Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Moenchengladback, Germany on December 9, 1880. He suffered from a range of debilitating conditions throughout his childhood including rickets, asthma, and rheumatic fever. Determined to overcome his poor physical health, he devoted himself to the task of becoming as fit and strong as was humanly possible.

In 1912 Joseph moved to England. To earn money he was a boxer, circus performer, and self-defense trainer. During World War I he was interned with other German citizens in a camp near Lancaster, where he trained other inmates in fitness and exercise. This was the beginning of development for the Pilates method we now know today.

In 1926 he immigrated to the US and opened a fitness studio in New York on 8th Avenue. By the early 1960’s Pilates worked with many important artists in the dance community including George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Ron Fletcher, and others.

In 1945, Joseph Pilates published Return to Life Through Contrology, which described his philosophical approach to exercise. Soon, some of his students began opening studios of their own—some making subtle adaptations to the method—and word of Pilates slowly spread.

In 1967, at the age of 87, Joseph Pilates dies without leaving a will. It was only after his death that Contrology became known as the Pilates Method.