A Brief History

Hubertus Joseph Pilates

Joe was born in 1883 in Monchengladbach, Germany at a time when the country was a haven for gymnastics. The Turnverein – German gymnastic clubs were thriving, and Pilates father was actively involved in the organisation.  Joe and his brothers were encouraged to participate, and it may be from here that he began his love of movement.

Joe and his brother Fred can be seen head wrestling and fighting gladiatorial style in video and photographs held in the Pilates archives and in from  http://pilates-marybowen.com/products-2/ .

In 1915 during the first world war while in England, Joseph was detained along with other “enemy aliens” in internment camps. He was held longest in Knockaloe on the Isle of Man.

From the research into his life and written into biographies, Joe seemed to be a “teller of tales” with embellishment of truths.  For example neither the researchers at https://www.knockaloe.im/ or the biographer Javier Perez Pont have found any trace of bed springs being on internment camp beds and there is no evidence of him having worked in the camp hospital. What is clear however is that Joe Pilates developed his method for men and drawing from his expertise of being a boxer and self-defence trainer. There is evidence in  letters from other inmates that Pilates taught exercises https://www.knockaloe.im/profile_428812.html . It is recorded in the camp archives that Joe refereed a boxing match.

The apparatus and development of the Contrology method

On returning to Germany Pilates began to invent and patent apparatus which would form the majority of exercises in his system. This timeline of apparatus patents is from the biography by Javier Perez Pont and Esperanza Aparicio Romero.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=joseph+pilates+biography&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

Pilates Patents
Eugen Sandow
Eugen Sandow

Hubertus Joseph Pilates and his partner Clara ran “The Contrology” business from their home at the Van Dyck Studios 939 8th Avenue New York filled with the apparatus he created.  While Pilates had no formal anatomical or clinical training, he published two Books “Your health” in 1934 and “Return to Life through Contrology” in 1945.  His writings show how he may have taken inspiration from the development of gross movement patterns in infancy and childhood and the work of Physical culturists and Psychologists of the late 19th and early 20th century.  The cat and her young are also specifically mentioned.

G Stanley Hall

In the house in Becket Massachusetts, where Joseph and Clara spent some weekends, there are many books which are annotated in Joseph Pilates handwriting. Authors include Physical culturist Eugen Sandow and eminent Psychologist G. Stanley Hall

Pilates was very precise in photographing and cataloguing his method of exercise. For example, the exercises on the wunda chair were photographed over 3 decades with few changes. The pictures were posted around the Contrology Gym for his “students” to follow.

The growth of the Pilates Method

Joe Pilates published a pamphlet in 1957 which detailed the theory and practice of “Contrology” along with testimonials from students of the method.  This was written in collaboration with Frederick Rand Rodgers who was The Director Health and Physical education in New York State and also Dean of Health, Physical Education at Boston University. It was the intention that Pilates, Public health and medical professionals would collaborate and form “The American Foundation for Exercise.”  Joe Pilates died in 1967 before plans could be finally be put into place.   Clara continued the studio and was supported by a long-term student, Romana Krysanowska. The business was passed to Romana on Clara’s death in 1977 and subsequently had many changes of ownership but Romana remained as a Teacher throughout.  One owner, Aris Isotoner trademarked the name Pilates inc. but failed to maintain control over the trademark.  In the late 1980s the business contents and trademark was purchased by Sean P Gallagher http://www.pilates-studio-ny.com/  Sean decided to try to enforce the trademark which he legitimately purchased, but by this time many of the first, and now second, generation of teachers had firmly established use of the name Pilates in their businesses.  A court case followed and in 2001 a Judge in New York decided that the name was generic.  The court papers also stated that the method required distinct equipment.  More details on the court case can be found here https://h2o.law.harvard.edu/cases/4808

Other teachers close to Romana own archival material including her daughter  Sari and Granddaughter Daria https://www.romanaspilates.com/ and long term student and friend Inelia Garcia https://pilates.com.br/metodologia/historia/inelia-garcia/

Romana Krysanowska was one of many students of Joe who are known as “first generation teachers/elders”.  All learned Contrology (over 500 exercises on unique apparatus designed by Joseph Pilates).  They include the late Kathleen Stanford Grant, Eve Gentry, Carol Trier, Bob Fitzgerald, Bob Seed and Ron Fletcher et. al.  Living elders today include Mary Pilates, Jay Grimes, Lolita San Miguel and Mary Bowen. Some elders have taken further training with schools founded after Joe’s death, and all have added their personal experience to the interpretation of the method.   

More information on the elders , their students and history of Pilates can be found here https://www.pilatesanytime.com/legacy/  and https://pilatesology.com/observe-learn/interviews-discussions/

“Pilates” principles

In 1983 students of Romana Krysanowska, Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, wrote a book The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, which was based on their experience of learning the Pilates method on all apparatus as taught by Romana.  They created 6 principles which they felt reflected the essence of how Romana taught the work.  Those six principles were concentration, centring, control, breath precision and flow. 

These “principles” have become common with many schools attributing them incorrectly to Joseph Pilates himself. Other “principles” such as isolation, relaxation and routine have been added which fit the teaching practices of the individual schools.  An interview with Gail Eisen can be found here https://pilatesology.com/classes/interview-with-gail-eisen-co-author-of-the-original-pilates-book/

Pilates Teaching today

Comprehensive Pilates teaching in a Pilates studio

To become a Pilates Teacher today there are many training programmes on all apparatus (Comprehensive training) which can be purchased.  They often follow the student/master style of training of the first generation of teachers or a modular style of training which requires some studio attendance. Both require prior experience of practice in the Pilates method.  After the training lectures and workshops, observed teaching, observation and practice hours from 450 hours to 900 as minimums are required prior to assessment of competency and qualification.

To purchase the major equipment to run a full studio for 1-1 training requires substantial investment of around £15000.   Comprehensive teaching may be considered “classical” or “contemporary”.  A global study of teachers was commissioned and the results are published here https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1360859219300762?via%3Dihub

Pilates named products in the Leisure and fitness Industry

Prior to the late 1990s Pilates was predominantly taught in studios utilising the apparatus.  Around the time of the court case, new companies appeared and started offering short training based on the mat section of the Pilates method.  This was intended as a group exercise activity and continuing education for an existing fitness instructor.  In the early 2000s these courses became widespread. Many mat only training providers may have little or no experience of the full range of apparatus.

The trainings may include exercises choreographed to music and with “new” exercises not documented in the work of Joseph Pilates. The exercises may have roots with other first- generation teachers or be based on fitness industry or physiotherapy styles of movement.  Inspiration may have been drawn from other exercise modalities such as yoga, gym style circuit classes and high intensity workouts. Small accessories such as swiss balls, thera-bands, bosu balls and foam rollers have been added

Group classes on single pieces of equipment such as the reformer are becoming more prevalent and short time training is common.