History of Joseph H. Pilates
The Pilates Method developed by the legendary physical trainer Joseph Pilates is a full body exercise program. The method restores muscular balance, builds strength and flexibility, increases coordination, and emphasizes and improves body alignment and posture. The PIlates method works by toning muscles as well as balancing muscular force at the joint level. It stimulates circulation through facilitating muscular flexibility, joint range of motion and proper muscular-skeletal alignment.
Joseph H. Pilates was born in Germany in 1880, a frail and sick child. His lifelong interest in body conditioning began when he was bullied in
schoolyard fights. He then worked to develop his body to becoming healthier and stronger. Joseph had a colorful background, which contributed to the development of his methodology. He was a professional boxer in England, taught self-defense to the Scotland Yard detectives, performed with the circus, and also studied eastern and western philosophies from yoga and martial arts to ancient Greek and Roman exercises. His ideas developed during World War I while he was a nurse at one of the prison camps. He began experimenting by attaching springs to hospital beds to allow patients to begin rehabilitating even before they were able to get up and out of bed. It was at this time that he began devising the system of original exercises known today as "matwork", or exercises done on the floor, which he termed "Contrology."
A few years later, he was transferred to another camp, where he became a nurse/caretaker to the many internees struck with wartime disease and physical injury. Here, he began devising equipment to rehabilitate his "patients," taking springs from the beds and rigging them to create spring resistance and "movement" for the bedridden, enabling the patients to exercise and develop strength and flexibility. This invention was the origin of the modern day "Reformer," with its spring resistance and sliding carriage.
This was a time in which doctors had not yet discovered the therapeutic effects of immediate rehabilitation. Pilates discovered that the springs allowed enough resistance to the patient's muscles to help them recover and maintain strength and muscle tone. In 1926, he immigrated to New York and established a studio with his wife Clara (a trained nurse), teaching exercises to dancers (including Martha Graham and George Balanchine), as well as actors and athletes.
Pilates continued to teach and to develop equipment and exercises until his death in 1967. He was fond of speculating that he was fifty years ahead of his time, in terms of his theories and ideas. These ideas (some of which were inspired by his own clients) have become part of his system of methodology ("Contrology") we have today, only refined over the last 80 years. He was ahead of his time, with eight pieces of different apparati and over 600 exercises; his system of exercise is still as vibrant today as when he began. Joseph first developed the mat exercises and these are the foundation of the entire Pilates Method of body conditioning. They emphasize pelvic stabilization and abdominal control. The mat is designed to improve balance, coordination, flexibility, strength and breath control.
From here, Joseph Pilates took his ideas and exercises and expanded them to other pieces of equipment. The most common pieces found in studios today are the reformer, wunda chair, electric chair, Cadillac, ladder barrel and spine corrector. The most commonly used equipment is the reformer a sliding, horizontal bed on which the client sits, kneels, or lies supine. Movement is initiated and controlled by the exerciser who either stabilizes, pulls or pushes against a metal bar or leather straps. Four detachable springs hooked onto the carriage determines the amount of resistance. The supine position avoids the pull of gravity of the lower extremities and helps keep the spine aligned.
Joseph Pilates formulated six basic principles for his exercise technique:
1. Centering – The main focus point of Pilates, all your movement starts from the core, also known as the “Powerhouse.”
2. Concentration - It is the mind that guides the body.
3. Control - Executing the movements with control, Joseph called his method “Art of Contrology.”
4. Precision - All exercises have a clear goal & form, emphasizing quality instead quantity.
5. Breath - All exercises are done with the Rhythm of the breath, stressing the exhalation.
6. Flow - Minimum of movement, making the transitions between exercises fluid.
Today, Pilates is offered in hospitals, universities, health clubs, and independent studios around the world. As both rehabilitation and a wellness program Pilates is a wonderful complement to physical therapy and many other therapeutic or physical fitness systems.
*It is very important to preserve the theoretical foundation of Joseph Pilates' methodology. By ensuring the true Pilates method is practiced we can guard against unauthorized imitations.