A Tribute to Joseph Pilates, the Half-Naked Father of Pilates, on His Birthday

A Tribute to Joseph Pilates, the Half-Naked Father of Pilates, on His Birthday

Early Life Overcoming Illness

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880. As a sickly child suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, he was determined to overcome his physical limitations. From a young age, Joseph dedicated himself to building his body’s strength and flexibility through self-experimentation and a regular exercise routine.

Training as a Circus Performer and Anatomist

As a teenager, Joseph trained as a circus performer, gymnast and boxer. He studied Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga and ancient Greek and Roman fitness regimens. Joseph also studied anatomy and the workings of muscles and joints.

Developing His Method in WWI Internment Camp

During World War I, Joseph was interned along with other German nationals in a camp in Lancaster. There, he began refining a system of exercises that could be done on a mat without equipment, for people of all abilities. Joseph taught wrestling and self-defense techniques to camp detainees and local law enforcement.

Moving to the US and Opening the First Studio

Joseph immigrated to the United States in 1926 and opened his first Pilates studio in New York in the same year. His method, which he called “Contrology”, focused on core strength, flexibility, precision and breath. It attracted many dancers who found it improved their technique and control.

Legacy of Teaching His Method

Joseph promoted his technique extensively until his death in 1967 at age 87. He taught many second generation teachers who went on to spread knowledge of the Pilates method. Today Pilates is practiced worldwide in studios, gyms, homes and physical therapy offices.


What illness did Joseph Pilates have as a child?

As a child, Joseph Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever.

Where did Joseph Pilates develop his method of exercise?

Joseph developed the beginnings of his exercise method while interned at a camp in Lancaster during World War I.

What was Joseph’s original name for his exercise system?

Originally Joseph called his method “Contrology”.

Who did Joseph first teach his exercises to?

At the internment camp, Joseph first taught wrestling, self-defense and his exercise system to fellow internees and local law enforcement.

How old was Joseph Pilates when he died?

Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 87.