Joseph Pilates was a physical fitness trainer, famous for having invented and promoted the Pilates method of physical fitness. Pilates was born in Germany in 1880 to a Greek father, and a German mother. His father was a gymnast and he was a native of Greece. He greatly influenced Pilates’ later ideas on therapeutic exercise.
Pilates who was small and sickly as a child, decided early in life to educate himslef in physical fitness, anatomy, wrestling, yoga, gymnastics, and martial arts. Because of his Greek backgrond Pilates was infatuated with the classical Greek ideal of a man who is balanced equally in mind, body, and spirit. He came to believe that bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of many people’s poor health. Based on these beliefs he designed a unique series of vigorous physical exercises that accoring to Pilate would help correct muscular imbalances and improve strength, posture, coordination, and flexibility, as well as increase breathing capacity and organ function.
During World War I Pilates was touring England as a circus performer when the war broke out and he was eventually interned as an enemy alien. While incarcerated, he encouraged his fellow prisoners to follow his exercise routines. but some of the injured German soldiers were too weak to leave their beds and follow his excervise regime. Not wanting to leave his comrades lying idle, Pilates took springs from the beds and attached them to the headboards and footboards of the iron bed frames, turning them into equipment that provided a type of resistance exercise for his bedridden “patients”.
These were the earliest models of the spring based exercise apparatuses he would build later, such as the Cadillac and the Universal Reformer. Pilates legend has it that during the flu epidemic of 1918, not one of Pilates’s “patients” died.
“Man should bear in mind and ponder over the Greek admonition:
Not Too Much, Not Too Little.”
After the wned of World War I Pilates returned to Germany and his achievements with the German soldiers did not go unnoticed. The German Kaiser invited him in 1926 to help with the training of the German secret police.
At around tha time Pilates decided to immigrate to the United States. On the boat to New York he met his future wife and dedicated teaching partner, Clara. When in New York they opened the first Body Contrology Studio on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. Professional dancers were the earliest students of Body Contrology because they repeatedly injured themselves at work.
Soon the choreographer George Balanchine and other visionaries became believers in Pilaes’ body Contrology. From there the exercise caught on, but nobody liked to use the name “Contrology”, they instead prefered to just call the excercises “Pilates”, a name which is still used to this day.