The Pilates Method: Exercise Training for Lifelong Health

Joseph Pilates’ definition of ideal physical fitness, written in 1945, is an apt legacy for his work:

The attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.

Who Was Joseph Pilates?

Joseph H. Pilates (1880-1968) was an innovator and a pioneer of physical and mental conditoning.  Joe was plagued by childhood rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever, and overcame his ailments with a self-study in bodybuilding, gymnastics, skiing and diving: by age 14, he was posing as a model for anatomy charts. His father was a prize-winning gymnast, his mother; a naturopath, and both influenced his lifelong pursuit of physical and mental health.

Joe studied Eastern traditions (yoga, martial arts and meditation), European training techniques, and rigorous ancient Greek and Roman exercise programs in his native country, Germany, and in England. He taught wrestling and self-defense, and began devising his system of original exercises (later called ‘Contrology’) by using bedsprings to create rehabilitation equipment for bedridden German nationals in internment camps during WWI. After the war, Joe trained the Hamburg Military Police, began working with private clients, and delved more deeply into Eastern European holistic therapies. He met his future wife, Clara, a young nurse, while en route to the United States in 1926. Together, the couple developed and taught what is now known as the Pilates Method.

In the 1930s and 40s, Joe and Clara Pilates’ exercise studio at 939 Eighth Avenue in NYC attracted the premier members of the American ballet and modern dance community. Famed dancer and choreographer, George Balanchine, worked out at “Joe’s,” and sent his young ballerinas from the New York City Ballet to Pilates’ studio, as did Martha Graham and many others. Several first generation Pilates teachers were among these dancers, including Carola Trier, Eve Gentry, Romana Kryzanowska, Ron Fletcher and others. Pilates’ two books, Your Health (1934) and Return to Life (1945), and his teaching demonstrations for medical professionals and armed services personnel helped spread the word about the benefits of his method. Though the Pilates Method was not yet fully embraced by the mainstream medical and educational systems, by the mid-60s, it was firmly rooted in several Manhattan institutions, including New York University, High School of the Performing Arts, Dance Theatre of Harlem, 92nd Street Y, and Clark Center for the Performing Arts. And, the Pilates Method was beginning to spread beyond New York to Paris, New Mexico and California.

Until his death in 1968, Pilates worked with the most prominent dancers in the city. Clara, considered by many to be the more superb and perhaps more approachable teacher, continued to run the studio until she retired in 1970; she passed away in 1976.

Since the 1980s, Pilates teachers have opened hundreds of studios around the world, created medical-based Pilates programs and established certified teacher-training programs.

Joseph Pilates was 50 years ahead of his time. Today, his groundbreaking method of conditioning is accepted as an integral component of healthy living. The Pilates Method is now taught in most major countries and counts more than 12 million practitioners.

The Pilates Method Works Your Body in a Systematic & Organized Progression

First, the Pilates Method develops the ‘core musculature’, the muscles of the trunk, to support health alignment and posture.


Then, it balances strength and flexibilityin the muscles surrounding all of the joints. Short muscles are stretched, and weak muscles are strengthened. This improves joint function and can alleviate joint problems. At these first two stages, alignment problems are addressed.

Finally, as balance and stability are achieved, the Pilates Method adds more and more challenging exercises to the workout, bringing your whole body to a higher level of strength, flexibility and coordination.

The Six Principles of The Pilates Method:

• Concentration
• Control
• Centering
• Flowing movement
• Precision
• Breathing

With over 500 exercises on five different pieces of equipment, a Pilates workout is engaging, stimulating and enjoyable. The Method is a well-designed program to help people with healthy bodies become stronger and more integrated. You’ll leave sessions feeling relaxed, refreshed, and invigorated.

Pilates will also help you prepare for and recover from surgeries and pregnancies more rapidly. Chronic pain or weakness often diminishes or completely vanishes. For these reasons, Pilates is offered in hospitals, medical offices, physical therapy clinics and private studios worldwide.