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The History of the Pilates Exercise Method

The popularity of Pilates has exploded lately, but there's a lot of history behind the hype. It’s been around almost a hundred years, but it has only recently gained widespread exposure. Tracing the Pilates method back to its roots can help you understand the basis of the program.

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880. His father had been a champion gymnast and his mother was a naturopath who believed in the capacity of the body to heal itself without drugs. It might not surprise you then that young Joseph came to love exercise more and more throughout his youth. Despite the fact that he was initially small and sickly, he began to practice bodybuilding, wrestling, martial arts and gymnastics, and educate himself on human anatomy. His training was so effective that in his adolescent years, he was already modeling for anatomy charts.

Ironically, the Pilates method might not have ever seen the light of day had it not been for World War I. When the war began, Joseph Pilates was in England, where he had been performing in the circus and as a professional boxer. This was not a good thing, since he had been born and raised in Germany. As you might expect, he was placed into an internment camp. During this period of time, Pilates became driven to develop an exercise routine that could be performed in confined quarters so that he could help those interns with ill health rehabilitate their bodies. He drew upon his knowledge of historical exercise practices as well as utilizing his own experiences when it came to staying fit.

One of the key pieces of equipment in modern day Pilates exercise, known as the Reformer, had its genesis in old hospital bed springs. Its purpose was to allow injured soldiers too weak to get out of bed to exercise. Pilates'exercise program was seen to be of great merit to his fellow detainees, and word soon spread of his beliefs.

After the war was over, people were clamoring for Pilates to help them get fit, and he obliged. He gave instruction to many in Germany, including professional boxers and police officers. In 1926, he took his training regimen to the next level when he moved to New York. He started his own studio, and he based his exercise system not on repetition, but on strict form. Over 500 exercises were included in Pilates' program, and he preached the use of work both on the mat and with equipment as necessary in order to fully reach the benefits of practice.

He created five different pieces of exercise equipment which were to be used with his program, and he began to develop quite an enthusiastic clientele. He also wrote two books on the subject, allowing him to detail exactly what he believed were the important points of pilates. After his death in 1967, his wife Clara, who Joseph met on the boat from Germany to New York, kept the exercise studio open for 11 years.

Pilates exercise may have not garnered wide acceptance while Joseph was alive, but it sure gained steam when Hollywood celebrities began to attribute their long lean musculature to the regular use of a Pilates program. In addition, many in the medical profession will now acknowledge just how good Pilates can be for the body. It is used for numerous reasons, including more complete fitness, and can be a significant method of rehabilitation for those with injured muscles. Not a lot has changed from Joseph’s original program, and many of the tools used in the program today are the original ones designed by Mr. Pilates.

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