Joseph Pilates

The History of Joseph H. Pilates

Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1880 in Germany. He was a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. As a result, he spent his entire adult life dedicated to improving his physical strength.

Upon moving to England in 1912 he earned his living as a professional boxer, circus performer, and self defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. At the outbreak of WWI, Joseph was interred along with other German nationals on the Isle of Man.

During this time, he began to extensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercises, which he called “Contrology”. He studied the movements of animals and trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercise. It is told that the inmates that studied Joe’s program were able to survive the influenza pandemic of 1918, due to their superior physical shape.

After returning to Germany after WWI, Joseph continued to develop his exercise program, while also training the Hamburg police force. When he was pressured to train the German army, he decided to leave his native country. Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States in 1925.

On the ship to America, he met his future wife, Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York City where they taught and supervised their students well in the 1960s. Throughout the years, both Joseph and Clara continued to develop, revise, and augment their exercises, tailoring each students program to their specific needs.

They cultivated a devout group of students, who continued to teach the method well after the deaths of Joe and Clara. Today, though only a few of those original disciples are still around, the method of “Contrology”, commonly known today as just “Pilates”, is still taught all over the world.