More than 100 years ago, Joseph Pilates began to develop his unique system of strengthening and toning the body. Having suffered from severe illness as a child during the 1880s, asthma, rickets, rheumatic fever, to name a few, rather than accept the limitations of his body, he decided to overcome them. Pilates was attracted to the idea of curing himself through exercise and worked hard at developing his physique, correcting the curvatures of his legs and spine caused by his illnesses along the way. These matwork exercises, which he called ‘The Art of Contrology’ are now better known as just 'Pilates'.
During World War I, he had a chance to develop his system further while he was working with fellow ‘enemy aliens’ interned in a camp on the Isle of Man. He helped them to regain mobility while lying in bed by supporting their damaged limbs with bedsprings attached to the bedframe, so they could move safely and keep their muscles toned. These were to be the prototype of the apparatus you find in Pilates studios today.
Shortly after World War 1, a pandemic known as the Spanish Flu swept across Europe, killing millions. Amazingly, not one of the patients with whom Pilates had been working succumbed to the infection, even though they were injured and should have been more vulnerable. Many attributed their survival to the fitness programme they had been following.
In 1926, Pilates moved to New York to run a studio training the boxer Max Schelling. Over the years word spread about his hugely effective exercise system. Celebrities like dancer Martha Graham and choreographer George Balanchine flocked to his studio.
Before his death in 1967, he wrote two books, 'Your Health' and 'Return to life through Contrology'. He trained several other instructors to teach his method, ensuring that it would continue to develop and enhance peoples lives for years to come.
The little sickly boy left our generation a wonderful legacy, a revolutionary approach to exercise that allows anyone to achieve the very best working body they can.