History of the Pilates Method

pilates 1What is Pilates?

The Pilates method of mind/body fitness training was crafted by Joseph Pilates.  Due to childhood illness, he was unable to move his body the way that he desired to.  This led him to create a powerful and effective method of exercise, which he ultimately utilized to become extremely healthy and muscular.   He created Pilates so that other sick people could enjoy the benefits of exercise without harming themselves.  According to the Balanced Body website:

Joe went to England in 1912, 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. His exercise method gained favor in the dance community, primarily through Rudolf von Laban, who created the form of dance notation most widely used today.  Hanya Holm adopted many of Joe’s exercises for her modern dance curriculum, and they are still part of the “Holm Technique.” When German officials asked Joe to teach his fitness system to the army, he decided to leave Germany for good.

This does not mean that you have to be sick to do Pilates, far from it. Pilates concentrates on the core (abdominal muscles), or the “powerhouse” strengthening, through a series of exercises using a specialized machine that helps keep your body in alignment while providing resistance, though some exercises can simply be done on your floor at home while the kids nap.  The core, or powerhouse, consists of the lower abdominal wall, the glutes, the hips, and the lower back.

I had my first introduction to the Pilates method of conditioning while I was in college for my dance degree.  It was introduced to us dancers as a cross-training technique, and I instantly noticed the difference.  Even with dancing upwards of three hours per day, I could feel my body shifting and strengthening in ways I never would have imagined.  Here is more of the history around the relationship between trained dancers and the Pilates method (from Balanced Body):

In 1926, Joe emigrated to the United States. During the voyage he met Clara, whom he later married.  Joe and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York, sharing an address with the New York City Ballet.  By the early 1960s, Joe and Clara could count among their clients many New York dancers.  George Balanchine studied “at Joe’s,” as he called it, and also invited Pilates to instruct his young ballerinas at the New York City Ballet.

“Pilates” was becoming popular outside of New York as well.  As the New York Herald Tribune noted in 1964, “in dance classes around the United States, hundreds of young students limber up daily with an exercise they know as a pilates, without knowing that the word has a capital P, and a living, right-breathing namesake.”

High level athletes, as well as moms at home, do Pilates to improve flexibility, flatten the stomach (great after childbirth) and  strengthen the core.  Pilates is also known to increase overall balance and build muscles all over the body depending on what kind of machine is used (machines are utilized in most Pilates studios) and the moves performed.  Many people report some of the same benefits of Pilates that they get from yoga.  Increased flexibility, a longer, leaner physique, as well as the typical benefits from any exercise such as weight loss and better overall health.  The good thing about Pilates is that it is very adaptable to your current physical fitness level.  You can do it at home, or at a gym or center that offers Pilates classes.  Some physical trainers recommend Pilates to their clients regardless of where they are on the physical fitness scale.

Six Primary Pilates Principles:

  • Breath — Bringing air in and out fully from the lungs exactly in line with certain Pilate movements.
  • Centering — Focus is on the core or the “powerhouse” of the body.
  • Concentration — Each exercise is done with full attention on the movement and breath.
  • Control — Every movement uses all body parts and muscles in a specific way.
  • Flow — Each exercise movement is done fluidly, gracefully and easily with no force.
  • Precision — Every body part has its place during each exercise movement, with nothing left to chance.

Check with your local fitness center to see if they offer Pilates classes.  Alternatively, consider buying DVDs so that you can learn how to do all the Pilates movements correctly.  Here are some of my favorites, which I would use almost daily in between dance seasons:

Target Specific Plus

Jennifer Kries’ Pilates Method (3 pc.)

The Method: Target Specifics

Once you learn, you can easily do them on your own, but for the best results it is suggested that new people seek to educate themselves.  Doing each movement properly is very effective –  participants regularly report seeing results sooner than with other forms of exercise.  Today, I also teach Pilates mat work classes, and I love teaching it so much because the students enjoy it so much.  So I thank you, Joseph, for gifting us with this amazing and beautiful practice!




Related Posts

Seize the Day, Weave Stars, & Eat Chocolate...

sig Thank you for stopping by!

Google+ Comments


  1. says

    I am a great advocate of Pilates. About four years ago I had chronic back pain and sciatica and I was unable to do any form of exercise except walking. I started Pilates and slowly increased the strength in more core muscles that support the back and found that my back pain and sciatica improved immensely. I am now relatively pain free and continue to enjoy the challenge of Pilates. It really works for me!
    Kathy Marris recently posted…No more Naysayers here!My Profile

    • Dannie says

      Hi Zee! Thank you for stopping by :) I find that Pilates has helped to strengthen my yoga practice so much – not sure I could do without either, ha ha!

  2. says

    I am checking out Pilates. I love Yoga but my arthritis is causing so many problems with me doing yoga. The instructor told me to check out Pilates. She felt they would be easier on my arthritic wrist, hands, ankles, and feet. I will be starting class next week.

    • Dannie says

      Hi Debbie! So true, yoga can be quite the challenge for people with joint problems. I hope you will love Pilates… I bet you will! 😉

  3. Janeane Davis says

    like almost everyone in the world I have heard of Pilates I had never before heard of the person who invented it. I liked reading this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge