The History of Pilates

Joseph Pilates was the originator of the Pilates method.  He was born in Germany in the late 1800s.  He was a sickly child suffering asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever.  Determined to become fit, he studied yoga, martial arts and other forms of physical disciplines such as gymnastics, boxing and body building.


He absorbed these other methods of fitness and selected their most effective features and worked out a system, which at the time he called Contrology, which balances strength with flexibility.


While he was working over in the UK, the First World War broke out and he was taken into an interns camp.   He was put in charge of rehabilitating wounded soldiers.  Needing to develop a different regime other than the matwork on the floor, he developed a system of exercising that allowed the soldiers to strengthen themselves from their beds or chairs.  Joseph went to on to develop what became the studio equipment – the Reformer, Chair and Cadillac, based on his experience from this period.  His original designs for this equipment haven’t changed even more than 50 years on. 


He emigrated to the US in 1926, met his wife, Clara on the way there and they set up a studio together in New York.  Their clientele was made up of boxers, ballet dancers, actors, gymnasts and athletes, all looking to learn from Joseph to improve their performance, or rehabilitate their bodies after injury.


Many of Joseph’s early assistants set up their own studios and passed knowledge down to other teachers about Joseph’s method.


Contrology only became known as Pilates after his death in 1967 (from smoke inhalation from a fire in a restaurant underneath his studio, not from any physical ailments).


Pilates has since been taken into the mainstream, and is recognised by the medical profession as being beneficial for all sorts of conditions and injuries, as well as helping improve the performance of athletes in their various sports.

Quotes from Joseph Pilates  (from his book Return to Life through Contrology) -
"Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness"

"In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 sessions you will see the difference and in 30 sessions you will have a whole new body"

"Contrology (the Pilates method) develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit"

"I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier."


"Before any real benefit can be derived from physical exercises, one must first learn how to breathe properly.  Our very life depends on it"