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Who was Joseph Pilates?

Joseph H. Pilates was of Greek ancestry born in Germany near Dusseldorf in 1880. Living most of his childhood as a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, Joe dedicated his entire life to becoming physically stronger. He studied body building and gymnastics, and was posing for anatomical charts by the age

of 14. In 1912 he moved to England for further training as a boxer and earned his living as a circus performer and self-defense trainer. 

In 1914 during the first World War, Pilates was interned with other German nationals in a concentration camp near Lancaster where he trained other inmates in wrestling and self-defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before being interned. It was here that he began devising his method of exercise he later named “Contrology”. He was transferred to another camp on the Isle of Man where he became a nurse and worked with many internees who suffered from wartime diseases and injuries. It was then when he began devising equipment to rehabilitate them, taking the springs from the beds and rigging exercise apparatus for the bedridden. In 1918, a terrible epidemic of influenza swept the world, killing millions of people. None of Joe’s followers succumbed, even though the camps were the hardest hit. 

After the war, he returned to Germany and began training the Hamburg Military in self-defense and physical training. In 1925, unhappy with the political direction of Germany, he decided to leave and boarded a boat bound for America where he met his second wife Clara. Suffering from arthritic pain, Joe worked with her on the boat to heal her. The couple landed in New York City where they founded a studio together and began teaching clients. Well known dancers George Balanchine and Martha Graham became devotees and sent their students to them for training, one of whom was protégé and successor Romana Kryzanowska. 

Pilates strongly believed in fitness supporting life’s riches. He was renowned for liking cigars, whiskey, and rich foods. Up into his eighties he was seen running the Manhattan streets in nothing but a speedo. Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 87 from assumed complications of a fire in their building. Clara continued to teach and run the studio until her death ten years later. In 1975, Romana returned from a marriage and life in Peru and took over the studio where she fulfilled her promise to Joe and began training teachers.

Pilates has proven itself for more than 80 years as an effective and safe method of exercise, when taught and applied correctly. It has been the workout of choice for dancers, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts for decades. In recent years Pilates worked itself into the mainstream, the direct result of an intellectual property lawsuit in which a US federal court ruled the term “Pilates” generic and free for unrestricted use. Search engine results are now in the millions as numerous organizations have entered the market to capitalize on the latest fitness trend and individuals across the globe look to benefit from Joseph Pilates’ unique approach to health and fitness. As a result, consumers now face extensive and conflicting information about what Pilates is, how it works, and what credentials they should seek in an instructor.

What can Pilates do for me?

Pilates produces a sleek, strong physique and teaches complete control of your own body, with grace and coordination. Pilates exercises are low impact, using the abdominal wall, lower back, and hips as the source of strength for the entire body, ideal for injury prevention and rehabilitation. You will develop muscular power with corresponding endurance, ability to perform arduous duties and play strenuous games without undue body fatigue or mental strain. Pilates keeps the spine young, improves posture, increases circulation, and reduces stress by focusing the mind and the body to work together for total fitness. The end result is defined muscle tone without the bulk of traditional weight training.

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