What is Classical Pilates?

Joseph Pilates on the Reformer in "Star"

Joseph Pilates on the Reformer in “Star”

Classical Pilates is an exercise method developed by Joseph Pilates nearly a century ago.

A brief history of Joe

From Germany, Joe grew up as a sickly child, but through hard work and determination, he became skilled in boxing, diving, skiing and gymnastics. In 1912, he moved to England to pursue a career in boxing and found employment there as a circus performer. By 1914 he had become a performer as a Roman Gladiator and went on tour with his brother, Frederick Pilates.

In 1914, after WWI broke out, he was interned along with other German nationals in a “camp” for enemy aliens in Lancaster. There he taught wrestling and self-defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before the war. It was here that he began refining and teaching his series of mat exercises that he later called “Contrology.”

He 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. Acting as a nursing aid he worked with many people suffering from illness and incarceration and began to help them in the infirmary with exercise. As most patients were confined to bed rest, Joe devised a system by rigging bed springs to the bed posts and the prototype for “Trap Table”, later known as “The Cadillac”, was born.


When the 1918 flu epidemic swept the world and killed millions, Joe was boastful that none of his patients succumbed.  Following the war, Joseph moved to New York City where he and his wife Clara opened up a studio.   They began by training men only, but soon were persuaded to also work with women, specifically members of the New York City Ballet.  Over the decades, until his death in 1967, his method survived and it has improved over time, but still maintains the original ideals and principals created by Joseph.

Present time

Recently, there has been an increase in the popularity of Pilates due to  media exposure from celebrities, performers, and professional athletes.   The term “Pilates” has spread to the mainstream as it is proven to reshape and tone the body without causing stress and imbalance.  The movement is rhythmic, fluid and focused to build greater strength, flexibility and endurance.  It is layered and structured as a system that requires progressive learning and mastery.

What makes Classical Pilates different from Contemporary Methods?

Currently there are various interpretations of Joseph Pilates’ work and some contemporary formats of the method lose sight of the original format and technique.  Joseph and his wife Clara originally taught his program informally to his “apprentices” that involved years of observing and practicing what Joe did.   As Pilates as an exercise method increases in popularity, some training programs deviate from the original method and can be considered  “Pilates based exercise”.  Staying true to the original principles created by Joe, is referred to as teaching Classical or Pure Pilates.  This is what we teach at The Pilates Body.

Defining Characteristics of Classical Pilates

  • Teaches Pilates in its original form, with minor changes that reflect the advancement of scientific understanding of the human body.  Systematic, sequential order of exercises that focus on flow, which develops endurance and stamina.
  • Exercise are taught with a unique and dynamic rhythm and progression occurs as mastery of the exercises can be done with control and precision.
  • Pilates is ideally taught in private lessons, or in classes with very small groups. The instructors teach by verbal cues and instruction only, never by doing the class with the students.
  • Teachers must complete a rigorous training program consisting of at least 600 hours of class work, observation and personal practice to become Comprehensively Certified. Continuing education is required to maintain certification.

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”

Joseph Pilates      

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