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Joseph Hubertus Pilates (December 9, 1883 – October 9, 1967) was a German of Greek descent, physical trainer, and notable for having invented and promoted the Pilates method of physical fitness.[1]

Joseph Hubertus Pilates
BornDecember 9, 1883
DiedOctober 9, 1967 (1967-10-10) (aged 83)
Known forDeveloping pilates


Joseph H. Pilates was born December 9, 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. His father, Heinrich Friedrich Pilates, was a metal worker and enthusiastic gymnast, and his mother was a housewife.[2]

Pilates was a sickly child. He suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, and he dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength. He was introduced by his father to gymnastics and body-building, and to martial arts like jiu-jitsu and boxing.[3] By the age of 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. Pilates came to believe that the "modern" life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training techniques, and engineered all the equipment, specifications, and tuning required to teach his methods properly.[citation needed]

Pilates was originally a gymnast and bodybuilder, but when he moved to England in 1912, he earned a living as a professional boxer, a circus-performer, and a self-defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. During World War I the British authorities interned him, along with other German citizens, in Lancaster Castle, where he taught wrestling and self-defence, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before their internment. It was there that he began refining and teaching his minimal equipment system of mat exercises that later became "Contrology". He was then transferred to another internment camp at Knockaloe on the Isle of Man. During that involuntary break, he began to intensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise, which he himself called "Contrology".[4] He studied yoga and the movements of animals and trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises.

After World War I, he returned to Germany and collaborated with important experts in dance and physical exercise such as Rudolf Laban. In Hamburg, he trained police officers. He immigrated to the United States around 1925.[5] On the ship to America, he met his future wife Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York City and directly taught and supervised their students well into the 1960s. "Contrology", related to encouraging the use of the mind to control muscles, focusing attention on core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.[6]

Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devoted following in the local dance and performing-arts community of New York. Well-known dancers such as George Balanchine, who arrived in the United States in 1933, and Martha Graham, who had come to New York in 1923, became devotees and regularly sent their students to the Pilates for training and rehabilitation. His exercise regimen built flexibility, strength and stamina. Soon after it became known that ballerinas were attending the Pilates gym on 8th Avenue, society women followed.[citation needed]

One of the ballerinas was Romana Kryzanowska, who become Pilate's protoge. Kryzanowska started Pilates at the age of 16 following an ankle injury. Pilates said of her, "she's a natural".[citation needed] Kryzanowska was named a helper and started teaching Pilates alongside Pilates and his wife. Toward the end of his life, Pilates named Kryzanowska as the director of The Pilates Studio. Kryzanowska and her daughter continued to operate Pilates' original studio. Jay Grimes believes that nobody knows Joseph Pilates’ work better than Kryzanowska.[citation needed]

Joseph Pilates wrote several books, including Return to Life through Contrology and Your Health, and he was also a prolific inventor, with over 26 patents cited.[7] Joe and Clara had a number of disciples who continued to teach variations of his method or, in some cases, focused exclusively on preserving the method and the instructor-training techniques they had learned during their studies with Joe and Clara.[citation needed]

Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York.


  • Joseph Hubertus Pilates; William John Miller (1960). Return to Life Through Contrology. Christopher Pub. House.
  • Your Health by Joseph H. Pilates (1934)
  • Return to Life Through Contrology by Joseph H. Pilates and William J. Miller (1945)


  • Joseph Pilates is featured in the 2013 documentary film, "A Movement of Movement" made by Mark Pedri.


  1. ^ "KONTAKTE KNÜPFEN UND DISKUTIEREN". Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  2. ^ Eva Rincke, Joseph Pilates, p.14-17.
  3. ^ Rincke, Eva. "Gymnastic Roots". Joseph Pilates. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  4. ^ "Pilates inventor honoured with giant class at Manx WW1 internment camp". September 10, 2016 – via
  5. ^ "Joseph Pilates, Life and Biography".
  6. ^ "41 Top Reasons Why Pilates is Good for Your Health". April 29, 2016.
  7. ^ "FPO IP Research & Communities".

External linksEdit

  • English-German blog of Pilates-biographer Eva Rincke in which she shares background information on her research on Joseph Pilates' life.