Joseph Pilates

The attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body, with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous…zest and pleasure – Joseph Pilates on his method.

Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates, a physical-culturist from Germany. During the first half of the 20th century, he developed a system of exercises which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body, which he called “Contrology”. Joe believed that mental and physical health are interrelated and his technique was a complete coordination of mind, body and spirit. Joe was a sickly child who suffered from rheumatic fever, rickets and asthma. This motivated Joe to become a strong athlete, learning practice, persistence, and patience, which became his credo for the rest of his life.

Joe went to England in 1912, where he worked as a self-defense instructor for detectives at Scotland Yard. At the outbreak of World War I, Joe was interned as an “enemy alien” with other German nationals. During his internment, Joe refined his ideas and trained other internees in his system of exercise. He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to his later equipment designs. An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands of people, but not a single one of Joe’s trainees died. This, he claimed, testified to the effectiveness of his system.

After his release, Joe returned to Germany. His exercise method gained favor in the dance community, primarily through Rudolf von Laban, who created the form of dance notation most widely used today. Hanya Holm adopted many of Joe’s exercises for her modern dance curriculum, and they are still part of the “Holm Technique.” When German officials asked Joe to teach his fitness system to the army, he decided to leave Germany for good.

In 1926, Joe emigrated to the United States. During the voyage he met Clara, whom he later married. Joe and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York, sharing an address with the New York City Ballet. By the early 1960s, Joe and Clara could count among their clients many New York dancers. George Balanchine studied “at Joe’s,” as he called it, and also invited Pilates to instruct his young ballerinas at the New York City Ballet. Many famous dancers are considered “Pilates Elders” today, and have carried on his method and mentor students around the world.

Joe was able to perform all of his exercises until he died on October 9, 1967, two months shy of his 84th birthday. He believed that Contrology would someday be recognized for it’s value and contribution to mankind. Pilates is now practiced by over 10 million Americans alone and the numbers continue to grow.