Where Pilates Began

Published on 5th Dec 2009 by

As I said previously, the Pilates technique is named after its German founder, Joseph Pilates. I thought I'd share the story of how his exercise methods came about so you can have more of an understanding of where the roots of the method lie.

As a child Joseph Pilates was often sickly and, with an aim to combat his fragility, dedicated his entire life to becoming physically stronger. He became proficient at various sports and fitness systems. Body building, diving, skiing, gymnastics, yoga, self-defence, dance and circus training all influenced him, and he chose aspects of each to develop his own body. He selected the most effective features of each of these fitness regimes, eventually working out a system with the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.

In 1912 he moved to England. He initially earned a living as a boxer, circus performer, and a self-defence trainer of English detectives until World War 1 broke out. During the war he was interned in camps and used his time there to refine his ideas, combining various techniques from his previous training. He trained other internees in his exercise system, including bedridden patients, and encouraged them to exercise against resistence. During this time thousands of people died when an influenza epidemic broke out in England but not one of Joseph's trainees died. He testifies that this is due to the effectiveness of his exercise techniques.

When the war ended, Joseph continued to practice his fitness programmes, eventually arriving in New York where he set up an exercise studio. Initially it was top ballet dancers who latched onto the exercise system. They found the exercises helped them to prevent injury when dancing. Another reason why the dancers loved Pilates' technique is that while the movements strengthened them up, the muscles didn't bulk. His system also became popular with actors and actresses, gymnasts and athletes.

The Pilates technique has since become increasingly popular amongst the general public and it has been praised by medical professionals for its rehabilitative qualities.


"When I first started at Pilates Centre I was constantly aware of my back pain due to a disc injury. Within no time of taking a couple of classes a week I started to forget that I had a back problem at all! It's just great."

Ann Marie

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