The founder of Pilates turns 140 years old: how a German invented the sport and conquered the world

DThe five-story building on Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan looks nondescript. There is a supermarket and a Cuban restaurant on the ground floor, the brick façade with large windows above is partially obscured by scaffolding.

Just a glance at the doorbell sign at 939 Eighth Avenue gives an idea of ​​this unassuming building’s importance in the history of the global fitness market: It lists several Pilates studios, including one on the second floor nicknamed “The Original Joe’s Place.” .

In these rooms, number 207, Joseph Pilates, born in Mönchengladbach and emigrated to New York, who would have turned 140 this Saturday, opened the first physical training studio he developed in the 1920s. From here, the Pilates training method has conquered the world – and today it is taught and practiced by millions of people in countless places.

From brewer to body coach

Joseph Pilates’s father was already an avid gymnast, as scientist Eva Rinke writes in her biography about the coach. However, he earned his money as an apprentice mechanic, his wife was a housewife, and the couple had several children. Joseph Pilates, born in 1883, trained as a brewer after school but, like his father, was interested in all types of exercise – be it boxing, calisthenics or gymnastics. “Physical fitness is the first prerequisite for happiness,” he later wrote in one of his books.

During World War I, Pilates was sent to a British internment camp, where he began training those around him. Returning to Germany, he continued, reportedly founding a boxing school in Gelsenkirchen and training police officers in Hamburg.

The Pilates method was first called Controlology.

Pilates emigrated to New York in the mid-1920s. On a ship across the Atlantic, he met his future wife, a registered nurse. Together they opened a studio on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan to teach the physical training program that Pilates had been working on for many years, which he first called “Contrology” and which would later conquer the world as the Pilates Method.

The goal of a full body workout is to strengthen the deeper muscles, especially the pelvic floor, abdominal, and back muscles. Stretching, breathing and posture also play an important role – the body must be centered and stabilized. Dozens of different exercises can be performed on a mat on the floor or on special machines, many of which Pilates invented and patented.

Pliates’ students have contributed to worldwide fame.

The couple’s Pilates studio soon attracted many clients, including numerous celebrities such as dancers Martha Graham and George Balanchine, and actresses Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall. German boxer Max Schmeling is also said to have trained Pilates in New York – with him and many other interested people, Pilates is said to have worked individually on relevant physical problems, and sometimes even invented his own exercises for them.

Pilates studio in New York.  Joseph Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach and emigrated to New York in the 1920s and made enormous strides in the field of physical fitness there.

Until his old age, Pilates trained himself and his students with meticulous attention to detail and wrote several books about the method he invented. After his death at the age of 83 in 1967, his widow Clara continued to teach the Pilates method for about ten years until her death. Many students from these two countries opened their own studios and thus contributed to the spread of the method throughout the world.

Pilates is an unprotected term

The Pilates couple had no children, and Joseph Pilates did not leave a will or arrange for the continuation of his work. This resulted in the term “Pilates” not being protected, which has repeatedly led to legal disputes. In 2000, a judge in New York ruled that the term “Pilates” could be used by anyone – such as yoga or aerobics.

The lawsuit was filed by Pilates teacher Sean Gallagher, who once worked with a student of Joseph Pilates and, according to a New York Times report, bought from her, among other things, several boxes of materials and photographs of the Pilates couple. .

“50 years ahead of its time”

The birthplace of Pilates, Mönchengladbach, has erected a plaque honoring the fitness coach and is considering setting up a museum with the International Pilates Society, a city spokesman said. Pilates’ birthplace failed to be purchased at a foreclosure auction last year, at least initially. Meanwhile, millions of people around the world continue to train with the Mönchengladbacher method every day – many may not even realize that there is actually a person behind the name.

Interest in Pilates and other fitness and wellness offerings such as yoga was still a niche at the time of the inventor of Pilates, but has grown enormously in recent years and decades – a global success. Pilates himself is said to have said shortly before his death in hospital: “I am 50 years ahead of my time.”

Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine

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