History of Pilates

History of Pilates

As Pilates has gained popularity through the years, learning about where it comes from can not only help us understand why we do it, but also broaden our overall understanding of the practice that we all love so much. 

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883 and was a sickly child struggling with asthma and other health problems. In the beginning of 1900 he started working as a circus-performer and boxer. Determined to improve his physical condition, that he had been dealing with in his early years, he developed a method of exercise that combined elements of yoga, gymnastics, and martial arts.

During World War 2, Joseph Pilates was interned with other German soldiers and begun developing his technique of physical fitness further by teaching his fellow internees his method of practice. Joseph believed that mental and physical health was interrelated and his technique intended to build strength as well as create total balance between the human body and mind. During the latter part of the war he served as an orderly in a hospital where he worked with injured soldiers from the war and patients unable to walk. He used springs attached to their beds to help them rehabilitate from injuries and keep their bodies healthy. This led to the invention of the Pilates equipment that we still use today, such as the reformer.

After the war, Joseph Pilates moved to New York City and opened up a studio with his wife Klara where he taught his method to dancers and athletes. The Pilates method gained popularity and and began to be adopted by individuals looking to improve their strength, flexibility, and overall physical well-being.

Pilates was a vociferous critic of the American lifestyle. He believed the way Americans sat at desks, moved, even their love for sports like baseball, which he believed threw the body out of balance. “Americans! They want to go 600 miles an hour and they don’t know how to walk!” he had told Sports Illustrated in 1962. Joseph was known for his abrupt approach and communication. “Look at them in the street. Bent over. Coughing! You men with grey faces! Why can’t they look like animals? Look at a cat. Look at any animal! The only animal that doesn’t hold its stomach in is the pig.” He believed he could fix Americans with his method by aligning body and mind in perfect harmony. At this point in time, the method was called contrology. It was not until after his death in 1967 that this practice became known as the Pilates Method. 

When Pilates died, the 86-year-old had trained a small handful of protégés, who opened their own studios and trained more teachers. The workout continued quietly in a handful of gyms across the US, mostly followed by dancers who relied on it to stay limber and strong. 

Over the years, Pilates has flourished and evolved, with new variations and adaptations being introduced. Today, Pilates is practiced by people all over the world, from professional athletes to to individuals seeking a gentle and effective for of exercise.

The principles of Pilates, such as control, precision, breath, and flow, remain the foundation of the practice. Pilates is known for its focus on core strength, postural alignment, and mindful movement. With its numerous benefits for both the body and mind, Pilates continues to be a popular exercise method and a valuable tool for improving fitness and wellbeing.