The history of Pilates equipment – an amazing story about an incredibly resourceful man!
As a young man, Joseph Pilates was the picture of health and fitness, and was working as a boxer and circus performer in England. In 1914, soon after WWI broke out, he was held along with other German nationals in an internment camp for enemy aliens in Lancaster. While in captivity, he taught his fellow captives wrestling and self-defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before their internment. It was here that he began teaching his mat exercises that later became “Contrology”.
Pilates was subsequently transferred to another camp on The Isle of Man where his interests in health led him to help out in the sick bay. He became something of a nurse and worked with many internees suffering from illness and injuries. Although the convention wisdom of the day was bed rest, he recommended exercise for his patients. According to the legend, he was told, “you can do anything you like with the patients, as long as they stay in bed”. So Pilates took the springs from the beds and rigged them up to the bed posts to allow his patients to exercise while lying in bed! This was the first Trapeze Table (also known as the Cadillac)
It is reported that when the 1918 flu epidemic swept the world, (it killed millions, and an internment camp is an ideal breeding ground for such epidemics to hit hard), none of Pilates’ followers succumbed.
Joseph Pilates is quoted “I invented all these machines. I began back in Germany, and was there until 1923. I used to exercise rheumatic patients. I thought, why use my strength? So I made a machine to do it for me. It resists your movements, in just the right way, so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way you can concentrate on the movement! You must always do it slowly and smoothly, so your whole body is in it.”