The Pilates method of exercise was created by Joseph Pilates, who was born in 1880 near Dusseldorf, Germany. Joe was frail as a child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He overcame his physical limitations with exercise and body building, becoming a model for anatomical drawings at the age of 14. He became accomplished in many sports, including skiing, diving and gymnastics. Joe went to England in 1912, where he worked as a self-defense instructor for detectives at Scotland Yard. At the outbreak of World War I, Joe was interned as an "enemy alien" with other German nationals. During his internment, Joe refined his ideas and trained other internees in his system of exercise. He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to a machine which Joe Pilates eventually named the "Cadillac," one of the main components of what was to become Pilates' method of exercise. An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands of people, but not a single one of Joe's trainees died. This, he claimed, testified to the effectiveness of his system.


Arriving in the U.S.:

In 1926, Joseph and Clara Pilates arrived in New York City. By the 1940's Pilates– both the man and his exercises– had begun to achieve notoriety in the dance community. "At some time or other," reported Dance magazine in its February, 1956 issue, "virtually every dancer in New York, and certainly everyone who has studied at Jacob's Pillow between 1939 and 1951, has meekly submitted to the spirited instruction of Joe Pilates."

In the late 50s, one of the Pilateses' students, Carola Trier, opened up her own studio to teach the method she had learned from Joe and Clara Pilates, combining it with her own knowledge. Joe Pilates assisted Trier in opening her studio and the Pilateses and Trier remained close friends until the respective deaths of Joe and Clara. Thus, by the late 50s, Joe Pilates' studio on Eighth Avenue in New York was not the only "Pilates" studio in town. By the early 1960's, the Joe and Clara Pilates could count among their clients many New York dancers. In fact, Pilates was becoming popular outside of New York as well. As the New York Herald Tribune noted in 1964, "In dance classes around the United States hundreds of young students limber up daily with an exercise they know as "pilates" without knowing that the word has a capital 'P' and a living, breathing namesake."

Ahead of His Time:

Joe continued to train clients at his studio until his death in 1967 at the age of 87. In the 1970s, Hollywood celebrities discovered Pilates and Where the stars go, the media follows. In the late 1980s, the media began to cover Pilates extensively. The public took note, and the Pilates business boomed. "I'm fifty years ahead of my time," Joe once claimed. He was right. No longer the workout of the elite, Pilates has entered the fitness mainstream. Today, five million Americans practice Pilates, and the numbers continue to grow.

Vision and Legacy:

Pilates believed everybody should practice his exercises daily. He wanted to see fitness in the schools revised to his ideas of "gain without pain." Pilates was influenced by eastern philosophies emphasizing the Mind/Body/Spirit connection. He preached the importance of "core strength", and the importance of a healthy spine to maintain a youthful body.

Pilates wrote in the 40's in his book "Return to Life" about the harmful effects our habits have on our bodies and how to correct them.

Today we have scientific evidence of how right he was already at that time and Pilates is offered in hospitals, medical offices, universities, health clubs, and independent studios around the world. Pilates is a wonderful complement to physical therapy, chiropractic, massage therapy and many other therapeutic or physical fitness systems as well as a rehabilitation or a wellness program.