Who was Joseph Pilates?

Joseph Pilates

If you are a member of my classes or have ever tried Pilates, then you might be interested to know the man behind your movement practice–Joseph Pilates. (I sometimes refer to him as “Joe” as if we are old friends!)

So who is this person we have to thank for helping us feel so good? He is a very colourful character and has some entertaining points you’ll find interesting.

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 in Germany. He suffered from many health problems in his youth which included asthma, rheumatic fever and rickets. This may explain why he developed an interest in human anatomy. 

Prior to becoming a Pilates Instructor he was a boxer and in 1912 moved to Englad to further his boxing career. During World War I he spent time in an internment camp with other German citizens of England. To help pass the time he taught his fellow inmates wrestling and self defense. It was here where he started to develop the original Pilates matwork exercises we now call “Contrology” and the Principles of Pilates. He eventually moved back to Germany where he used his contrology exercises to train military police as well as boxers. 

It wasn’t until the early 1920s when Joseph Pilates emigrated to the USA where, with his wife Clara, he started teaching the Pilates method in their ‘body-conditioning gym’ in New York city. It was here where the dancing community fell in love with Pilates for its injury prevention and rehabilitation. 

Pilates has evolved since the 1920s and we now focus more on modern day bio-mechanical movements. However you will find some of the original Contrology exercises in many modern day Pilates classes. 

In addition to having a keen interest in physical conditioning he was known for having some insightful words,including: 

“A man is as young as his spinal column.”


“We retire too early and we die too young. Our prime of life should be in the 70’s and old age should not come until we are almost 100.”


“A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.”


“You will feel better in ten sessions, look better in twenty sessions, and have a completely new body in thirty sessions.”

Unfortunately Joseph Pilates passed away before ever seeing Pilates gain worldwide recognition. Ultimately we have him to thank for this exercise practice that millions of people around the world have adopted. 

So cheers to Joseph Pilates–his work lives on in our movements patterns both on and off the mat.

Christine Kirkland is a certified Pilates instructor offering Online Pilates classes proven to help become stronger, improve balance, mobility and posture. To learn more please click here.





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