The Origin of Pilates

The Pilates Method
Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1880-1967)
Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany in 1880. He was a sickly child who suffered from many of the common childhood ailments of the time, including rickets. To overcome the physical weakness that resulted from these ailments, Joseph Pilates developed a great interest in bodybuilding and all forms of physical exercise. He devoted the rest of his life to developing a system of body conditioning that he called Contrology, which is based on concepts which are outlined in the two books that he wrote,

  • Your Health: A corrective system of exercising that revolutionizes the entire field of physical education1 (1934) and
  • Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology2 (1945).

Joseph Pilates, at age 57yrs.

Joseph Pilates was in Britain at the beginning of World War 1 and was placed in an internment camp for enemy aliens. He designed a physical education programme for staff and internees which was thought to have been a contributing factor in preventing mortality in the camp during the 1918 influenza epidemic which killed millions throughout the world.

It was during this time that Joseph Pilates began designing the equipment for which he is famous. The original equipment was based on hospital beds and consisted of springs attached to bars or a moving sled. The brilliance of this equipment is that it not only supplies resistance, but also assistance. The equipment allows one to be assisted in a way that encourages focus on developing optimal muscle recruitment patterns.

After returning to Germany for several years, Joseph Pilates moved to the United States in the late 1920s, where he opened a studio in New York. Many dancers commenced taking lessons with Joseph and his wife Clara and the Pilates Method came to be known as the ‘dancers’ thing’. It was through the Pilates Method’s reputation in the improvement of dancers’ ‘centring’ ability (now called core stability) and the rehabilitation of injured dancers that the wider community discovered the Pilates Method during the late 1980s, and 1990s.


1. Joseph Hubertus Pilates. (1934) Your Health: A corrective system of exercising that revolutionizes the entire field of physical education. Reprinted NV: Presentation Dynamics, 1998.
2. Joseph Hubertus Pilates. (1945) Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology. Reprinted NV: Presentation Dynamics, 1998.