The History of Pilates

Pilates is a form of exercise that emphasizes strengthening the core. Most of the exercises, therefore, involve the abdominal muscles, lower back, thighs and hips. This form of exercise has often been compared to calisthenics and yoga. It is named after its developer, Joseph Pilates.

Who Was Joseph Pilates?

Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in 1883 in Monchengladbach, Germany. He was a sickly child afflicted with asthma, and he badly wanted to grow stronger. He, therefore, turned to exercise and athletics and studied a variety of exercise regimens. He became fascinated by the classical Greek ideal of man being balanced in spirit, mind and body. As he grew older, his health improved, and he became a gymnast, boxer, skier and diver.

Joseph moved to England in 1912, where he trained Scotland Yard detectives in self-defense. He interned as an “enemy alien” during World War I, but during this time, he still continued his studies of exercise. He also taught his methods to some of his fellow captives. He attached springs to hospital beds so the patients could perform resistance exercises, an innovation he later incorporated in his equipment designs. When a flu epidemic struck England and killed thousands, all of Joseph’s students survived.

After the War, Joseph returned to Germany, where his exercise methods caught the attention of professional dancers. He then left Germany for good in 1926, when he immigrated to the United States.

Joseph met and fell in love with a woman named Clara Zeuner during the journey, and they eventually married. After arriving in New York, the Pilates opened a fitness studio near the New York City Ballet. Again, Joseph’s exercises became popular with dancers. He called his exercises “Contrology;” people did not start calling them “Pilates” until after he’d died. Joseph continued training people until his death at the age of 83 in 1967.

Gaining in Popularity

Pilates was popular with dancers in New York City and eventually spread throughout the United States. The exercises could be used to train people or to help them recover from injury. Some of Joseph’s students, including Bob Seed and Carola Trier, became Pilates instructors themselves and opened their own studios. Another former student, Eve Gentry, established a studio in Santa Fe, Mexico. In 1970, one of Joseph’s former students, Ron Fletcher, opened a studio in Los Angeles. Many Hollywood stars became clients. Fletcher also added his own innovations to the original exercises.

Fletcher’s studio, with its Hollywood connections, arguably contributed the most to the spread of Pilates. The media eventually took note of the stars’ love for the exercises and covered it extensively in the late 80s. The coverage led to a boom in Pilates, and it ceased to be the province of dancers. Elite athletes associated with the Olympics, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and MLB began and continue to practice this form of exercise. Today, over 10 million Americans practice it.

Experience the Benefits for Yourself

At Zero Gravity Fitness in Ocoee, we have a fully-equipped Pilates studio where we host private classes for those who want to build strength while creating a sleek and toned physique. Contact us today to schedule your appointment to learn more, or to start a program.