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What is Pilates?

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 near Düsseldorf, Germany.  He was a frail child suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever and his determination to overcome these ailments led him to become a competent gymnast, diver and skier. In 1912 Pilates moved to England to become a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor.


During the First World War, Joseph was interned with other German nationals and during this time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. During the latter part of the war, Joseph served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients’ limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the ‘Cadillac’. Much of his equipment, although slightly adapted, is still in use today in many Pilates Studios. 


pilates scissor move


Pilates immigrated to the USA in the early 1920s with his wife Clara, and together they developed and taught the method in their ‘body-conditioning gym’ in New York in 1926.


Pilates soon became very popular, particularly with the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury.  Many celebrities of the day visited Joseph’s studio and originally 60% of the clientele were men.

pilates stretch

In 1932 Pilates published a booklet called ‘Your Health’ and followed this with another called ‘Return to Life Through Contrology’ in 1945. Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 and through these writings, his method was passed on through generations. During his lifetime this method of exercise was called Contrology. It was only after Joseph’s death that it became known as the Pilates Method. While Joseph is the man behind the method, it was his wife Clara became the real teacher in the studio and allowed the method to be passed on to apprentices. Clara established the tradition of evolving and adapting the Pilates method to suit the individual needs of clients. This is a tradition Pilates teachers are proud to continue today.

Pilates can improve core strength, correct posture problems, help muscular injuries, tone and define the body and give a sense of wellbeing.

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