Who Was Joseph Pilates?

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Many newcomers to Pilates may not know about its founder and how he developed the exercise program that bears his name.

Colorado-based Pilates expert Marguerite Ogle recently wrote about Joseph Pilates for www.about.com.

So here is a little Pilates history!

Joseph Pilates, a German native, was living in England and earning a living as a performer with the circus, and as a boxer. He was sent to an internment camp in England when World War I broke out. While there, he started creating floor exercises that eventually became the now-familiar Pilates mat work.

Joseph Pilates worked to help rehabilitate detainees who were sick and injured. With no exercise equipment to work with, Pilates used bed springs and any other items he could find as resistance exercise equipment for those he worked with. These odd items were the predecessors of equipment many Pilates practitioners use today, such as the reformer.

Unhealthy while growing up, Joseph Pilates became interested in self-improvement. He was drawn to Eastern practices, Zen Buddhism – and deeply inspired by the Greek ideal of the man perfected through the development of his body, mind and spirit. Pilates also studied anatomy and worked to become a multi-faceted athlete, throwing himself into wrestling, gymnastics, boxing, skiing, body building and even diving.

After World War I, Pilates returned for a time to Germany. He worked for the Hamburg Military Police, focusing on self-defense and physical fitness training.

In 1925, he left Germany on a voyage to New York City. On the way to America, he met Clara, a nurse whom he would eventually marry. He opened a studio in New York, and along with Clara, worked to develop the Pilates method of exercise, which included Pilates equipment. He began to work with students to share his knowledge.

Pilates would teach in New York for four decades, beginning in 1926 and ending in 1966.

He trained students who made his work part of their own lives, and who later taught the Pilates method to others. This first group of teachers who trained under Joseph Pilates became known as the Pilates Elders.

Some taught Joseph Pilates’ method just as he did. The approach became known as classical style Pilates. Some of his other students combined what they learned with their own research.

Joseph Pilates’ New York studio exposed his work to the city’s thriving dance community. Many well-known dancers relied on Pilates training for strength and grace.

Pilates died in 1967, but what a life he lived! He maintained his physique all through his life and remained in top condition, even into his 80s.

Pilates also enjoyed a good time. He enjoyed cigars and a good party. Pilates often wore his exercise briefs as he walked the streets of New York.

Clara Pilates continued teaching and running her husband’s studio for another decade after Joseph Pilates died.

Today, Pilates is practiced by people around the world. Old Joseph likely would have been pleased.