Newsletter for news & promos

What is Pilates?

Q. Why is it so confusing?

A. It's all because of a lawsuit.

The name “Pilates” and what Pilates actually is is so confusing. People call me every week and I listen to them as they express their confusion. They say that there are so many different types of Pilates: Mat Pilates, Reformer Pilates, Dynamic Pilates, Dynamic Reformer Pilates, Group Classes,  Athletic Pilates, Yogalates…

There is just one reason for the confusion and that is a lawsuit that made Pilates a generic term.

Here is the court summary: click here

A shorter, easier read summary: click here

But before anything digging in too deep, it’s well worth reading this, a quote from Pilates Elder, Jay Grimes:

“By a strange twist of fate, the name Pilates is in the public domain as a generic term. You can stand on a rock twirling a hula hoop and call it Pilates. And some do!”

“There are so many versions of Pilates that not only the general public but the medical profession is confused!”

“There are so many Pilates based and Pilates inspired variations that bear no resemblance to one another, yet they all claim the name.”

“This does not mean that they are all bad. On the contrary, some of them are extremely good and much needed.”

“But they are not the exercise method created by Joseph Pilates.”

Jay Grimes


So, what was that strange twist of fate?

Who is Jay Grimes? - an interview with Alisa Wyatt of Pilatesology ...

What's in a name?

--- actually: a great deal...

Shakespeare once asked:

“What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

From Romeo & Juliet, this is Juliet’s line when she is saying that a name is nothing but a convention with no meaning behind it: it doesn’t matter that you call a rose a rose, or anything else because what is important is that it would still smell as sweet.

But if that name happens to be “Pilates”, then what is in that name is confusion, argument, betrayal and a whole host of other things.

Where does the name "Pilates" come from?

Pilates is a family name. It was made famous by Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) who created an exercise method that is now called after him.

In fact, he preferred to call it “Contrology”. Although that name “Contrology” makes so much more sense, that name never caught on in his lifetime and is unlikely to ever catch on now. 

Pilates was a real person. Here is original film of Joseph Pilates teaching...

In his day people simply went to his studio and did “Pilates” and that is still true.

And now, the name Pilates is now legally defined as a “generic” exercise.

The lawsuit - a strange twist of fate

In a lawsuit between Sean Gallagher (the plaintiff defending Pilates as a trademark) and Ken Endelman (defendant) the Manhattan District Court Judge, Miriam Cedarbaum ruled that Pilates was a generic term and could not be trademarked.

This was in October 2000, after four years of litigation and an eleven day trial.

Rightly or wrongly, she compared Pilates to Yoga and Karate. She declared that Pilates is an exercise method and not a trademark. She ruled that the existing trademark, that had existed since 1982 was invalid.

The court noted that during his lifetime, Joseph Pilates had “promoted his method of exercise and attempted to increase its use by the public ” and “never did anything to prevent others from using the name to describe what they taught”.

Those phrases make Joseph Pilates sound like a relaxed and laid back type of guy. He was, in fact, anything but. Instead he was impatient, driven, opinionated and boastful. Self-doubt never seemed to be a part of his psyche, secure in the knowledge that he, and he alone, was right.

During the trial, Romana Kryzanowska, who also studied with Joseph Pilates and ran the studio after Joseph Pilates passed away, was asked what she did for a living. “I teach Pilates,” she replied.

Who is Romana Kryzanowska? Here she is teaching...

That dealt the deathblow to the Pilates trademarks. The Judge noted that trademarks don’t cover exercise methods – they can only protect brand names of goods and services – the Judge reasoned.

I wonder how “Gyrotonics”, “Les Mills” and “Crossfit” have managed to protect their methods – perhaps they are “brands”?

The Pilates "Elders"

Over the years, Romana Kryzanowska taught many students who went on to become Pilates teachers. Like other people that Joseph Pilates taught such as Kathy Grant and Ron Fletcher, Carola Trier and Eve Gentry, Romana made a career of teaching and training others in Pilates’ method.


Who are Kathy Stanford Grant & Ron Fletcher?

From all these “first generation” teachers (often called “Elders”), a second generation arose, then a third, creating a geometric increase in the numbers of Pilates teachers and practitioners.

The Downsides of the Lawsuit

You might think that not having the name “Pilates” trademarked is a good idea. It’s now “Open Source” and instead of it being a closed shop, anyone can do and teach, Pilates.

The name loses it's meaning

But a name is a name and names have meanings.  Imagine you were a heavy metal fan and you bought, at great expense, tickets to see the iconic heavy metal group AD/DC live. You turned up to the concert and they walked on stage, but instead of the heavy metal that they are famous for, they played jazz. You’d rightly feel short changed because it isn’t what you were expecting. S

Even though you might not be a great fan of heavy metal, someone saying “it’s all music” might not relieve your disappointment.

The Method gets diluted

As Pilates has become more well-known, teacher training schools have flourished and it’s big, big business. Many of these are multinationals. Some offer “certification” for as little as £219 (American Sport & Fitness: see here). Quite clearly you’re not going to learn how to teach the whole Pilates method.

A few of these schools have remained faithful to the original method with trainers who are very close to the Original Source. Many others have added to it or diluted it until it no longer resembles anything that Joseph Pilates would have recognised. The exercises have changed, other exercises added, and the apparatus has been added to, removed or changed.

Due to the proliferation of teacher training schools changing the method, many Pilates teachers are confused (let alone the general public) – something which, if you think about it for a few seconds, is utterly astounding.


How did Joseph Pilates define Pilates?

“Finally, Contrology is not “medicine” or even “physical therapy”. For it’s aim is not specifically corrective but generally body building and co-coordinating. Hence its users are not “patients” nor “treated”. Each student is given as nearly as possible the same regimen, and in kinds and amounts equal to his or her requirements under careful supervision. And only if approved by his or her family physician.”

Joseph Pilates:

The Pilates Pamphlet (1957).

Used with kind permission.

For Joe, Pilates was body building and coordinating and he calls its users “student” – Joe even put emphasis on the word student.

Also, everyone get the same exercises with some modifications to the exercises and volume according to the person’s needs.

Back to Jay Grimes...

The end result of the lawsuit is that now you can literally stand on a rock twirling a hula hoop and call it Pilates! — Thank you Jay!

Don't miss out on exclusive benefits.

Sign up to our newsletter today!

Download your Academy Brochure

Sign up to receive your brochure.