The paper focuses on the origin of the Pilates method of exercise. It also takes a step-by-step journey of Joseph Pilates (Joe) who was the founder of the Pilates method of exercise. Finally the paper will consider Pilates in the contemporary world.
Pilates refers to a system of physical fitness that was established in the early 20th century. It was developed by Joseph Pilates. Joe was a German born in the year 1880. He suffered from rickets, rheumatic fever, and asthma during his childhood years. Because of the continuous suffering brought by the foregoing conditions, Joe was very week and he always felt vulnerable in a rough realm. This situation inspired him to embark on an enduring pursuit in a bid to gain health and the much needed strength.
Joe began to get involved in various body movement art studies as a young person such as martial arts, yoga, Roman Regimes, boxing, and ancient Grecian. He was determined to become healthy like his peers. From his various studies based on the intensified understanding between his body and mind of what could not be validated to the combination of both, Joe continuously developed the body and mind together. He did this through a combination of increased spiritual with increased bodily arts. Joe realized that the instinct that generated the method was already operational in his mind. He came to this conclusion through remembering his study of a book on the topic of anatomy as a young boy, his observation of his body muscles, and by watching animals as they move in the forest (Therapy Directory, 2014).
During the great world war, English authorities confined Joe in a camp that was established for the ‘enemy aliens’ in the Lancaster area because he was a German national. However, it is noteworthy that even during the time of the expatriate wartime settings, Joe never gave up what he believed in. He began to train his fellow detainees and also started to develop his own approaches to exercises. He referred his original methods of exercising Contrology (Pilates, 1998). After spending some time in the Lancaster ‘alien’ camp he was moved to another camp in the Isle of Man where he worked with other prisoners in an uncertain capacity. Many prisoners in the Isle of Man camp were suffering from diseases while others had serious injuries as a consequence of the war. During the time he stayed in the camp, Joe began to construct initial apparatus hoping to use the apparatus to rehabilitate the injured prisoners (Stanmore, 2004).
The initial apparatus that Joe developed were meant for the prisoners who had been maimed. However, he later developed other apparatus such as the Cadillac and the Reformer that used spring resistance to expose all kinds of bodies to movement. To construct the machines, he used the mattresses, bed springs and any other materials that were readily available to him while in the camp. Later on, Joe constructed machines that could be used universally also making use of the same simple raw materials. In the year 1918, there was a worldwide influenza epidemic but no person in the Isle of Man camp got infected. Accordingly, the warden at the camp during the period of the war made it compulsory for all the guards, prisoners, as well as the warden to use the machines.
Following his release from the camp in the Isle of Man, Joe returned to Germany. He was involved in teaching the Hamburg military police regarding his expertise in movement arts. During the same period, Joe began to work individually with some clients, similar to what trainers in the contemporary societies do in studios the world over (Robinson, 2002). His training became so popular that in the year 1925, he was invited to work as a trainer of the German army. However, Pilates was not content with the political stand that Germany was nurturing and he left Germany again. He moved to the United States and settled in the New York upon the commendations of some of his athlete and colleagues.
He met a lady known as Clara while aboard a steamer on his way to New York. Clara was suffering from the symptoms of arthritis. Joe offered to cure her soreness through his devices and informed her of his dream of establishing a studio where he would carry out his work and develop his exercising methods further. Joe and Clara fell in love and soon after reaching New York they tied the knot. While in New York Joe continued to develop his methods of exercise and together with Clara, his wife, they established the very first Pilates studio in New York during the 1920s.
For the following decades, Joe devoted himself to training other people in his methods routines, developing exercises, and use of apparatus. He also expressed his concepts in writing. He often considered himself as the ideal test for the rationality of his methods of exercise (Pilates, 2012). Through his methods, he was able to maintain a strong youthful body and effervescent strength for many years, even during his eighties.
