Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates on the reformer at his studio in New York.


Joseph Pilates, the originator of the Pilates Method, was born in Dusseldorf in the late 1800s. He was a sickly child who suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. He was determined to overcome his fragility, but instead of following an established fitness regime, he experimented with many different approaches and one can, in fact, recognize the different elements of these methods in his teaching. Yoga, gymnastics, martial arts, dance and weight training all influenced him, and he chose aspects of each to develop his own body. By absorbing these other methods and selecting the most effective features, Pilates was able to work out a system that had the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.

He began to teach these techniques and was even training detectives at Scotland Yard when the First World War broke out. He was interned and with time on his hands, he helped out in the infirmary and further developed his techniques, training his fellow internees with amazing success. Much of his knowledge of rehabilitation was gained during this time.

After the war he returned to Germany but emigrated to the USA in 1926. He met his future wife, Clara, on the journey and together, they set up a studio in New York. Although his original clients were boxers, his studio soon attracted top ballet dancers, actors , gymnasts and athletes, all anxious to learn from him.

The couple worked tirelessly from the 1920s until his death in 1967. Clara then passed the studio on to Romana Kryzanowska. Joseph never set up an official training programme; however, many of his assistants, the seniors in the Pilates ‘family tree’ went on to set up their own studios and they include, with Romana: Carola Trier, Mary Bowen, Lolita San Miguel, Kathy Grant, Eve Gentry, Ron Fletcher and Bruce King.