Joseph Pilates and his infamous physique

With #InternationalPilatesDay just around the corner, I thought it would be lovely to take a look back at the man who started it all, Joseph Pilates.

The Early Years

Joseph Pilates was born on 9 December 1883 to a Greek father who was also an accomplished gymnast and a German mother who believed that the body could heal itself without the use of artificial drugs. Experts believe that Joseph’s parents influenced his ideas on therapeutic exercise.

As a child, Joseph was small and sickly. He suffered from a plethora of illnesses including asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. To add insult to injury, he was often the victim of bullying and taunting by other children. To encourage him to stand up for himself, Joseph’s father introduced him to bodybuilding, Ju-Jitsu, martial arts, boxing and gymnastics. It is this early introduction to exercise that inspired Joseph to dedicate his entire life to improving his physical strength.

From an early age, Joseph was recognised for his physique that by the age of 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. Eventually, his physique afforded him a number of opportunities such as performing as a living Greek statue in the circus.

Joseph Pilates instructing a student on an early Reformer

Contrology and the Pilates Method

When he first developed his method, Joseph referred to it as Contrology. It stemmed from his belief that modern life directly contributed to people’s poor health, especially with our habits for bad posture and inefficient breathing. Joseph was on a mission to help people live better lives.

In 1912, he moved to England where he worked as a circus performer, a professional boxer and taught self-defence to Scotland Yard. With the outbreak of World War One, Joseph was interned as an enemy alien and held on the Isle of Man. As to be expected, the health conditions in the internment camps were poor, but always one to help others, Joseph led daily exercise routines for his cell block to help everyone maintain physical and mental wellbeing. Joseph helped everyone, even those soldiers too weak to get out of bed. It was in this internment camp where Joseph created some of his early apparatuses. He removed springs from the beds and attached them the foot and headboards, which he would use to help the soldiers use to exercise.

Joseph and the soldiers he assisted in the Isle of Man saw great results with his practices and methods. In 1918, a flu epidemic broke out but none of the soldiers who participated in the exercises Joseph led them through died. According to Joseph, it was the techniques of methods of his new regime, which he called Contrology that accounted for the soldiers’ strength and fitness levels. And from there, Joseph continued to fine-tune and refine his methods.

Joseph Pilates with his early apparatus

Joseph continued to develop his methods, inventing more apparatuses and eventually moving to the United States in 1925. It is there, in Manhattan, New York, where he set up his first Contrology studio. Joseph dedicated his entire life’s work to his Contrology methods, inventing apparatuses and helping people rediscover their body. Joseph died at the age of 83 on 9 October 1967. To this day, Joseph’s methods are still adhered to and millions of people around the world feel the benefits of what is now known as Pilates.

At VIPilates, we adhere to Joseph’s original methods, teaching a classical style of Pilates that helps you feel more mobile, more flexible and improves your strength. We combine Joseph’s mat and apapratus work to offer a well-rounded experience that is tailored to each of our clients, giving you a Very Individual Programme to address your needs and problem areas. Come experience everything Joseph stood for at one of our Tower Pilates group classes.