«True flexibility can be achieved only when all muscles are uniformly developed.»

Joseph Pilates


Pilates is a holistic method of exercise that promotes the strength, flexibility and structural balance of the body. Two important components of this form of training are a specific breathing technique and deliberate sequences of movement. Pilates is perfect for use as a holistic training programme, but it also works as an ideal complement to other forms of sport, or as part of a rehabilitation programme. Pilates is carried out as a floor-training exercise and using special items of equipment developed by Joseph Pilates.

Training takes place at different levels of difficulty and has been designed to suit all levels. Ordinary lay people, dancers and sports people are all supported and encouraged individually.

Regular training increases the power, flexibility and balance of the body. The core muscles, especially the deep abdominal and back musculature, are targeted and strengthened. Precisely executed exercises and conscious breathing movements improve the concentration and the balance between body and soul. This method also affects the body’s erectness and posture in a sustainably positive manner – it can even optimise bone density and the mobility of the joints.


How Pilates came into being

Joseph H. Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach near Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1883.

From 1912, “Joe“ Pilates lived in England where he is supposed to have performed as an actor and boxer. In 1914, during the First World War, he and many other German people were interned. He began to teach his exercise programme to his fellow captives during this period. Today’s “mat work” (floor exercises) originate from this time. He called his system of exercises “Contrology”. His fitness programme is said to have been so successful that none of his protégées were affected by the Spanish flu, which took the lives of thousands of people in 1918. Later, he was moved to a different camp, where he worked in the infirmary. The injured and sick from the camp were his “first patients”. It is said that Joe Pilates experimented with bedsprings there in order to create exercises involving reaction. In 1919, after the end of the war, Joe returned to Germany and developed his programme of exercises still further. He worked with clients and taught self-defence and endurance training with the police.

In 1926, Joe Pilates emigrated to America. During the course of the journey, he met his future life partner, Clara, who was a nurse. They settled together in New York, where they opened their first studio in 1929, at 939 Eighth Avenue – a city quarter they shared with the New York City Ballet.

Up to the beginning of 1960, many of the dancers from this company were clients of Joe and Clara. The famous choreographer George Balanchine also studied with Joe and invited him to work with his young ensemble. Then athletes, actors and the general public also began to benefit from the Pilates method.

Even though Joe Pilates is now regarded as the main figure and inventor of the method, his spouse Clara also exerted a highly formative and very important effect. Her gentle handling of clients who were injured or ill and her modifications of the exercises and concepts are said to be reflected in the method to this day. Apparently, it is thanks to her that the Pilates method is also suitable for the prevention of many exercise and health problems – irrespective of the particular level.

Joe and Clara taught the method until the 1960s and some of their students were trained to become teachers. This generation of “Pilates Elders” played a crucial role in the rapid spread of the method across the USA and Europe.
Joe wrote two books about his ideas on health and exercise: ”Your Health” appeared in 1934 and “Return to Life” followed in 1945. Even in old age, Joseph Pilates worked with great dedication on his method, up to his death in 1967. Clara continued to teach until 1971 and died in 1976.


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