The Beginning of Pilates

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness”

Here is the fascinating story how Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates (1880-1967). Joe watched wistfully as children played outside, running and laughing in Germany. A frail child plagued by rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever, Joe yearned for a healthy, strong, attractive body. Not yet a teen, he began researching many types of exercise to aid in his strength-training program. He studied yoga, Zen meditation and several ancient Greek and Roman exercise regimens. Pilates tried each exercise he read about. He kept records of each movement to chart his progress. By the time he was 14, he had strengthened himself enough to become an accomplished diver, gymnast and skier. In 1912, he left Germany to train as a boxer in England.

Breakthrough Exercise Techniques

“Ideally, our muscles should obey our will”

As a German national in England at the outbreak of World War I, Joe was incarcerated. He taught fellow inmates his 500 exercises focused on developing “core” muscles of the abdomen and increasing flexibility in the arms, legs, and supporting muscle groups. His efforts helped maintain their health through the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918. Authorities noticed and sent Pilates to the Isle of Man to care for patients immobilized by war injuries. Many couldn’t stand or even sit up to do the exercises. Pilates removed bedsprings from the beds and attached them to the walls at or above bed level. Using straps on their arms or legs, patients could lie in bed and push or pull the springs, exercising against the coils resistance. Doctors noticed these exercises improved patient recovery considerably. Pilates began fitting all the hospital beds to help rehabilitate as many wounded soldiers as he could. He called his new regimen “Contrology”.

Pilates Gains Popularity

“A sound mind in a sound body”

After the war, Joe went back to Germany where his exercises gained favor with the dance community. In 1926, Joe immigrated to the United States. During the voyage he met Clara, whom he later married. Joe and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York, sharing an address with the New York City Ballet. He began working with the dancers of the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine, and dance legends Hanya Holm and Martha Graham. Athletes and performers soon followed.

Pilates Evolves in the U.S.

“Complete coordination of body, mind and spirit”

While Joe was still alive, only two of his students opened their own studios. When Joe passed away in 1967, Clara continued to operate the “Pilates” Studio in New York. Several students went on to open studios. Ron Fletcher a Martha Graham dancer, who studied with Joe from the 1940s on, opened a studio in Westwood in 1970 and attracted many of the biggest Hollywood stars. Clara gave her blessing for Fletcher to carry on the “Pilates” work and name. Fletcher brought many innovations and advancements to the “Pilates” method. Following in Fletcher’s footsteps is Pilates instructor, Risa Sheppard. Risa studied and worked closely with Ron and later created the Sheppard Method, adding more than 30 years of mind-body research from helping athletes, seniors, expectant mothers, and those with serious injuries. The media has extensively covered the benefits of Pilates and the public has taken notice. Today, the Sheppard Method is taught throughout the world and over 10 million Americans practice it, and the numbers continue to grow.

*Partial excerpts by Kathryn Linderman Investor’s Business Daily