Not everyone knows that Pilates was a man! A man who developed his own method of training the body and maintaining good health and wellbeing which he initially called Contrology. People also often think the Pilates method is restricted to the mat or special equipment, however, Liverpool Pilates Hub believe it was a philosophy to apply to any form of movement. Joseph Pilates believed completely in his method and practiced what he prescribed to others well into his eighties. Even as an older man he was quite robust and vital until his death, at the age of 87.
“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier.”
Joseph Pilates was born on December 1883 in Germany. His father had been a prize-winning gymnast, while his mother was a naturopath. No doubt his mother's healing philosophy and father's physical achievements greatly influenced Pilates' later ideas on therapeutic exercise.
Small and sickly as a child, he was afflicted with asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, and was continually taunted by the bigger children. He quickly became determined to overcome his physical disadvantages. Thereupon young Joseph began to self-educate himself in anatomy, bodybuilding, wrestling, yoga, gymnastics, and martial arts. He soon achieved an almost Adonis-like "anatomical ideal," to the extent that at the age of 14 he was posing as a model for anatomy charts. He was also an accomplished boxer, skier, and diver.
Origins of the Pilates Method
His answer to these problems was to design a unique series of vigorous physical exercises that help to correct muscular imbalances and improve posture, coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility, as well as to increase breathing capacity and organ function. He also invented a variety of machines, based on spring-resistance, that could be used to perform these exercises.
Pilates and the great outdoors
“By all means never fail to get all the sunshine and fresh air that you can.”
Pilates was a big believer in getting outdoors. As a consequence of his childhood rickets he understood the importance of exposure to sunlight and our body's ability to produce vitamin D from the sun's rays. He was often seen working out outdoors in his underpants and would encourage his students to do the same.
“Unless you are really chilly, do not exercise in sweatshirts or even in lighter clothing. Whenever and wherever possible, wear ‘shorts’ or sunsuits outdoors, and let the lifegiving ultraviolet rays reach and penetrate into every skin pore of your body.” Joe Pilates
Pilates and World War I
There is a famous story about Pilates' inspiration for his unique apparatus. Before World War I he was touring England as a circus performer and professional boxer, and even teaching self-defense to the Scotland Yard police force. But when war broke out, he found himself interned in England as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man. The health conditions in the internment camps were not great, but Pilates insisted that everyone in his cell block participate in daily exercise routines to help maintain both their physical and mental well-being. However, some of the injured German soldiers were too weak to get out of bed. Not content to leave his comrades lying idle, Pilates took springs from the beds and attached them to the headboards and footboards of the iron bed frames, turning them into equipment that provided resistance exercise for his bedridden "patients." These mechanized beds were the forerunners of the spring-based exercise machines, such as the Cadillac and the Universal Reformer, for which the Pilates method is known today. Pilates legend has it that during the great flu epidemic of 1918, not a single one of the soldiers under his care died. He credited his technique (which he called "Contrology") for the prisoners' strength and fitness — remarkable under the less than optimum living conditions of internment camps, which were hit especially hard by this deadly flu.
Body Contrology Studio on Eighth Avenue at 56th Street
After the war Pilates decided to emigrate to the United States. He met his future wife and dedicated teaching partner, Clara, on the boat to New York City. Together they opened the first Body Contrology Studio on Eighth Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan, in the same building as a number of dance studios. For the rest of his life, he continued to develop his exercise system and to create new pieces of equipment for it. In this task he was evidently not only inventive, but also resourceful.