Pilates - A potted history

Updated: Apr 21

Many people have heard of Pilates but not so many know that Pilates was actually a person. Joseph Humbertus Pilates was born in 1880 in Germany. He was a rather sickly child suffering from rickets and rheumatic fever. He was determined to make himself strong so as to make himself physically immune from his ailments. Therefore, he studied yoga, zen meditation and Roman and Greek exercise regimes.

In 1912 he moved to England and worked as a boxer and circus performer. Then WW1 broke out and he became a prisoner of war and was interned to the Isle of Man. Here he became a hospital orderly and was appalled to see so many people ill in bed and doing no exercise. Joe devised gentle exercise regimes for these patients and it was soon noted that these patients became better quicker. He developed these exercises to incorporate springs from the hospital beds, believing that this would provide progressive resistance and only partial loading forces on ligaments, muscles and tendons, thus improving healing. It turned out he was right!

Joe returned to Germany when the war ended and developed his exercise regime which he initially called 'contrology' within the dance world. He was asked to train the German army and this led to his decision to leave Germany forever and move to New York. On the boat to America he met Clara, his wife to be and together they opened 'The Pilates Studio' in New York and Pilates was born. Over time they developed their practice to create the Pilates exercises we know and use today the world over.

Pilates-'develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit' - Joseph Pilates



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