He trained many people to become teachers of his methods of exercise. This aspect particularly led to the beginning of the practice of the Pilates exercise and the arguments regarding the right/traditional way of executing the activities of the method. Though his method, Joe rehabilitated renowned dancers and also trained in various companies (Anderson, 2005). The efforts of Joe with the dancers, just like anything else, established a culture of the Pilates exercise that has endured in the training workouts of leading companies to date. Some people claim that the flowing but controlled nature of the Contrology exercises look like a dance. For instance, the renowned choreographer George Balanchine became so captivated with the movements of the Pilates method that he assimilated the movements into his ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ dance (Poon, 2014). Joe was so dedicated to his work that when his studio was engulfed with fire, he dashed in to try to save some of his documentations, apparatuses, and photographs, this led to his death.
Pilates in the Contemporary World
Joe’s death and the tragic fire that consumed his studio in the New York left his apprentices with an overwhelming task of re-invigorating the Pilates methods. Joe’s trainees began to spread the Pilates methods of exercises in various parts of the world. Today, the Pilates method has spread throughout the world and has also assimilated the multicultural diversity of various styles. This can be explained due to the different approaches that the Joe’s student took in their quest to define the exact or traditional way for effecting the Pilates movements. The diversity is also due to the attempts to articulate the ideas of the Contrology in the trainers own ways (Windsor, 1999). For instance, Ron Fletcher, a Martha Graham dancer who trained under Joe from the 1940s and who often consulted Joe regarding a lingering knee condition, made some modifications and improvements to Joe’s work after opening a studio in the Los Angeles during the 1970s. Fletcher’s variations to the Pilates method of exercise were informed by his dancing years at the Martha Graham and a different mentor by the name of Yeichi Imura.
It is notable that even though various trainers of the Pilates method of exercise sought to incorporate their own approaches, they propagated an important aspect of Joe’s work. They propagated the aspect of working uniquely, which Joe assimilated believing that every single body is uniquely different from another. The Pilates workshops have continued to attract and to develop a general community that practices diverse approaches and regardless of the diversity in the approaches, the establishments have continued to spread the Pilates ideology. Just like science has continued to develop over the years the Pilates method of exercise has continuously increased the understanding of people due to its proven medical consistency (Wells, 2013).
The system is popular in various countries including Australia, United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany. It is estimated that by the year 2011 about eleven million people were practicing the Pilates on a regular basis. It is also believed that there are about 14,000 instructors of the Pilates physical fitness in the United States alone.
Anderson D., Spector A. (2005). Introduction to Pilates-Based Rehabilitation. Orthopaedic
Physical Therapy clinics of North America 9(3).
Balanced Body. Pilates Origins. (n.d.). Balanced Body. Retrieved From
Friedman, P. and G. Eisman (2005). The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning.
USA: Viking Studio.
Lyon, D. (2005). The Complete Book of Pilates for Men. Harper Collins.
Pilates, J. (1998). A Pilates Primer: The Millennium Edition. Reprint of Return to Life through
Contrology (1945) and Your Health (1934). New York, NY: Presentation Dynamics.
Pilates, J. (2012). Return to Life. Pilates Method Alliance, Inc.
Poon, K. (2014). The Seven Deadly Sins. DanceMedia, LLC. Retrieved From
Robinson L, Fisher H, Knox J, Thomson G. (2002). Official Body Control Pilates Manual: The
Ultimate Guide to the Pilates Method - For Fitness, Health, Sport and at Work. Macmillan. Print.
Stanmore, T. (2004). The Pilates Back Book: Heal Neck, Back, and Shoulder Pain with Easy
Pilates Stretches. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press.
Therapy Directory (2014). Pilates. Therapy Directory. Retrieved From
Wells, C., Kolt, G., Marshall, P., Hill, B., Bialocerkowski, A. (2013). "Effectiveness of Pilates
exercise in treating people with chronic low back pain: A systematic review of systematic reviews". BMC Medical Research Methodology 13(7).
Windsor, M. (1999). The Pilates Powerhouse: The Total Body Sculpting System For Losing
Weight And Reshaping Your Body From Head To Toe. Da Capo Press.