Pilates is named after its creator, Joseph Pilates, who was born in a small town in Germany in 1880. He grew up a sickly child, and suffered from multiple diseases including asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Joe became fascinated with the human body, and began studying multiple forms of exercises. Joe developed his body to the point that he was modeling for anatomy charts.
Concentrating On Movement
When WWI broke out in 1914 Joseph was held at an internment camp with other Germans. During the internment, Pilates worked with students and developed a series of exercises he called “contrology.” While working in the camp, Joe started devising equipment to rehabilitate those who were bedridden, by attaching springs to the beds. This is where the Cadillac came from!
After the war, Joe returned to Germany and began training more and more students, using his resistance equipment. Speaking of his unique exercise equipment, he said, “Look, you see it resists your movement in just the right way so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way you must concentrate on movement. You must do it slowly and smoothly. Then your whole body is in it.”
Joe decided to go to New York to flee the political unrest that dominated Germany. Upon arriving in New York in 1926, Joe and his second wife Clara, opened a gym that happened to be in the same building as several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. Was this proximity, that made Pilates’ “contrology” exercises so common in dancer’s training. Joe worked with many famous dancers and choreographers including George Balanchine and Martha Graham.
Joseph continued teaching and honing his techniques throughout his life until he died in 1967 at the age of 87. His wife Clara continued teaching her husband’s discipline until her death in 1977. Pilates’ “contrology” exercises continued to be taught long after his death, with the name slowly being changed to “Pilates.” Today there are thousands of Pilates studios all over the world, with Joseph’s teachings still being regarded as genius.