The History of Pilates

Pilates, previously known as Contrology, is a practice pioneered by Joseph Pilates in the 1930s. As a child Pilates was frail and therefore turned to various sports in order to improve his condition. During the war he combined elements of martial arts and gymnastics to form his own training technique to be delivered to his fellow internees to maintain their fitness levels. The aim of the technique was to develop the deep postural musculature and promote core stability.

Following the war Pilates returned to Germany and ventured into the world of dance working with the likes of Rudolph von Laban and Hanya Holm, he also worked with the Hamburg police training self-defence.

Along with his wife Clara he set up his first fitness studio in New York working alongside the New York City Ballet. The studio saw the likes of elite ballet dancers, actors and athletes through it’s door, wanting to build strength without adding bulk and to find a mind-body connection.

Until the late 1990s Pilates remained unknown to the general public, now an estimated 25 million partake in Pilates in the USA and one million in the UK.

Pilates in now taught in dozens of forms which reflects the work of Joseph Pilates.


What to expect in a Pilates class

A typical Pilates class will utilise a series of particular movements to develop strength, flexibility and coordination as well as reduce stress, improve mental focus and enhance well-being. Pilates is suitable for everyone as exercises can be adapted and modified to suit an individual’s skill level. 

There are six main principles in Pilates which form the foundation of the system:

  • Breath
  • Concentration
  • Centre
  • Control
  • Precision
  • Flow

Is Pilates the same as Yoga?

While the two disciples share a lot of the same elements they do have their differences. They are both low-impact forms of exercise, however, whilst yoga traditionally focuses more on flexibility and stability, Pilates focuses more on strength and stability. Yoga’s original aim was to focus the mind and connect with a higher consciousness, while Pilates’ original aim was to promote healing and rehabilitation.

Both forms of exercise have been promoted for their mental and physical benefits, and Pilates has been quoted as perhaps a safer form of exercise for those prone to injury or for those exploring this type of exercise for the first time. Pilates can be very beneficial for back problems but also great for other conditions such as urinary incontinence, there is a focus on the core whereas traditionally yoga focuses more on the whole body.

Yoga allows you to flow through a series of poses that utilise body weight as resistance and can involve inversions like handstands and head stands, whereas Pilates involves moving through slow, precise strength exercises with breath control, although low impact it will still challenge muscles.