History of Pilates

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The Pilates method is a system of Exercises created by the German Joseph Pilates (1883-1967). At its creation, Joseph had named it “Contrology.”

Joseph Pilates was a weakly child, suffering from rickets and asthma. He quickly worked to turn his weaknesses into strength and became a sportsman. Among other things, he practiced Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and gymnastics. He is even an anatomical model during these young years in Germany.

In 1923, he decided to emigrate to the United States, and it is on the boat leading him there that he meets Clara, a nurse by profession, who will be his life and work companion until the end.

The method was a great success for the dancers in New York, where they set up their studio. They will be followed by many disciples who will develop the method in the four corners of the world at the death of Joseph; they are called the “elders” or first-generation teachers.


A desire born of a disability – From his birth, handicap, Joseph Pilates never conceived a fatality and made it a strength. Very early, he worked to improve his physical condition through notions of yoga, martial arts, Greek and Roman sports disciplines, always insisting on the impact of the mind on the whole body, concepts that are found in the Germanic philosophical currents at the time.

His perseverance was so active that he found himself around the age of 30, a professional diver, gymnast, and boxer. He went to live in England in 1912 and taught self-defense in a police academy, but because of World War I, he was imprisoned like all Germans living in the United Kingdom. In prison, he worked on the method itself, working with these inmates and creating the prototype of Pilates machines with a bunk bed. After the war, he returned to Germany but left again when the Nazi army became the press to become a trainer. This time, he went to New York, where he founded his studio with his wife Clara, whom he met on the boat.

Very quickly, this revolutionary method, based on breathing and the combination of mental and physical in the practice of sports discipline, made many followers. The New York dancers put themselves in the Pilates, which allows them to strengthen their muscles while keeping their flexibility.

In 1967, Joseph Hubertus Pilates died at the age of 83 years. He dedicated his life to the well-being and health of his fellow man. He taught in his studio for over 40 years. In 1977, 10 years later, his wife, Clara, joined him. At the origin of Pilates, a profound reflection on the notion of balance.

Unlike yoga, which can be more or less spiritual, Pilates was initially intended to be a discipline in which the mind is a real actor. These are not empty and senseless repetitions; you must understand why you are doing this exercise and feel the part of the body you are seeking. Exploring the balance of the antagonistic muscles, to learn to contract some without excessive and without relaxing others participates in the general bodybuilding of the body, and the focus on the central part implies an ideal posture according to the method specialists.

Because of its meticulousness, the Pilates method is necessarily a soft discipline, but not an easy one! The learning of the technique and its perfect execution requires a lot of perseverance, like its founder, who managed to change his body from puny to the athlete.

During the life of J. Pilates, the therapeutic dimension of his work will not be recognized by the medical community. It was not until the 1980s that the Pilates method was introduced in rehabilitation centers. Nowadays, the technique is widely used in fitness centers, Pilates studios, dance schools, high-performance sports clubs, and hospitals. J. Pilates has left few writings on his method (his two books “return to life through Contrology” and “your health”) in which he leaves us clear indications on his philosophy. Through its method, it is a global balance that must be achieved in one’s life between work, family, and leisure. He cites the importance of personal hygiene, food, good sleep, clean air, and sunshine.