Joseph Hubertus Pilates was a skilled, versatile athlete in his native Germany. He was a professional boxer and circus performer, gymnast and martial arts expert. But none of it came easy. Pilates was a sickly young boy, suffering from asthma, rheumatic fever and rickets.
But with his father’s guidance, the younger Pilates rebounded from sickness with a vengeance. His ailments were cured when he was a young teenager, and by age 14 his physique had vastly improved. It was 1897, and Pilates became a poster boy for anatomical charts.
Pleased with his success, Pilates eventually introduced a regimen called Contrology that incorporated various exercises and training techniques. Its inventor called it a “complete coordination of the body, mind and spirit.”
Some practitioners still refer to the practice as Contrology, but it’s more often known as Pilates. Its namesake helped the wounded and sick in World War I when he was interned with other German citizens in Lancaster Castle in England. And Pilates helped dancers, including the renowned Martha Graham who, like the exercise master, immigrated to New York from Germany.
Pilates died in 1967, but his exercise innovations remain at the forefront of fitness and health.
“Most people are very surprised that Pilates is as challenging as it is,” says Amy Lademann, co-founder of Beyond Motion, a private training facility in Naples. “They find a new level of awareness in their body and leave their first session commenting about how good they feel.”
Lademann is co-author with her husband Rick of the book Pilates & Conditioning for Athletes. She’s also the educator for a new series of Pilates videos.
“We hear that they (clients) feel taller, longer, more flexible, ‘stretched out’ and more energized; they feel as if they can move with greater ease,” Lademann says. “They love that even during their initial session with Beyond Motion they could feel their abs and muscles working hard without strain or pain.”
Char Wendel, owner of Dragonfly Yoga & Pilates in Fort Myers, began practicing yoga to alleviate back pain exacerbated by scoliosis. Like other enthusiasts, Wendel is exuberant when discussing the benefits of both exercise practices.
“Pilates impacts regular practitioners from their everyday functions from simple bending over to putting the collar on a dog,” she says. “Carrying groceries, climbing stairs, backing up a car, house cleaning and performance in sports without pain—to name just a few activities it helps.”
For new Pilates students, Lademann provides an optimistic perspective and a suggestion.
“It’s like nothing you have ever done before,” she says. “Every exercise has a work component and a stretch component. After your session, you should feel alive, energized, invigorated and ready for whatever is next.”
And her advice: “Your instructor should be able to meet you where you are today and help design a progressive program specifically for your needs. If they are following the same exercise ‘list’ for each person, or only teaching in groups, leave. Find experienced practitioners who specialize in Pilates and who have multiple valid certifications.”
Wendel also has a warning. “Caution,” she says: “Pilates makes you happy and is addictive.”
Six popular Pilates locations in Naples and Fort Myers:
ABC Pilates, 4077 Tamiami Trail N., #D105, Naples; 239.398.5363; abcpilatesnaples.com
Beyond Motion, 11985 Tamiami Trail N., #A, Naples; 239.254.9300; go2beyondmotion.com
Club Pilates, 13211 McGregor Blvd., #102-2 Fort Myers; 239.603.7300; clubpilates.com/location/ftmyerswest
Christy’s Pilates, 14261 S. Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers; 239.910.0638; christyspilates.com
Dragonfly Yoga & Pilates, 12751 S. Cleveland Ave., #202, Fort Myers; 239.277.9642; fortmyersyogapilates.com
Pilates, Fitness and Therapeutics Inc.; 1044 Castello Drive, #101, Naples; 239.398.5050; naplespilates.com