Joseph H. Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, Germany in 1883. Little is known about his youth, but he appeared to have been a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He dedicated his entire life to overcome these childhood ailments which led him to become a competent gymnast, diver and skier.

In 1912, Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defense instructor. During the First World War, he was interned with other German citizens. It was in the camp that he developed his technique of physical fitness further by teaching his fellow internees. Pilates began to refine his system of mat exercises that would become known as “Contrology”.

In the latter part of the War, he served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patient's limbs leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the “Cadillac”. Much of his equipment, although slightly adapted, is still in use today in many Pilates Studios.

After World War I, Pilates returned to Germany and collaborated with experts in dance and physical fitness. While in Hamburg, he trained police officers. When he was pressured to train members of the German army, disillusioned with the political climate, he left his native county, and emigrated to the United States.

In the early 1920s, together with his wife Clara, Joseph, developed and taught his method in their body-conditioning gym in New York City. His method, which they called “Contrology”, focused attention on the core postural muscles that assist in keeping the body balanced and provide support for the spine. Pilates method taught awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine. The exercises strengthened the deep torso and abdominal muscles.

Joseph and Clara Pilates quickly established a devoted following, particularly within the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury. Word spread and many celebrities of the day visited their studio. Dance legends, George Balanchine and Martha Graham became devotees and regularly sent their students to Pilates for training and rehabilitation. Originally 60% of their clientele were men.

In 1934, Pilates published a booklet called "Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education" and followed this with another called “Return to Life through Contrology" in 1945. Through these writings and his students, his method was passed on after his death in 1967 at the age of 83. During his lifetime this method of exercise was called Contrology. It was only after his death that it became known as the Pilates Method.

The popularity of the Pilates Method has steadily spread since the day when Pilates first opened his studio, with millions of people practicing worldwide due to it's effectiveness and adaptability.

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness “  – Joseph H. Pilates

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness “

– Joseph H. Pilates