History of Pilates

Joseph Pilates born in Moenchengladbach, near Dusseldorf, Germany. Physically he was a frail, sickly child prone to asthma, rheumatic fever and rickets.  The doctors warned his parents that he had a short life expectancy.  Rather than use the accepted norms of exercise, he experimented with yoga, skiing, gymnastics, circus training, self-defence, weight training and dance.  By the age of 14 he had sculpted his body so well, he was posing for anatomical charts.  Selecting the most effective aspects from each, he developed a system which he believed promoted the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.

Travelled to London

Outbreak of 1st World War
Working as a self-defence instructor for detectives in Scotland Yard; circus performer and boxer.

Being a German national, Pilates was Interned with other German nationals.  During this period he encouraged other internees to exercise using his system of exercise.  During this period he worked as a hospital orderly in a hospital on the Isle of man.  He took the opportunity of this time to develop his ideas, and attached springs to hospital beds which enabled bedridden patients to exercise against resistance.  He also created strengthening exercises which the doctors noticed improved the patients’ speed of recovery.  These experiments later formed the basis of the development of Pilates equipment.

Post 1918
Pilates returned to Germany and worked for the Hamburg police where he was employed as a fitness trainer.  His exercise methods found favour with Rudolf von Laban who created the form of dance notation most widely used today.  Another famous dancer, Hanya Holm, used Pilates exercises in her modern dance curriculum.

Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States.  Whilst on board ship, he met his future wife, Clara, a nurse, who held a similar philosophy about the benefits of fitness and exercise.  Together, they decided to open a body conditioning studio in New York.  The studio attracted boxers, and dancers, particularly those who had suffered injuries.  Some of these dancers went on to teach the Pilates method.

Joseph Pilates
Joseph Pilates at age 57 and 82.  Joseph Pilates defined physical fitness as “the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind”.  His methods attracted many followers who have spread Pilates throughout the United States and thence to the rest of the world.  Originally called “Contrology”, it wasn’t until after his death that it became the “Pilates” method.  Pilates became the favoured choice of exercise for dancers, professional entertainers and athletes. 

Joseph Pilates died in a fire in his own New York studio.

Pilates first introduced to the UK by Alan Herdman who was a Pilates pioneer.  He trained as a dancer with London Contemporary and was invited to New York in the 1960s to learn about the Joseph Pilates Method from Pilates himself.  He returned to England in 1970 to set up the first UK studio.  His first clients were exclusively dancers, one of whom was Michael King, founder director of the Pilates Institute.  Michael opened the Body Control Studio at the Pineapple Dance Studios in 1982.  He then went on to write many best selling books and to present Pilates all over the world.  He developed accredited training programmes so that people all over the world could learn to become highly skilled teachers of Pilates.

Joseph Pilates said 'After ten sessions you will feel difference, after twenty you will see the difference and after thirty you will have a new body.'

"You will burn between "228 and 277 calories per hour of Pilates"   NICE recommendations