Joseph Pilates

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”

Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in 1883 in Moenchengladbach, Germany. His childhood was characterized by the industrial part of Germany and the poor circumstances he and his siblings had to grow up in. He liked to be by himself, going out into the nature, and observing animal movements. Later, he got an old Anatomy book and started studying the human anatomy with great interest.

Influenced by the German gymnastics movement, and probably the famous gymnastics educator “Turnvater Jahn” he started to develop exercises in order to improve his boxing technique.

Later in life he was known for being a good sportsman, liking – besides boxing – also skiing. He went for a run in Manhattan every morning, unimpressed by any weather conditions.

In 1914 he travelled to England together with his brother, most likely to further develop his boxing career. When World War I broke out, all German men living in England were brought to the Isle of Man into prison camp. Here, he spent 5 years of his life. This experience for sure, influenced his personality, his work ethics and his love for movement. However, not much is known about his time in camp because he didn’t really talk about it afterwards.

After the war, he is known to have trained the Military police in Hamburg, Germany but decided to move to New York, where he opened together with his wife Clara the first Pilates studio in 1926. Throughout his life Joseph Pilates worked on his exercise regime, which he called “Contrology”. However, pretty soon his clients simply called it after his name: “Pilates”. He invented every apparatus, that is nowadays used all over the world. For over 50 years, he tried, changed and reinvented until the equipment and his method was like he wanted it.

Many famous dancers have been “fixed” by Joe how it was called back in the days. But not only dancers, everybody was welcome in his studio. He even had a “special” treatment area (covered behind a curtain), where he would work with clients that suffered from various injuries.

From what we hear, he was a true German: Drinking beer and whiskey, eating sausages and smoking cigars. He could be pretty tough on his clients, sometimes harsh and direct but deep inside a good guy who cared for those who came to train with him.

After his death in 1967, his wife Clara continued together with his protege, Romana Krysanowska, teaching the method of Contrology. When Clara Pilates retired, Romana took over and was until her death in 2013 devoted to the method now officially known as Pilates.

During his life, Joseph Pilates tried very hard to get his method acknowledged by health professionals, which he never was successful with. I think, he would be really proud seeing, that today his method is being taught in thousands of studios all over the world – and now not only acknowledged but also executed by many many health professionals.