Pilates History

Joe and Clara Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880. He was a sickly child, plagued with rickets, asthma, and rheumatic fever. His drive to overcome these ailments led to the practice of bodybuilding, gymnastics, diving and other physical pursuits. He studied Eastern and Western forms of exercise and philosophies and was greatly influenced by ancient Grecian and Roman regimens.
In 1912, Joseph Pilates traveled to England. When World War I broke out, he, along with other German nationals, was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man. While there, he taught and practiced his physical fitness program- It was in the camp that he began devising apparatus to aid in the rehabilitation of the disabled and sick Joseph Pilates is credited with assisting many who had succumbed to the influenza epidemic of that time and helping others recover from wartime diseases. After the war, Joseph Pilates returned to Germany where he was invited by the German government to train the new German Army. Recognizing the implications of this he decided to leave for America. (By certain accounts, he was invited to the United States by the manager of, Max Schmelling, a World Title holding boxer). On the way over to the United States, Joseph met Clara who soon after became his wife.
In 1926 Joseph and Clara Pilates set up the first Pilates studio in New York City. A varied and diverse population frequented the Studio, including the elite of New York society, circus performers, gymnasts and dancers- It was particularly the dance community and luminaries such as George Balanchine, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham and many other lesser-known dancers who truly recognized the value of this work and Joseph Pilates' inherent and deep understanding of the workings of the human body. They embraced the work and what it could do for their bodies, be it for rehabilitation or for enhancing performance.
Over the course of his career, Joseph Pilates developed over 600 exercises for the various pieces of apparatus he invented- His guiding philosophy in creating the apparatus and the movements was that the "whole” must be exercised to achieve good health. The Pilates equipment is designed to condition the entire body using positions and movements, which ultimately correct body alignment and balance. The repertoire includes various pieces of
apparatus developing from Fundamental to Master Level. Using springs and pulleys- which create progressive resistance, the equipment helps in producing muscle contractions (eccentric and concentric contractions) that simulate functional muscle action. At the same time the stabilizing muscle groups are encouraged to work isometrically to maintain correct positioning and alignment. It is important to mention that Joseph Pilates regarded his method, which he called Contrology, as a way of life and a path to total health rather than merely a series of exercises. Certainly a holistic approach and life long process, rather than only a physical fitness regimen.

Thank you to BASI Pilates® for providing this information.
Joseph H. Pilates
Joe Performing the Teaser


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