History of Pilates

Pilates, pronounced “Puh-Lah-Tees”, takes its name from Joseph Pilates who was born in Germany in 1880. Pilates was a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, and was determined to overcome these ailments.

In 1912 Pilates worked as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor in England, and during World War I was interned with other German nationals. During this time he developed his physical fitness technique further, by teaching his fellow internees. During the latter part of the war Pilates was an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached leg springs to the beds to help support the patients’ limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment - the Cadillac, which is used in Pilates studios today.

Joseph Pilates

Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920’s, opening a ‘body conditioning studio’ with his wife Clara in New York in 1926. The studio featured much of the apparatus designed to enhance his rehabilitation work. This studio soon became very popular, particularly in the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury.

In 1932 Pilates published the booklet Your Health, and followed this with Return to Life Through Contrology in 1945. Through his writings and teachings, his method of exercise continued to be practiced after his death in 1967, at the age of 87. Pilates’ method of exercise was called Contrology, until after his death when it became known as Pilates, or the Pilates method.

In just 80 years the number of people practicing Pilates worldwide is estimated to be nearly 15 million, with over 15,000 instructors. Joseph Pilates’ legacy lives on.

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