We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but habit.  –Aristotle

About Joseph Pilates                                                                                                      



Born in a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1880, Joseph Pilates was a small and sickly child. Given an anatomy book by a family physician, Joe began his study of the human body at an early age. Using movement of his own body to learn and memorize every page of the book, by 14 he was modeling for anatomy books himself. The son of a gymnast father and naturopath mother, Joe later became a skilled boxer, gymnast, circus performer, skier, and diver; he also practiced yoga and Zen meditation. Through his own physical transformation, Joe came to realize the simple truth and Power Pilates motto: Movement heals.



While in England when WWI broke out, Joe was interned in a camp for German nationals. This is where he began to develop his system of original exercises that he later called 'Contrology.' He taught wrestling and self-defense to other interns and also worked with the incarcerated and the diseased. Creating exercise and rehabilitation apparatus to provide resistance training, the men Joe worked with were the strongest and healthiest in the camp.


Returning to Germany after the war ended, Joe trained military police and worked with personal clients. Unhappy with the political direction of Germany, in 1925 he left for the U.S. En route to New York City, he met his wife, Clara, and they opened a gym upon arrival in 1926 side by side with several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. 'Contrology' – today known simply as Pilates – soon became a staple for dancers, used to strengthen, balance and rehabilitate them. Clara and Uncle Joe, as he lovingly came to be known, continued their training of both dancers and pedestrians for decades.

After Joe passed away at the age of 87, Clara continued to teach and run the studio until her death 10 years later.






About Joseph’s equipment:

The origins of the Pilates apparatus can be traced back to England during WWI when Joseph Pilates was rehabilitating wounded soldiers. He began experimenting with springs attached to hospital beds and the first piece of Pilates apparatus – today known as the Cadillac – was born. Patients were able to perform resistance exercises while still bed-ridden and Pilates discovered that this speeded their recovery.


Later on Joe worked as a circus artist where he got his initial idea for the Chair, which he later went on to develop into a true home Reformer. He was apparently very resourceful in finding his building material; it is said that he constructed his first Barrel from half a beer keg, with the steel hoops of the keg becoming the original Magic Circle.


After moving to the U.S., Joe established a little workshop underneath his original New York studio on 8th Avenue at 56th Street. Here he enthusiastically worked on creating additional Pilates apparatus. Throughout his lifetime, he and his brother Fred continued to develop and create new pieces of exercise apparatus, as well as fine-tune their inventions.





The power of utilizing the Pilates apparatus lies in its ability to provide mechanical advantage. Imagine, if you will, putting a screw into a wall using just your fingers. Now imagine putting that same screw into a wall using a screwdriver. This is mechanical advantage. The assistance or resistance that the Pilates apparatus provides allows us to work the body in a range of motion that we otherwise could not effectively or safely maintain. A Pilates workout utilizing all the apparatus is the path that leads to the greatest results.