The History of Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born near Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1880. He was a small and sickly child, afflicted with asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Determined to overcome his physical ailments, he studied anatomy, Eastern and Western philosophies and forms of exercise as bodybuilding, wrestling, yoga, gymnastics and martial arts. This background provided him with the foundation to a system he developed throughout his life.

In 1912, Pilates traveled to England as a circus performer. When World War I broke out, he was interned in a camp with other German nationals. While there, he taught and practiced his physical fitness program and began devising apparatus to aid in the rehabilitation of the disabled and sick. Pilates is credited with assisting many victims of the influenza epidemic and helping others recover from wartime diseases.

In 1926, Joseph immigrated to the United States. During the voyage, he met Clara, whom he soon married. They opened the fitness studio in New York City, which attracted a diverse population, including socialites, gymnasts and athletes. The dance community truly embraced the method, often integrating it into their dance technique and training. Such dance visionaries as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and Jerome Robbins, became firm believers.

Over the course of his career Pilates developed more that 600 exercises for the various pieces of apparatus he invented. His equipment is designed to condition the entire body, using positions and movements that simulate functional activities.

Enamored of the classical Greek ideal of a man who is balanced equally in body, mind and spirit, he came to believe that our modern lifestyle, bad posture and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health. His philosophy was that achieving good health means that the whole being—body, mind and spirit—must be addressed.

The Pilates method offers a path to total health. Pilates is a holistic approach to well-being and a lifelong process of refinement.