Updated: Apr 3, 2022
If you are reading this, you are probably already pretty familiar with some of the Pilates exercises. What you are probably unfamiliar with are some of the details about the origin, history, the man, and the way Pilates has evolved over time. Most people think Pilates is very similar to yoga and that it’s mostly for women. Or that it was developed by/for dancers. Or that it started in the 1990s. All wrong! I’m here to give you a look into the man, Joseph Hubertus Pilates(born Hubertus Joseph Pilates) who he was, a few fun facts about his life, his method and how he developed the system we know today.
I’m guessing even the most die-hard fans might not know some of these fun facts! Personally, the more I know about Joe Pilates and his method the more connected I feel to the exercises but more importantly, to the international network of practitioners who make up the Romana’s Pilates family. Diving into the history of Pilates feels very similar to researching my family ancestry and finding out where I came from. As a Pilates practitioner, I hope you feel the same way! We are all living and breathing this method that has been passed down from generations and will continue for many more. Now let’s get to the fun Pilates facts!
Pilates Fun Facts
Joe Pilates was born in Germany on December 9th, 1883. Sometimes he told people he was born in 1880 because he wanted them to be impressed by how such an old man could be doing such challenging things with his body.
He was influenced by the “turnverein”(gymnastic clubs) of the time that introduced gymnastics to children. This perhaps planted a seed in Joe, since one of his goals was to bring Pilates into schools in the United States.
Above the entrance to Joe's studio he hung a sign that read, "It is the mind that builds the body", a quote by Friedrich Schiller.
Joe Pilates developed many pieces of equipment that you have probably never seen. The V-bed, The Guillotine, The Iron Shoes, The Magic Square, The Neck Stretcher, The Tens-o-meter, The Bednasium, and The Toe Corrector.
The Magic Circle was first created by using the steel hoop from a beer keg. (Joe was a brewer)
Joe’s voice was somewhat high pitched with a very thick German accent.
Clients would change into their workout clothes upon arrival to his studio, workout(for 45 min only as per Joe), shower, and get dressed back into their normal clothes after their session. He would shout to them as they left, "Have a cold shower and a marvelous day!" and "Now off you go and go for it!" (Pérez Pont, 2012)
Joe met his wife, Clara on the boat ride to Ellis Island.
Joseph Pilates originally called his method, “Contrology”. The art of control of the mind over the body.
You could often find Joe going for a run through the streets of NYC with his wiry hair flowing and barefoot!
Joe had a house in Beckett, Massachusetts. This home is now owned by Sean Gallagher who has very recently restored Joe’s original studio with Joe’s original equipment that he made by hand.
Joe often ended his lessons with the 4 or 6 count frog exercise on the Spine Corrector, pushed the apparatus away so the client could lay down, legs draped over the barrel. Joe would then place a cool towel over their face and allow them to fall asleep for a quick cat nap. This was called the “Business man’s lunch”.
In 1945, Joe wrote a book called, “Return to Life through Contrology” in which he describes his method, the benefits and outlines the Pilates original sequence of 34 mat exercises.
Romana and Joe were never a romantic couple.
Upon Romana’s first lesson, she was given a very advanced exercise called The Star. Or so the story goes!
In 1967, Joe died of emphysema at the age of 83.
There was a court case in 2000 concerning the copyright to the word, Pilates. But since it is a method of exercise, the copyright was lost. From then on, anyone could use the word “Pilates” to describe the exercise they were teaching, much like anyone can use the word “Yoga”. Now, it’s up to each practitioner to make sure they are learning from an instructor who was trained in the original, authentic method.
Romana popped champagne at Drago’s Studio in NYC every Friday at noon. (Her favorite was Veuve Cliquot)
Both Michelle and Cindy worked with Romana directly at one point during their training.
Romana’s daughter, Sari, and granddaughter, Daria, now runs the teacher training program.
Joe created the exercise, “The Sari”, performed on the Cadillac with the Push Through Bar, for her when she had a neck injury so she could continue exercising in a safe way.
Pilates has been practiced by numerous celebrities and professional athletes including: Oprah, Gisele, Madonna, Uma Thurman, Suzanne Farrell, Lebron James, and Jake Arrieta.
Pérez Pont, Javier. (2012) Hubertus Joseph Pilates: The Biography. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.
Pilates, Joseph. (1945) Return To Life Through Contrology. Presentation Dynamics LLC.