The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning

The Pilates Method was created by Joseph Pilates and called Contrology because he believed quality movements were only achieved by “gaining the mastery of your mind over the complete control over your body”. To him there was no separation between the body and the mind. His philosophy was that “our muscles should obey our will” and his method was about the “complete coordination of body, mind and spirit”.

Joseph Pilates created a systematic method for both the mat and reformer. His repertoire involves a dynamic warm-up of the body that focuses on alignment, breathing, and coordination. The workout targets the “powerhouse” or trunk/core region and then progresses outwards to the extremities when stability can be maintained.

Joseph Pilates invented “Contrology” which later became known as “The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning” or simply “The Pilates Method”.

Early Life

Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany approximately 30 kilometers west of Dusseldorf. His father was a gymnast of Greek descent and his mother was a naturopath. Pilates was a sickly child that suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, so he decided to dedicate his life to improving his physical strength. He began studying the human body and anatomy as well as observing animals in the wild. Young Joe would watch mothers teach their young and would observe their movements. He practiced body-building, yoga, martial arts, and gymnastics. By the age of 14 the formerly fragile Pilates was modeling for anatomical charts and books.

The Great War

In 1912 Pilates moved to England where he trained as a boxer and earned a living as a circus-performer. He and his older brother, Frederick, performed as Roman Gladiators and toured the country. Unfortunately with the on-set of World War I in 1914 Pilates was sent to an internment camp in Lancaster with other German nationals. He taught wrestling and self-defense often bragging that his students would emerge stronger than they were before being interned. It was during this time that Pilates devised and refined his system of original mat work that later became known as Contrology.

Pilates was then transferred to the Isle of Man where he worked as a nurse at a veterans’ hospital. He insisted that the internees suffering from wartime diseases and incarceration needed to move. It was here that he developed some of his equipment to rehabilitate the bedridden by attaching springs to their hospital beds. When an influenza epidemic referred to as the “1918 flu pandemic” killed tens of thousands in England, all of Joseph Pilates’ inmates survived because of their good physical condition.


After WWI Pilates returned to Germany and continued his work while training the Hamburg Military Police and private clients. During this time he met Rudolf von Laban, a famous Hungarian dance artist and theorist who created dance notation called the Laban Movement Analysis.

In 1925 he was asked by the German government to train the New German Army. Pilates was uneasy about the political and social direction of his country, so he decided to immigrate to the United States. While on the ship to America he met his future wife, Clara, and they opened a gym in 1926 at 939 Eighth Avenue and 56th Street in New York City.

New York City

The Pilates location was one block from Broadway and the building had several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. As a result of this popular location Joseph and Clara established a devout following within the performing arts community. Well-known choreographers such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Ted Shawn studied with Joe and Clara Pilates and they sent their dancers to them for strengthening, balancing, and rehabilitation. Joseph also had a number of original “disciples” of his Method and they are often referred to as “The Elders” or “First Generation” teachers/instructors.

Joseph Pilates wrote two books, “Return to Life through Contrology” in 1945 and “Your Health” in 1934. He used to say, “I am fifty years ahead of my time”. I agree one hundred percent; Joseph Pilates was definitely a pioneer.

The 6 Principles of Pilates


The mind’s will over the body so we’re always moving with complete control.


Working from the powerhouse, being aware of alignment, and activating abdominals.


The mind’s full attention and awareness of the entire body.


Deliberate and purposeful movements, always moving with clarity.


This keeps the mind and body focused and energized, it also cleanses the body.


Seamless transitions and smooth movements aiming for efficiency and fluidity between exercises.

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