The history of Pilates

Filed under: Pilates Info — Susan on June 28, 2013

Pilates is named after the German immigrant who invented it. Joseph Pilates was born in Germany, but later lived in both the UK and the US. He was a fitness genius who invented a whole new way of conditioning the body.

Born in Dusseldorf in 1880, Joseph Pilates was a sickly, weak child. Hating this fact, he set his mind to changing his fortunes around. He wanted to be healthy and strong, and he was determined to find a way to make this happen. After extensively researching several types of exercise and trying each for himself, he eventually came up with the Pilates method, which was influenced by everything from the Eastern arts of yoga, tai chi and kung fu, to classical Roman exercise regimes.

In 1912, Pilates left his home country of Germany and headed to the UK. Once there, he worked as a professional boxer. He was also, at this time, an accomplished skier and diver, and even taught self-defence classes to Scotland Yard officers.

Development of Pilates

When the First World War broke out, Pilates was interned in a camp for prisoners of war and this is when he began to develop the practice of Pilates we know and love today. All throughout his internment, he experimented with exercise and body conditioning and saw great results – thus, Pilates was born.

Once the war was over, Joseph Pilates returned to Germany where he collaborated with movement technicians such as Rudolph Laban, whose dance techniques are still used today, and this helped him to refine the Pilates technique even further.

In the USA

Joseph Pilates made the move to America in 1923, along with his wife Clara. The pair opened up their very first exercise studio in New York City and began teaching the first Pilates classes. Pilates was an overnight sensation with dancers, who recognised just how good the method was for toning the body, but they were not the only fans of the exercise, which was then known as Controlology; eventually, word of its benefits spread and people from all walks of life flocked to the classes.

A renaissance

For a great while, Pilates fell out of fashion and was not really known to most people, especially in the UK, but that was all to change in 1970 when Alan Herdman reintroduced the once popular method to the masses, Even then, there were only a few dedicated people practicing Pilates until 1995, when Body Control Pilates became massively popular and more people saw the body sculpting benefits of the Pilates method.

The practice today

Thanks to the number of high profile celebrities singing the praises of Pilates, the body conditioning exercise is extremely popular once again. There are Pilates classes and studios popping up all over the world; along with yoga, Pilates is amongst the most popular forms of exercise being used to tone up and stay trim.

There are many different forms of Pilates being taught, but all of them owe a debt to Joseph Pilates and take their cue from his exercise techniques and philosophy. His is a legacy that will long live on.

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Charlotte Hopkinson