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The History of Pilates Exercises

Joseph Pilates and the history of Pilates exercisesJoseph H. Pilates a man ahead of his time. Some people are surprised that the hundreds of Pilates exercises were designed by a man. It is obviously not an exercise program just for women. The founder of Pilates, Joseph H. Pilates, was born in Germany, November 30, 1880, and began his interest in health and physical conditioning to improve his own personal medical problems. He had asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever as a child. His mother was also a naturopath, which brought him to the health field.

He moved to England in 1912 training military police and detectives in self-defense. In 1917, during World War I, he worked to rehabilitate the sick and wounded in a prison camp on Britain’s Isle of Man. Here he began building his equipment using springs, mattresses and his creativity. During this time, thousands were killed by the influenza epidemic, but the individuals that Joseph trained were not affected by it.

Mr. Pilates left for New York for the opportunity to train Max Schmelling, the German boxer who first became famous in America. He wanted to find a new life and he opened his first studio in the early 1920s. In his transition, he met his wife Clara, who was an important part of the development of his practice of Contrology. He began training men, women, celebrities and dancers. Martha Graham and George Balanchine, two notable choreographers, referred many of their dancers after realizing the benefits of Pilates’ method that he referred to as Contrology. He defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body mind and spirit”. Dancers became stronger, more flexible and helped rehabilitate their injuries.

He developed more of his Pilates equipment from his 8th Avenue studio and applied for several patents in the United States. He continued his teaching in New York until 1966.

After Joseph died in 1967, his legend lived on through his disciples. Today there is still a hand full of instructors that actually trained directly with Joseph. These instructors are referred to as the Pilates Elders. Some are committed to teaching Pilates exactly as Joseph taught it, which is referred to as the classical style, while others have integrated current research of our body’s anatomy, physiology and kinesiology to develop a more contemporary style. Either way, Pilates enthusiasts are increasing all over the world. The Pilates exercises are an amazing practice and can literally change a body.

By · Posted on February 14, 2008 · Topic Feature Articles

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One Response to “The History of Pilates Exercises”

  1. Interview with Alison Bodi from Peak Pilates | Pilates Digest on April 1st, 2008 1:29 pm

    […] because of the intensity and challenge of the MVe classes. Pilates was developed by a man and Joseph Pilates worked with many men in the beginning, and Alison would like to see Pilates come back to that […]

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