Born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates was a sickly child and suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. However, he refused to accept the limitations of his body and spent his life obsessed with restoring his health and physical condition. Even as a young boy, he worked systematically and tirelessly to create a system of exercises that would correct his disabilities and by the age of 14 he was able to pose as a model for anatomical drawings.
Joseph Pilates went on to become a boxer, gymnast and circus performer. He also loved skiing, diving, yoga and martial arts. With his continued determination to cure his own body and improve the health of others he developed an entirely new exercise regime in the early 1900s which he called ‘Controlology’. Controlology combined Eastern and Western approaches and was designed to use the mind to control the muscles.
In 1912, Joseph Pilates moved to England, but when the First World War broke out he was interned as a German national. He used his time to refine his exercise method and began teaching his mat-based exercises to fellow internees.
Towards the end of the First World War, Joseph Pilates worked as an orderly in a hospital. During this time he was able to develop his first piece of exercise equipment, the “Universal Reformer”, which he made from the springs of a hospital bed. This equipment allowed his injured patients to move safely and keep their muscles toned. This early mechanism was the prototype of the exercise machines found in Pilates studios today.
In 1926, Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States and opened the first official Pilates studio in New York. The studio was an immediate success and celebrity clients like dancer Martha Graham and choreographer George Balanchine became regulars at his studio. Before his death in 1967, he had trained several other instructors to teach his method, ensuring that it would continue to develop and gain popularity.
The most important legacy he left to the world was a revolutionary approach to exercise that allows anyone to achieve the very best body they can.
“In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 you will see the difference, and in 30 you will have a whole new body.” Joseph Pilates