If you’ve ever wondered where we get the odd name “Pilates” for our exercises, look no further. Pilates, (said like “puh-lah-tees,” as opposed to “pie-lates”) is named after its creator, Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Born in Germany in 1880, Joe was a frail child suffering from athsma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, resulting in muscular weakness. Determined to overcome his physical limitations, he dedicated his life to becoming physically stronger and became accomplished in many sports, including boxing, gymnastics, and skiing. Joe was also a performer.
At the outbreak of WWI, Joe was living in England and was placed under forced internment. During that time, he lived in two different camps, refined his ideas of a fitness regimen, and trained other internees in his system of exercise developed over 20 years prior to his forced interment. He was also a nurse/caretaker to the many internees struck with wartime disease and physical injury. Taking springs from beds and rigging them to create spring resistance, he began devising equipment to rehabilitate his “patients” and created “movement” for the bedridden, which led to his later equipment designs. An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands of people, but not a single one of Joe’s trainees died. This, he claimed, testified to the effectiveness of his system, which he called “Contrology”.
His experience led to the development of his unique method of physical and mental conditioning, which he brought to the United States in the 1920s with his wife, Clara, where they opened up a body conditioning studio in NYC. In the early 1930s and 40s, popular dance choreographers, such as Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and Merce Cunningham, embraced Pilates’ exercise method. Joe continued to train clients until his death in 1967, at the ripe old age of 87.
“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.” – Joe Pilates, age 87