Pilates was developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates born in 1880 near Düsseldorf Germany, a small sickly child bullied by older fitter children. At a very young age he became determined to overcome his physical disadvantages and began to self educate himself in anatomy, bodybuilding, yoga, gymnastics, and the martial arts. He soon achieved recognition for what would be considered an anatomical ideal and at the age of 14 was posing as a model for anatomy charts. Eventually he became an accomplished boxer, skier, diver, and gymnast. He was enamoured by the classical ideal of a man who was balanced equally in body, mind, and spirit. He came to believe that our modern lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor heath.
His answer to these problems was to design a unique series of physical exercises that would help to correct muscular imbalances and improve posture, coordination, balance, strength, flexibility, as well as to increase breathing capacity and organ function.
There is a famous story about Pilates’ inspiration for his unique apparatus. Before World War1 he was touring England as a circus performer and professional boxer, and was even teaching self defence to Scotland Yard police force. When war broke out he was interned on the Isle of Man as an enemy alien. Conditions were not good so Pilates insisted that every man in his cell block participated in his daily exercise routine to help maintain their physical and mental well being. Some of the soldiers were too weak or injured to get out of bed so Pilates took springs from the beds and attached them to the headboards and footboards of the iron bed frames turning them into equipment that would provide a type of resistance exercise for his bedridden “patients.” These mechanised beds were the forerunners of the spring-based exercise machines, such as the Cadillac and the Reformer, for which the Pilates method is known for today.
Pilates returned to Germany after the war and was invited to train the German secret police. At this point he decided to emigrate to the United States of America where he met his future wife and opened the first studio in New York. He spent the rest of his life developing his system and creating equipment for it.
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