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Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates developed the system that now bears his name as a reaction to a sickly childhood that produced a life-long commitment to improving his physical conditioning and strength. Born in Germany, he moved to England, where he worked as a circus performer, professional boxer and self-defense trainer at police schools and at Scotland Yard. He was interned at the outbreak of World War I, first at an internment camp at Lancaster Castle and later on the Isle of Man.


In the Lancaster Castle camp, Joseph Pilates began to refine a set of exercises that are the origin of the Pilates mat work we use today. In the Isle of Man camp, he also worked with other detainees suffering from disease and injury. He began to develop a systematic approach to all he had learned, which he called “Contrology.” He moved to New York in 1925, where he worked with many well-known dancers.


Out of necessity in working with other inmates in the internment camps, Joseph Pilates used the limited material available to him — bed springs and beer keg rings — to create resistance exercise devices that are the unlikely beginnings of the equipment in the modern Pilates studio.

After his death in 1967 at the age of 84, the technique became known as Pilates and no longer Contrology.