History of Pilates


Pilates (pronounce Pi-LOTTS) or used to be called “Contrology” was founded by a German-born named Joseph Pilates (1880-1967). He was a sickly child, suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. To overcome his own physical weakness, Pilates developed a great interest in physical activity particularly gymnast, wrestling, boxing and self defense to build up his strength. By the age of 14, he was fit enough to be hired to pose for anatomical charts.

He traveled to England in 1912, earned a living as a circus performer, boxing and self defense trainer. During the World War I, when he was interned in a camp by the British government with other German nationals, he began to develop floor exercises (what we now know as the Pilates Mat Work System) for inmates. During the 1918 flu epidemic, many inmates who used his exercise programme appeared to be free from the flu. Then as time went by, he expanded his exercise system for those inmates who was too weak to get out of bed, by utilizing items that were available to him, like attaching the hospital bed spring to the bed frame and other things that he could improvise, and this is the unlikely beginning of the development of Pilates equipment (Apparatus) that we use today, like the reformer.

He moved to the United States and set up the first studio in 1926. His exercise regime was an instant hit, particularly among leading ballet dancers in New York because it complemented dancers in their traditional exercise programme and helped rehabilitate injured dancers. Soon a wider audience of high-profile clients from various backgrounds was also attracted: choreographers, actors, athletes, boxers (including the 1930 world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling), the rich and the famous.

He designed his system to develop the body uniformly, correct wrong posture, restore physical vitality, invigorate the mind, and elevate the spirit. Thus this is a system that is easy, adaptable and accessible to all people regardless of their fitness level and different body shape, and all will be benefited by this exercise system to become a healthy well being.

Joseph Pilates is quoted in 1965 at age 86, “I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.”