Joseph H. Pilates(1880-1967) was born in Germany. As a child, Joseph Pilates suffered from a variety of ailments, including asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Determined to improve his physique as well as his self-esteem, he became obsessed with bodybuilding, gymnastics, and the practice of yoga. By the age of fourteen he had become so physically fit that he was hired to pose for anatomical charts. Pilates attributed the dramatic turnaround in both his health and his physical appearance to proper breathing techniques and correct posture, and he devised a series of exercises to maintain the well-being he had fought so hard to gain.Following the outbreak of World War I, he was sent with other German nationals to the Isle of Man. To pass the time, he began teaching fitness exercises to other inmates. He devised special programs for those who were bedridden and created makeshift devices for strength training.
Following the war’s end in 1918, Pilates returned to Germany to work as a fitness trainer in Hamburg. In 1925 he sailed for the United States. On the ship he met Clara, who
shared his interest in physical fitness and the two were married. Working in partnership with his wife, Pilates opened studio in Manhattan. Over the years Pilates trained some of his students to become teachers; those who adhered strictly to his teachings were called “Pilates Elders” and taught what became known as “Classical Pilates.” Other Pilates-trained teachers refined and altered his techniques to their own liking, incorporating elements of other fitness disciplines.
In its early years it was called Contrology–and was grounded in a series of exercises that called for stretching, pulling, and contracting parts of the body to strengthen muscles in the abdomen and pelvic area and to foster proper spinal alignment, while simultaneously practicing rhythmic breathing. Some of the exercises were done on the floor; others involved the use of simple machines that Pilates designed.
As of 2008 there were Pilates studios throughout the world, more than five hundred in the United States alone. Pilates often expressed the belief that he was fifty years ahead of his time.