November 20, 2017

History of Pilates

Joe Pilates

Joe Pilates – Permission to use photo granted solely to Suncoast Pilates by IC Rapoport (Copyright holder).

Pilates is a unique method of body conditioning named after German-born Joseph H. Pilates. Joseph Pilates, born in Monchengladbach, Germany, was living in England, working as a circus performer and boxer, when he was placed in forced internment in England at the outbreak of WWI. While in the internment camp, he began to develop the floor exercises that evolved into what we now know as the Pilates Mat work.

As time went by, Joseph Pilates began to work with rehabilitating detainees who were suffering from diseases and injuries. It was invention born of necessity that inspired him to utilize items that were available to him, like bed springs and beer keg rings, to create resistance exercise equipment for his patients. These were the beginnings of the equipment we use today, like the  Reformer and the Magic Circle.

Unhealthy as a child, Joseph Pilates studied many kinds of self-improvement systems. He was inspired by the ancient Greek ideal of man perfected in development of body, mind and spirit. On his way to developing the Pilates Method, Joseph Pilates developed himself as a body builder, a wrestler, gymnast, boxer, skier and diver.

After WWI, Joseph Pilates briefly returned to Germany where his reputation as a physical trainer/healer preceded him. In Germany, he worked briefly for the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training. In 1925, he was asked to train the German army. Instead, he packed his bags and took a boat to New York City in 1926. On the boat to America, Joseph met Clara who would become his partner in life. He went on to establish his studio in New York and Clara worked with him as he evolved the Pilates method of exercise, invented the Pilates exercise equipment, and of course, trained students.

“10 sessions you feel a difference, 20 sessions you see a difference, 30 sessions you will have a new body.” – J.H. Pilates

Around The Clock - by Joseph Pilates

Around The Clock – by Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates taught in New York from 1926 to 1967. During that time, he trained a number of students who not only applied his work to their own lives but became teachers of the Pilates method themselves. This first generation of teachers who trained directly with Joseph Pilates is often referred to as the Pilates Elders. Suncoast Pilates has three Second Generation Pilates Teachers, each having each worked with one of the Pilates Elders. Suncoast Pilates owner is a Lolita San Miguel Pilates Master™ and Second Generation Pilates Teacher.

Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967. He had maintained a fit physique throughout his life, and many photos show that he was in remarkable physical condition in his older years. He is also said to have had a flamboyant personality. He smoked cigars, liked to party, and wore his exercise briefs wherever he wanted (even on the streets of New York). It is said that he was an intimidating, though deeply committed, instructor. Clara Pilates continued to teach and run the studio for another 10 years after Joseph Pilates death. Today, Joseph Pilates legacy is carried on by the Pilates Elders, Second and Third Generation Pilates Teachers and by a large group of contemporary teachers.

Joseph Pilates called his work, contrology. He defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body mind and spirit.” This philosophy is beautifully elucidated in his book, Return to Life Through Contrology.


The Pilates Method is an extremely sophisticated and versatile exercise modality. Pilates is a ‘whole body health’ system, with a strong focus on breath. In addition to aiding in strength, balance and flexibility, practicing Pilates increases lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing coordinated with movement. It improves posture and abdominal strength, as well as bone density and joint health. Pilates teaches control of the whole body, and promotes body awareness and deep restful sleep. 

And, yes, Pilates is for men too. Pilates was originally created by a man for men!

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