Who was Joseph Pilates?

Pilates was a man!

This body conditioning method that we now know as "Pilates" was developed by German born Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1883-1967). The method is the culmination of his life's work, developed over many years, and from a multitude of influences to improve his own health and the health of others. He termed his method "Contrology" and wrote two books devoted to the method Your Health, 1934 & Return to Life, 1945 in which he outlined his approach to health and wellness. He believed he was 50 years ahead of his time with his focus on mind, body spirit, functional exercise movement, fresh air and healthy living to combat the effects of modern life. As it turned out he couldn't have been more right!

Throughout his childhood, Joseph Pilates was often unwell and suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. Determined to overcome his condition he focused on his fitness and became a bodybuilder, a gymnast, a skier & diver. He also developed a passion for the ancient Greek and Roman philosophies of physical and mental perfection and posed as an anatomy model for anatomy charts.

The story goes that Joseph Pilates traveled to England during 1912, either to pursue his boxing career or to tour with a circus! In any case, he was interned in a WW1 camp for German nationals at the outbreak of the war in 1914. It was here that he began teaching wrestling, self defence and then created his system of exercises that he eventually termed "Contrology". 

After the war, Joseph Pilates was involved with the Hamburg Military Police training them in self-defence and physical conditioning and moved on to also train the new German Army. Moving to America  in 1926, meeting his wife to be Clara on the journey, he began working in a boxing training gym. Eventually, he took over the gym, and over the years developed the apparatus and further developed the Contrology method. His clientele grew quickly by word of mouth and was practiced by people from all walks of life, dancers, movie stars, businessmen, tradesmen and students.

In time, he wrote the books mentioned above and students trained to become teachers. These teachers continued on his work, taking it to other parts of America and also eventually internationally. The Pilates movement continued quietly along until the mid 1990's when its popularity suddenly exploded into mainstream culture.

In 2000, a legal ruling that wanted to trademark the "Pilates" name and hence allow only a small portion of instructors to use the term Pilates to describe their method of exercise training, was overturned. Having ownership of the name Pilates overturned allowed all practitioners wherever and trained by whomever to use the term "Pilates". This may not be the "Pilates System" devised by Joseph Pilates.


Joseph Pilates vision of everyone being able to practice his method, with Pilates studios found in countries all over the world, has come to be. The method has truly stood the test of time. The benefits of these exercises speak for themselves, with the method adopted by physiotherapists, recommended by medical practitioners, available in gyms, specialised studios, online and more. It is practiced by people of all ages, genders, with all kinds of physical conditions - bringing benefits to each and every person.

“Truth will prevail and that is why I know that my teachings will reach the masses and finally be adopted as universal” 


“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”


"With body, mind and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person"