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Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920's. Pilates was a sickly child but, determined to overcome his frailty, he experimented with many different approaches to exercise, many of which can be recognised in his teaching. Yoga, gymnastics, dance and circus training all influenced him and he chose aspects of each to develop his own body.

Through using these methods, he was able to work out a system which had the ideal balance between flexibility and strength. He began to teach his technique to others.

When the First World War broke out, he was training his technique to detectives at Scotland Yard. However, being German, he was interned in a camp for the war. He helped out at the camp infirmary with great success; much of his knowledge of rehabilitation come from this period. He encountered the world of dance when he returned to Germany after the war and drew inspiration from it for his technique too.

In 1926 he emigrated to the USA. On the boat on the way over, he met his wife Clara. They realised they shared the same views on fitness and decided to set up a studio in New York. Initially his first clients were boxers but soon his studio began to attract actors, dancers, gymnasts and athletes all keen to learn from him.

In 1932 he published a booklet entitled "Your Health" and in 1945, "Return to Contrology" was published. It was through these writings and his students that his method was passed on after his death in 1967 at the age of 87.