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Pilates is a gentle but challenging form of exercise that improves general mobility and postural alignment. It is an excellent fitness practice for anyone, from those who are just starting an exercise regime and those who are healing from injury to fitness buffs and professional athletes. Students of the Pilates Method perform a limited number of precise movements of each exercise, using proper form and control to develop muscles that are slim, strong and supple while increasing flexibility and strength.
It all began with Joseph Pilates. Born in 1880s Germany, Joseph was a frail, sickly child, suffering from rickets, asthma, and rheumatic fever. At the time, there weren’t many health resources available to the general population. But Joseph was also enterprising and imaginative; he developed his own exercise program to gain strength, improve his physical alignment, and overcome his natural tendency to weakness. In the beginning, his activities included boxing, gymnastics, self-defense, and skiing.
In his 30s, Pilates moved to England where he continued to train and teach boxing and self-defense. But during the first world war, because of his German nationality, Joseph was placed into a British internment camp. There, he taught physical fitness to other inmates and helped them develop practices for rehabilitation from injuries caused during the war. It was also there that he started inventing equipment to hasten the rehabilitation process, using readily accessible materials—bed frames and mattress springs—in order to provide spring resistance and movement assistance for those who were bedridden.
When the war ended, Pilates returned to Germany. In Hamburg he trained Military Police in self-defense. He also began collaborating with Rudolph Laban, a renowned movement analyst who designed programs for the growing fitness industry and worked with professional dancers. When Pilates was asked to work with the German army, however, he decided to move to the United States. On the voyage over in 1926, he met his soon-to-be wife. Together they founded a fitness studio on 8th avenue in New York City, close to a number of dance studios. This proximity to dance and dancers influenced Pilates’ work as he continue refining his methods.
Pilates initially dubbed his revolutionary method—which focuses on training the whole body through precise, controlled movements, breath control, flexibility, core strength, joint stabilization and full range of motion—”Contrology.” He published two books about his training methods: Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education (1934) and Return to Life through Contrology (1945).
Today Joseph Pilates’ program is known simply as the Pilates Method or The Method and includes literally hundreds of exercises. Though The Method was originally taught only to apprentices and practiced in only in studios, you can now find Pilates’ method taught in a variety of venues—such as here at Archer’s Pilates—utilizing a full range of Pilates mat and machine-assisted exercises.