined physique. Legends Martha Graham and George Balanchine were among his clientele.

In 1945, Joseph Pilates published “Return to Life through Contrology”, which described his philosophical approach to exercise. Soon, some of his students began opening studios of their own – some making subtle adaptations to the method – and word of Pilates slowly spread.

In the 1990’s the mind-body fitness movement took off as baby boomers started seeking gentler paths to health and wellness.

Nowadays, one can find Pilates studios all over the world. Joseph Pilates truly was a man ahead of his time.

Today, many famous athletes, dancers, models, and actors — as well as business professionals, housewives, and retirees — have joined the ranks of practitioners everywhere who are improving their lives with Pilates.

“The Pilates method may provide you with your first glimpse of your body’s true potential for graceful movement, flexibility, and power.”


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