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Short Courses

Who was Pilates?

Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Monchengladbach Germany 9 December 1883. His father was a gymnast and his mother a naturopath. As a child Joe suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. To assist in overcoming these afflictions Joe focused on strengthening his body. He applied himself to boxing, wrestling, yoga, gymnastics, martial arts, body building and meditation. He was self taught in anatomy, memorising anatomy books he received from a local doctor.


At the age of 14 Joe was posing as a model for anatomy charts. Before the First World War, Joseph went to England touring as a boxer and circus performer. He also taught self defence to the Scotland Yard Police. Once war broke out Joe Pilates was interned in Lancashire England. This is where he applied his skills and knowledge to keep his fellow internees fit and strong by performing his mat exercises. He was transferred to the Isle of Man and spent the rest of the war helping in the camp infirmary.


It was here that Joe developed the blueprint for his unique equipment, using springs for resistance to safely strengthen the injured patients. It was said that no one in his camp died of influenza. 

Joseph Pilates founder of Pilates exercises

Upon return to Germany Joseph continued practising and refining his method. He taught self defence to the Hamburg Military Police as well as taking on private clients. It was at this time that Joseph met Rudolf von Laban, founder of Labanotation, it has been said that some of Joseph's philosophies and exercises were incorporated into the notation. He was also asked by the German army to train their elite; Joseph refused and decided to immigrate to America. 

Joseph arrived in America on 14 April 1926 aboard the Westphalia; it was en route that he met his partner Anna Clara Zuener, known as Clara, who was a kindergarten teacher. Once in America, Joseph and Clara took over a boxing gym in Manhattan, situated near dance and rehearsal studios. It was here that Joseph's work known as Contrology helped rehabilitate and train dancers and athletes. Choreographers and performers such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Ruth St Denis, Jerome Robbins, Kathy Grant and many more were influenced by his teachings. 

Joseph Hubertus Pilates

Joseph worked until his death on 9 October 1967, his obituary reads; 'a white-maned lion with steel blue eyes (one was glass from a boxing mishap), and mahogany skin, and as limber in his 80's as a teenager'. His method now known as Pilates, continued with Clara until her death in 1977.


The Pilates Method has continued to grow and evolve through Joseph's disciples.


Today, Pilates has become a new phenomenon, it has developed into a form of exercise recognised by Allied Health Practitioners.

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