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Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Monchengladbach Germany in 1883. His father was a gymnast, his mother a naturopath. As a child, Joe had asthma and other ailments.

He turned to exercise and athletics to battle these ailments; he was always studying various exercise regimens to expand his knowledge base. He was captivated by the human body’s potential for natural, healthy movement.  He spent hours hiding in nature watching the animals move.  He began to study anatomy books and develop his own exercise system based on natural, healthy movement.

Growing into adulthood, Joe was no longer the sickly child he had once been as he became an avid skier, diver, gymnast, and boxer.

In 1912 Joe went to England, where he worked as a self-defense instructor for detectives at Scotland Yard. At the outbreak of World War, I, Joe was interned as an “enemy alien” with other German nationals. During his internment, Joe refined his ideas and trained other internees in his system of exercise. 

He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to his later equipment designs. 

An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands of people, but not a single one of Joe’s trainees died. This, he claimed, testified to the effectiveness of his system.

After his release, Joe returned to Germany.  In 1926, Joe emigrated to the United States. During the voyage he met Clara Zeuner, whom he later married. Joe and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York, sharing an address with the New York City Ballet.  It didn’t take long for the dancers to find Pilates and his training techniques for both fitness and rehabilitation.  Pilates didn’t just train dancers, his NYC studio became the fitness studio to the wealthy and famous around town.

Pilates continued teaching his method of exercise which he coined “Contrology” until a fire in his NYC studio broke out in 1966.  According to Bruce King, a longtime Pilates student renting the back room, when Pilates went in to inspect the damage the bunt floor gave way.  Pilates was able to catch hold onto the burnt floor and pull himself back up.  This man was nearly eighty-six!  Joseph Pilates passed away just a year later due to injuries he suffered during his fall.  

Clara continued teaching his work until 1971, at which time she turned the studio over to their most trusted student and teacher Romana Kryzanowska.  

Joseph Pilates believed his method of exercise could cure our society which even then had become alarmingly sedentary.  He wanted to see every school teaching children his method of health and wellness.  No administrator would listen to him because he didn’t have a college degree.  Just because on paper he didn’t have the credentials to know what he was talking about, they wouldn’t listen.  How different our society would be if we all grew up active, healthy, standing up-right and not couch potatoes.



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