Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1883-1967) created his system of exercise, which he called “Contrology,” over his lifetime. His ideas took root while he was interned at the Isle of Man during WWI as a German POW. Pilates led his fellow prisoners and injured soldiers through fitness and rehabilitation, adding depth to his knowledge and philosophies. Upon repatriation to Germany, he was a desirable athletic trainer courted by the state. Pilates immigrated to the United States in 1926. He was a pacifist, believing the foremost role of fitness to be fostering health, happiness, the elimination of suffering, and ultimately, world peace.

A genius in Manhattan

Between 1929 to 1967, Pilates enjoyed a prolific teaching career in Manhattan.  He opened his first studio with his wife, Clara, in 1929.  Pilates published two books, Your Health (1934) and Return to Life through Contrology (1945), detailing his systematic approach to achieving mind-body harmony.  He fervently believed in his work.  Explaining “physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness" (Pilates, 15), Pilates advocated for discipline and consistency as part of a fruitful wellness routine.  Knowing that life was best enjoyed via a nourished body, Pilates created over 500 exercises to correct posture, improve circulation, increase strength and breath capacity, and balance muscles and joints.  He designed equipment to address physical dysfunction while providing support to the client's moving body.   One of the great values of his line of corrective chairs, beds, and spring-loaded apparatus was that it worked as a partner for the client.  The equipment allowed the teacher to move freely and provide the most effective support at the body's weakest links. 


Goals and Benefits of Pilates

Commitment to a Pilates Practice reaps noticeable benefits




Improved posture & movement alignment


Grace & efficiency

Sense of embodiment

Uniform muscular development

Enhanced well-being

Balance of mind, body, and spirit

The Pilates Principles

Guiding the mind, Body, and spirit toward complete health






Rhythm & Flow

"Physical Fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is 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." (Pilates, 15)


Over 500 Exercises for mind, body, and spirit

Joseph Pilates' pedagogy was substantial, and grew to include a rigorous body-weight mat routine that took the practitioner through all planes of motion.  Movement sequences performed on spring loaded apparatus such as the Reformer, and supplemental exercises executed on the Wunda Chair, Cadillac, and more, encouraged healthy spinal articulation and integrated the limbs into the core of the body.  The movement skills Pilates enforced through his method translated directly to healthy function in the outside world.  Clients began spreading the word about how Pilates' Contrology improved their lives in recreation, athletics and recovery.  Illuminated athletes, celebrities, and dancers sought training at Pilates’ studio, where they received unparalleled attention and access to his apparatus.  He entrusted the continuation of his work to teachers regarded in the Pilates industry as the “Elders.”  Notable Elders continued teaching the method and established some of the world’s foremost teacher training programs.  Famous Elders include Romana Kryzanowska, Eve Gentry, Carola Trier, Ron Fletcher, Kathy Grant, Bruce King, and Lolita San Miguel (Lessen, 15).

Pilates died in 1967, and ownership of his studio changed hands and locations.  He did not witness the explosive popularity of his fitness regime, nor was he alive when the next generation of teachers after the Elders, the “Second Generation,” built their practices across the country during the 1980’s.  By the mid ‘90’s, “Pilates” became widespread within the fitness and medical community, achieving its namesake's dream of nationwide popularity.  Instructors postured over whose teaching best resembled what Joseph Pilates would approve.  Conflicts reached a boiling point in October, 2000 during the Pilates trademark lawsuit.  The court declared that the term “Pilates” could not be trademarked and would be a “generic designation for a method of exercise" (Lessen, 17).   The result embittered certain teachers; they thought it meant that little could prevent someone without training from offering exercise called “Pilates” while teaching nothing akin to his original pedagogy.  And yet, Joseph Pilates had taught scores of people throughout the years, approaching each individual in a way that benefited them.  To allow all those who studied with him, and not just some the right to teach "Pilates" enriched the community and made it possible for the work to evolve in tandem with growing a knowledge of biomechanics, anatomy, and personalized fitness.

Kate practices Pilates' Advanced Reformer in her Boston home, prior to her move to Fairport.

In response to the lawsuit, instructors across the country called for a set of teaching standards and hoped to promote unity in the process.  In 2001, The Pilates Method Alliance, a non-profit Certification, Accreditation, and Licensing organization, was established.  The Pilates Method Alliance united teachers from around the world, allowing them to share knowledge and resources. Today, the PMA continues its mission “to provide an organization to connect teachers, teacher trainers, studios, and facilities dedicated to preserving and enhancing the legacy of Joseph H. Pilates and his exercise method by establishing standards, encouraging unity, and promoting professionalism" (Lessen, 6).  The PMA oversees the National Pilates Certification Program, awarding the title of Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher (NCPT) to the comprehensively educated Pilates teacher who has provided evidence that they meet established professional standards. For the public, employers, government agencies, and other professionals in allied fields, the NCPT credential provides assurance that the Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher is competent in the provision of services. Many studios continue cropping up around the globe, along with new non-profits dedicated to making Pilates affordable and accessible to all.  Joseph Pilates would no doubt be overjoyed to see that his Method, which he believed everyone should practice, has become an international mainstay.



“Contrology (Pilates) develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.”   -
— Joseph H. Pilates

Works Cited:

Pilates, Joseph H., Return to Life Through Contrology, Pilates Method Alliance Inc., Original Copyright 1945

Lesson Debora, Editor. "History of Joseph and Clara Pilates," The PMA Pilates Certification Exam Study Guide, Pilates Method Alliance, Inc., Copyright 2014