The History of Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 near Dusseldorf, Germany.  His father a native of Greece had been an award-winning gymnast whilst his German born- mother was a naturopath who believed in the principle of stimulating the body to heal itself without the artificial use of drugs.  The combination of his father’s physical fitness and mothers healing beliefs undoubtedly contributed to Pilates exercise methodology.

Throughout his childhood he was frail and sickly suffering from rheumatic fever, asthma and rickets.  Determined to overcome his ill health he undertook a regime of physical fitness incorporating Yoga, body building, gymnastics, wrestling and martial arts.  He was also an accomplished boxer, skier and diver.

Joseph took elements from the various disciplines to formulate his own method know as ‘Contrology’, striving for an equal balance in body, mind and spirit.  Pilates believed that the modern lifestyle, poor posture and inefficient breathing were the roots of ill health.  

The Origins of Pilates

In 1912 Pilates travelled to England as a boxer.  When World War I broke out he was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man.  During this time, he taught and practised his physical fitness programme ‘Contrology’.  However, some of the injured soldiers were too weak to get out of bed therefore springs were taken from the beds and attached to the headboards and footboards of the iron frames to create equipment that provided a resistance for his bedridden patients.  This mechanised system is reflective in todays equipment known as the Cadillac and Reformer.  

After the war ended, he returned to Germany where he trained the Hamburg police, but when instructed to train the newly formed German army he decided to immigrate to America.  On route he met his future wife, Clara and they set up a studio in New York.  The studio attracted the New York City Ballet, athletes, gymnasts, boxers and circus performers who recognised the importance of strength without bulk combined with flexibility. He continued to develop his exercise system and create new pieces of equipment such as the Barrel constructed from a beer keg and he used the metal hoops from the keg to make his first magic circle. 

From a rehabilitation perspective the equipment can facilitate the return of functional movement in a safe and effective manner. The Pilates method has been welcomed by doctors and physiotherapists who are seeing the benefits when taught by a qualified Pilates practitioner.    The exercise concept of ‘Contrology’ was changed to ‘Pilates’ after his death in 1967, at the age of 84.  Many of his former students, masters went on to open their own studios and continue with his teachings.  Pilates has gained mass popularity over the years as celebrities have raised the profile to reveal its full potential and that Joseph Pilates was 50 years ahead of his time in his thinking.  

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a unique series of exercises that can be performed to help correct muscular imbalances and improve posture.  It focusses on recruiting the tiny muscles that support your dominant, superficial muscles.

It is often used for remedial purposes to counter our modern-day posture and associated over use conditions that can result in back or joint pain.  

The benefits of Pilates:

  • Promotes postural awareness, balance & proprioception.

  • Improves muscle strength, flexibility, posture & coordination.

  • Increases breathing capacity & organ functioning.

  • Reduces stress levels, incidences of back pain, headaches (where postural related) & the risk of injury.