The History of the Pilates Method


Pilates, first called “Contrology” was created by a man called Joseph (Joe) Pilates. He was born in Germany in 1880. He started life as a small, sickly child who turned to exercise as a way to strengthen his body and improve his physical appearance. Due to his dedication to fitness he went from being a bow-legged frail child to modelling for anatomical charts at the age of 14.

Joe was inspired by the ancient Greek ideal of man who is balanced in his body, mind and spirit. He subsequently studied western and eastern philosophies, anatomy and various forms of exercise such as body building, wrestling, boxing and gymnastics. Contrology was born out of his knowledge, experience and personal intuition of the body. He presented his exercise system as the art of controlled movements which has the ability to heal the body and prevent ill-health.

During World War I, Joe was interned due to his nationality and it was during this time that he started instructing others in the art of Contrology. Pilates insisted that all the men in his block participate in his daily exercise routines to help maintain both their physical and mental well-being. Some of the soldiers were bedridden and he consequently “adapted” their beds so that they could perform resistance-based exercises whilst lying down (the first Cadillac or Trapeze Table units).

In 1926, Joe moved to America and opened his first studio in New York City. The studio’s clientele included many famous dancers, opera singers, boxers and New York’s elite. Joe didn’t only give instructions as to the exercises performed within his studio, but also advised his clients to adopt healthy habits and movements in their day-to-day lives.

For the rest of his life Joe continued to develop his exercise system and create new pieces of equipment to use. He believed that his approach to well-being should be embraced by the masses. It was his dream to see his method taught in schools, workplaces and hospitals. He died on the 9th of October 1967 and passed this dream onto a small group of devoted students who kept his work and dream alive.

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