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History of Pilates

History of PilatesJoseph Hubertus Pilates, born on 9 December 1880 near Düsseldorf, Germany, overcame frailty and illness in childhood through concerted physical fitness programmes. He took inspiration from gymnastics, diving, boxing and martial arts, developing and improving his body to an impressive, extremely functional level.

Joseph Pilates spent time in London, training officers at Scotland Yard in self-defence and Physical training. When WW1 broke out he was interned for his nationality and used this time to refine his fitness programme. His fellow internees maintained their health and fitness levels whilst being held in confinement thanks to his routine. Joseph Pilates always claimed that his regime was the reason why not one of these internees died from the influenza epidemic that killed thousands in 1918!

Returning to Germany after the war, he came into contact with the world of dance, which was to have a big influence on his method. At the same time Joseph Pilates was also instructing the Hamburg police force in self-defence! When asked to train the rebuilding German army, he declined and decided to emigrate to the United States of America. On the boat trip he met his future wife, Clara, with whom he set up his first fitness studio in New York, at an address he shared with the New York City Ballet.

His studio soon began to attract the ‘elite’ of New York with leading ballet dancers coming to him because his exercises perfected and complemented their traditional exercise programme. Actors and actresses, sportspeople, the rich and the famous were all attracted to the workout that built strength without adding bulk, balancing that strength with flexibility, and achieving the perfect harmony between muscle and mind.

Until the late 1990’s, Pilates remained essentially unknown to the general public, and in that short space of time it’s popularity has grown through Celebrity endorsement and the dedicated awareness work up people like Lynne Robinson. Today an estimated 25 million people take regular Pilates classes in the USA and some one million in the UK.

Pilates today is taught in several forms, directly reflecting the legacy of Joseph Pilates, who developed the Method over 80 years ago. He did not lay down a formal training programme, with the result that, on his death, his ‘disciples’ continued teaching by adding their own individual variations to the core philosophy and exercises. This flexibility in approach is one of the reasons why the Pilates Method has become so successful.