History of Pilates

Joseph-Pilates-History of Pilates

On 7 May every year we the Pilates world celebrates -International Pilates Day.


Where did Pilates come from? Who created this incredible method of exercise? How long ago? Well keep reading and you’ll find out!


Joseph Pilates was the original founder of the Pilates repertoire in the 1920’s. He devised the method as a new approach to conditioning the body and was originally for the purpose of rehabilitation.


Joseph was born in Dusseldorf, Germany 1880, and was perhaps the first influential figure to combine Western and Eastern ideas about health and physical fitness. He was a frail child suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His drive and determination to overcome these ailments led him to becoming a competent gymnast and expert diver and skier. In 1912 after moving to England, Joseph worked as a circus performer, boxer and self defence instructor. Joseph researched and practiced every kind of exercise he could, including classical Roman and Greek exercise, body building, yoga, tai-chi, martial arts and Zen meditation, as well as studying human anatomy and animal movements.


On the outbreak of World War 1, the British interned him as a German enemy alien. He used his time as an internee to start developing a new approach to exercise and body conditioning which he called ‘Contrology’ but what we know today as Pilates.


During his internment, he also got the chance to work as a nurse. This, in turn, gave him the chance to experiment by attaching springs to hospital beds, so that patients could start toning their muscles even while they were still bed-bound. Such were the origins of Pilates classes and the first Pilates machines now known as the Pilates Reformer.

In 1923, alongside his wife and assistant Clara, Joseph moved to America where his first Pilates studio opened in New York. His method quickly became known by many, particularly dancers including Martha Graham and George Balanchine. His devoted students realised the benefits of their regular Pilates classes and how much it helped them with injury recovery and prevention, soon after being discovered by the wider community. Joseph conceived his method as a mental as well as physical conditioning in which individuals could work their bodies to their full potential – “It is the mind itself which builds the body”.

Joseph Pilates died in New York City in 1967 of advanced emphysema at the age of 83, after years of teaching Pilates classes, practicing and further developing this wonderful method of movement.


Pilates classes have evolved over the years to become the unique and challenging workout we now get to experience thanks to him! If you’re interested in trialling some Pilates classes near me, particularly Reformer Pilates classes near me, Semprose Pilates is hosting a special event to mark International Pilates Day. 


On Saturday 7 May 2022 from 12pm-2pm we are holding the official opening of our Gregory Hills studio.  Come and try a snippet of a Pilates class, Reformer Pilates or just get a feel for the space.  We would love to see you there! Follow us on social media for more information!











This method progressed when he started designing and creating the equipment we now know and love today – he called it apparatus.

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