Where Pilates Came From And How You Can Teach A Class
Pilates as we know it today arrived in 1970, when Alan Herdman established the UK’s original studio. But the method behind the mats was born almost a century earlier.
In a recent interview, Herdman explained he studied Pilates in New York before bringing it over to British shores. It was here he was mentored by Carola Trier and Bob Fitzgerald, who learnt their skills from the pater of Pilates himself – Joseph Pilates.
The Health and Fitness Education course material on Pilates, goes into great detail about Joseph and regularly references his main piece of literature on the method, Return to Life Through Contrology. For those with a serious interest in the science behind one of the most popular forms of exercise to date, that course is highly recommended.
The Inception of Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born on the outskirts of Dusseldorf, during the industrial revolution in 1880. Growing up, he was diagnosed with asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. That trio of illnesses led doctors to believe he would die young but Pilates simply denied it.
By studying Yoga, weightlifting and several martial arts as an adolescent, Pilates built his body like an athlete – defying the downsides of his conditions.
His physical condition was so impressive, he even started to work as a model for anatomical art.
Pre-1914, Pilates moved to England and trained people on martial arts. When the First World War broke out, he was kept prisoner by the English and worked as a nurse in a Lancaster infirmary.
He used physiotherapy to help injured soldiers recuperate and in doing so, developed a unique skillset. It was not standard physio – Pilates was utilising springs and straps in the hospital to create new types of resistance exercises.
In 1926, eight years after the War ended, Pilates moved to New York – where his progression as a trainer was catalysed by working with specialists in dance.
New York, New Pilates
By opening a training venue just minutes away from the New York School of Ballet, Pilates naturally attracted many ballerinas looking to improve their conditioning. His work became well-known in the area and famous dancers such as Rudolf Von Laban were soon calling on Pilates for coaching.
Though it is believed Pilates was a secretive and selfish character, he never patented his techniques.
Those techniques, which are still in practice today, were based on the harmonisation of mind, body and spirit, in order to improve the following:
Ultimately, the end goal would be to alleviate pain, which is why he was so successful in his role as a nurse and when aiding ballerinas.
He believed in consciously relaxing the muscles that are not in use during exercise, in order to relieve muscle tension for areas of the body that are unnecessarily suffering.
Teaching Pilates in 2013
There have been many adaptations of Pilates over the last 100 years, including that of the Modern Pilates School, founded by Cherry Baker in the UK.
Those looking to teach it themselves, can take inspiration from Joseph Pilates, Alan Herdman and the likes of Cherry Baker, to create their own style. In order to do this successfully, it is advised the tutor first learns everything there is to know about the varying types of Pilates.
The original principles remain strong across the majority of interpretations and if you’re serious about mastering your own class, you can learn about every adaptation by taking the official mat Pilates course from HFE.