The History of Pilates

Often regarded as one of the most revolutionary disciplines in the world, Pilates has established itself as a superior form of exercise, helping to transform millions of lives with its proven principles and practices. Pilates, contrary to popular belief, is much more than a simple exercise trend that has taken Hollywood, SoHo, and Milan by storm. Over the span of a century, Pilates has been refined to help people achieve a healthier lifestyle through the essential concepts of human physiology. To better understand how Pilates came to be, let’s take a look all the way back to the moment it was created by Joseph Pilates.

The Beginning of Pilates

Based on historical recounts from Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara, the very first inception of Pilates came from the most unlikely of inspirations: cats.

During World War I, Pilates spent a few years under arrest at a camp located on the British Isle of Man. Out of curiosity (and a lack of activity), Pilates spent most of his time on the island watching cats chase mice and birds. What once started out as a way to overcome boredom, however, would soon turn into a scientific observation as Pilates shifted his perspective of the animals’ activities from humour to deeper understanding.

While Pilates watched these island cats chase their prey, he noticed something special about their agility – frequent stretching played a unique role that helped give them the nimbleness and vim to achieve such agility. Now observing the cats with a much deeper approach, Pilates started to devise exercises that would stretch human muscles to achieve greater agility. Additionally, he would later go on to build devices that would help reinforce key positions and stretches.

Once Pilates began to see great results in his own abilities using his devised exercises and equipment, he convinced his fellow inmates to follow his teachings. Many too began to see spectacular results, and as a result, Pilates was born.


In 1934, Joseph Pilates – with his learnings from the days he spent in captivity – devised a system of rehabilitative exercises which aimed to create a total balance between the body and mind, a series that was first called “Contrology”.

The goal of Contrology was simple enough: get people to adopt regular exercises into their daily routine to establish prime physical and mental health. From its inception, Contrology was one of the first practices of recreational exercises (well before “hitting the gym” became what we know it to be today).

Once Joseph (or “Joe”, as he preferred to be called in his later years) showed his new Contrology system to the world, it was instantly regarded as revolutionary by all. In his first promotional pamphlet, he claimed a strong level of belief in his own method, stating that “all new ideas are revolutionary.” Little did he know that all his teachings would end up taking on a larger-than-life role in the fitness industry decades later.

Although it may not seem too far-fetched from the ancient Indian practice of yoga, Pilates differed greatly through its two key elements of core and breath work. By focusing on the core and breath work, Pilates’ exercises not only helped shape bodies but also helped build a degree of mindfulness and mental clarity. This effectively made it an exercise discipline spanning past just physical benefits.

1934 & Beyond…

As he continued to settle into his life in Manhattan with his wife, Clara, Joe Pilates continued to build on the success of Contrology by refining his practices and homegrown fitness apparatuses (which have become the Reformer and Cadillac equipment of today).

By the time they were settled in New York City, Joe Pilates had managed to strike up a conversation and eventually form a meaningful connection with dance legends George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Fresh off the success with his Contrology system, Pilates instantly pitched his exercise discipline to the dance luminary duo – both of which took a risk and sent their ballerinas to Pilates’ home studio for rehabilitation.

Once the ballerinas were shown to be seemingly-indestructible after Pilates’ treatments, word had spread like wildfire and attracted Hollywood celebrities to try out the revolutionary system. From then on, millions of people around the world would come to adopt the practice. As soon as success came rolling in, Contrology was eventually rebranded as Pilates.

Is Pilates Right For You?

Dynamic Pilates is partnered with BASI Pilates and is Sydney’s host studio for BASI Pilates and their Instructor Training Programs. Established by world-renowned Pilates teach Rael Isacowitz, BASI Pilates spans 30 countries and 100 host locations. With a reputation for academic excellence, innovation, and exceptional Pilates accuracy, BASI Pilates is the methodology favoured by Dynamic Pilates and is Sydney’s Pilates Standard for exceptional service to our members, general public and corporate businesses.

If you want to know more about Pilates and its various forms of exercise, get in touch with the Dynamic Pilates team today! With group classes available to trial with a 2 for $20 intro offer, as well as private or semi-private sessions and a 30-day challenge, we know we can find the perfect fit for you! Come on down and give Dynamic Pilates a try today.