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Happy Birthday: Joseph Pilates!!!

Today is Mr Pilates' birthday! 🍻

🎉To celebrate his legacy, let’s explore a few fun facts about his life. These little bites are from anecdotes from those that were there and from well researched books I’ve read…


🇩🇪 Early Life

🤰  Joe Pilates was born in Monchengladbach in … 9th December 1883.

👀  Aged five he got into a fight and lost an eye. He used a glass eye for the rest of his life. But the good news is that’s when he decided to change his life around and get strong!

🗣  Joseph Pilates claimed that he had already created his system by 1910! Aged 27. Perfectly feasible.

🏋️  Joseph Pilates didn’t create his system out of thin air. Although there were almost no ‘gyms’ and ‘working out’ wasn’t a popular thing like it is today, there WAS a tradition of professional bodybuilders – and not only men. Find our more: check out Eugene Sandow here and Katie Sandwina here.  But in contrast, And there was also a tradition of  wanted his method to be accessible and be practised by everyone.  In addition, there was also a holistic approach to treating tuberculosis in Sanitariums.

🇬🇧 Life in the UK

🎪  Joseph Pilates went to the UK to work as a circus performer but instead ended up spending WW1 on the Isle of Man in an internment camp for enemy aliens…

🏥  It is an often repeated story that Joseph Pilates got his ideas for his apparatus from the hospital beds in the camp infirmary. Here are two “buts” that challenge that myth…

  • BUT #1: inmates largely slept on straw mattresses rather than sprung frames. The few spring bed frame used tiny springs just a few centimetres long.
  • BUT #2: the first patent for The Universal Reformer is dated 1927 but didn’t use springs!
Pilates Reformer Patent Diagram
Drawing from the First Patent for theReformer: note ropes and pulleys!

🇩🇪 Back in Germany

🥊   Between the wars, Germany was a total mess and in chaos.  But despite this environment, Joe was a professional boxer. Perhaps he learned boxing in the camp as it was a popular activity. Joseph Pilates ran a well-known boxing academy between the wars.

👮‍♀️  Precursors to the Gespato / Military Police asked Joseph Pilates to show ID in a bar. He refused and beat the two (irregular) officers up! Apparently he used an easily concealed weapon that he had designed himself! Shortly after he left for the US!

Joe's Boxing Ad
An Advert featuring Jospeh Pilates as a Boxer: thanks to Cathy Barker Strack

🇺🇸 Life in the USA

❤️  After one visit to the US, Joseph Pilates returned for good in 1926. He met his lifelong partner, Clara, on the boat on the way. It seems they never married.

📚  Joseph Pilates was a tireless reader and researcher and had an extensive library of books. He also published two books and a pamphlet. Your Health (1934), Return to Life Through Contrology (1945) and The Pilates’ Pamphlet: Return to Life Through Contrology (1957). 

🎞   In “Return to Life Through Contrology” Joseph Pilates published 34 exercises with photos and instructions.

🥶   Joe always wore Speedo-style swim trunks, even in the dead of winter and often without a shirt! Even in New York winters, Joe would take a daily walk around his neighbourhood.

  Men also had to wear swim trunks, no shirt, and gymnastic shoes.

🩱  Women wore a leotard, hair pulled back, and NO jewellery!

Joe Pilates

About “Pilates” aka “Contrology”

🤸‍♀️  Joseph Pilates didn’t call his fitness method “Pilates” but “Contrology” – and I think that’s a far better name.

🫁  People think that Pilates is all about “the core”. But in his exercise instructions Joseph Pilates mentions “breathing words” (like inhale and exhale) 111 times, but stomach only once and “core” – never.

🤯  Pilates is only partly about the body. Joseph Pilates intended his system to help develop the Mind, Body & Spirit.

💃  Joseph Pilates designed his Fitness Method for men and was heard to complain that “dancers have ruined my method”.

⚙️  For those of you who workout on apparatus… Joe wanted you to be self-sufficient. You did everything yourself! No one told you which springs to change or what to do next. If did get lost, there was a wall of pictures to check.

💥  If you made a noise by crashing the apparatus, Joe would shout at you. Sometimes he would even kick people out of the gym!

⏰  There was no ‘class timetable’. Everyone worked out alone and in silence. There was no chatting, music or a teacher directing everyone. Instead, Joe, Clara or a few chosen helpers would walk around about giving spots, cues or new exercises to students.

👩🏾‍🎤  Despite the very dodgy neighbourhood, many celebrities would visit the studio. Someone famous might have been sweating diligently next to you… like Laurence Olivier, Martha Graham, George balanchine, Vivien Leigh Yehudi Menuhin  or opera-star Roberta Peters…

🚿  After your workout, Joe would send you to the shower. He was even known to show you how to scrub yourself with the stiff bristled brush! Cleanliness and grooming was a part of the Contrology experience!

💥 The Boom!!!

💥  The results of regular Pilates practice were amazing back then.  The pamorama is more complex now with so many people offering watered down derivatives, but the effects of Pilates done “Proper” are still as amazing! 

💥  Joe wanted everyone to take personal responsibility for that amazing machine we call “The Body”. This is the machine that houses our mind. Pilates is much more than just about developing the body. It is a true Mind, Body and Spirit discipline, but without New Age “fluff”…

💥  It truly is such an incredible system that, as we learn more and more about it, it becomes more and more relevant.

💥  We run our studio exactly as Joe did: after a few 1:1 lessons, you too have the opportunity to work independently and discover the incredible effects of Pilates!.

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