Joseph Pilates – The man behind it all

The Pilates method of exercise has become increasingly popular over the past number of years even though it has been around since the 1930’s. Pilates studios are now all across Ireland in most towns and cities offering different types of Mat and Equipment based classes. The benefits of Pilates are numerous and what I love most about it is that it is a type of exercise that works for everyone, no matter the age, fitness level or sport, it has something to offer us all.

There are some common misconceptions that Pilates is a girly type of exercise however, the founder of the Pilates method itself was indeed a man named Joseph Pilates.

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. As a child he suffered with ill health and a result he turned to exercise to help him improve his physical fitness. He josephpilates2-historybecame extremely interested in exercise and movement and spent a lot of time studying to increase his knowledge of the human body and its movements. One idea that struck him was the classical Greek ideology of a balanced mind, body and spirit and he began to come up with his own exercise concepts based on this.

Joseph moved to New York in 1926 and met his wife Clara on the journey over from Europe. They opened an exercise and fitness studio in NYC which shared an address with the New York ballet. Many of their clients became the dancers working in the ballet and a lot of the traditional Pilates exercises were based on this. In the early days the Pilates method was know as “Contrology” meaning an exercise method focusing on control of the body and mind.

joe-pilates-at-jpJoseph had a repertoire of 34 classical exercises most of which are still practiced today such as the Hundred, the Roll Up, the Single Leg Stretch etc. Most of the original exercises were designed for fit and healthy people such as the ballet dancers already mentioned, which required excellent flexibility and strength even before beginning the exercises. In today’s world of Pilates there are a lot of companies using the Pilates method but modifying the exercises and breaking them down so that anyone can do them. One such company are APPI, The Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute, (see our blog on the clinical Pilates method for more information). APPI take lots of the original Joseph Pilates exercises and break them down into different levels (Usually 1-5) with each level having a significant aim clinically e.g. core stability, spinal mobility etc. This is extremely beneficial as there is a level to suit everyone’s own ability and clients can progress in a safe way either as part of a group or on a 1 to 1 basis.

Joseph Pilates was a man before his time as his ideas about balance, control and movement are being mentioned now more and more in the research of musculoskeletal and sports injury rehabilitation. Joseph was even quoted as saying “I am 50 years ahead of my time”, and he was totally right.

At Athboy Physio Clinic we are big advocates for the importance of movement and exercise in ANY form, but it cannot be denied that Pilates is a superb way of ticking a lot of boxes not just for a healthy body but a healthy mind also.

Joseph Pilates died on the 9th of October 1967 in New York City at the age of 83.


By Siobhan Delea. BSc (Hons) ARTC, APPI Clinical Pilates Instructor

Jan 2017

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