The Pilates Method was originally developed by Joseph Pilates in the early Twentieth Century. His philosophies, principles and exercise method were well ahead of their time and have had a revolutionary impact on the field of health and fitness.
Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 in Germany. Pilates was a sick child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. It was these ailments that motivated him to pioneer his unique training system, enabling him to become a successful gymnast, skier and diver.
Prior to World War I, Pilates moved to England where he worked as a self-defence trainer, boxer and circus performer. When the war broke out, the British authorities interned him in a camp with other German citizens. It was here that he further developed his mat-work based exercises and used them to train his fellow inmates. The success of this training signalled the beginning of the Pilates Method.
Towards the end of the war Joseph Pilates worked as a hospital orderly. It was during this time that he became inspired to construct specific exercise equipment, with which he could use to rehabilitate the patients who were unable to walk. He attached springs to hospital beds to offer support and resistance to the patients’ limbs, allowing them to begin their recovery while bedridden. Pilates found that his patients recovered faster than those who were not under his care. This equipment became the models for the machines that he designed many years later for his New York studio, and which, although slightly modified, are still used today.
In the early 1920’s, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the United States. On the voyage to America he met his future wife Clara; a nurse. In 1926 Joseph and Clara established an equipment based studio in New York to teach his method. Word soon spread about the success of Pilates method of exercise and it wasn’t long before his studio was frequented with many celebrities of the day.
Joseph Pilates’ method of exercise, which he called “Contrology”, was supported by the New York professional dance community. His method allowed dancers to improve their technique or recover from injury. The method has continued to gain popularity, and in recent years, has also been adopted in athletic and rehabilitative circles as well as within the general population.
Pilates trained clients and students at his studio until the 1960’s. He lived a long healthy life and died at age 87 in 1967. During his life he also wrote several books including “Return to Life through Contrology” and “Your Health”. His books outline not only his method of exercise but also his beliefs that bad posture, inefficient breathing and our modern lifestyles are the basis for poor health. (Both books are available for purchase at The Pilates Studio Gstaad)
Today, Joseph’s legacy continues and the Pilates Method is practiced by millions of people around the world. The Pilates Method that we practice today has gradually evolved from the original work of Joseph Pilates. The Method builds on the principles and philosophy of Joseph’s original teachings by incorporating modern knowledge about the body. The Method has embraced anatomy and exercise science to make it safer and more effective.