Joseph Pilates was a lifelong devotee to health and wellness. As a child, he suffered from severe asthma, ricketts and a sunken chest. Despite his phsyiological setbacks, Joseph worked hard to establish himself as a respected athlete. His career ranged to include professional gymnastics, boxing, skiing and diving. Joseph credited the reformation of his physical prowess to a healthy balance of body and mind. He was fascinated with the classical Greek ideal of a man who is balanced equally in body, mind and spirit. Joseph approached his fitness training with the same mindful symmetry.

During the First World War, Joseph was interned as a nurse in England due to his German citizenship. He focused on designing a system of exercises with the intent to improve the rehabilitative program for returning soldiers. Floor-based exercises later evolved to incorporate apparatus for immobilized patients with the attachment of springs to hospital beds and wooden platforms. The result was a system of simple, precise movements emphasizing muscle control and form. Joseph aimed to stregthen, stretch and stablize key muscles of the injured soldiers that he aided. He found his efforts to yied significant results.

Joseph coined his method the art of "Contrology". Years later, his students would include dance legends such as Rudolf Laban, George Balanchine and Martha Graham. He eventually founded principles for his program that he deemed essential to body-conditioning: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing and flowing movement.