Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. It is practiced worldwide, and especially in western countries such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. As of 2005, there were 11 million people practicing the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.

Pilates called his method “Contrology” (from “control” and Greek -λογία, -logia).

In his book Return to Life through Contrology, Joseph Pilates presents his method as the art of controlled movements, which should look and feel like a workout (not a therapy) when properly manifested. If practiced with consistency, pilates improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the whole human body. It puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates’ system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginner to advanced or to any other level, and also in terms of the instructor and practitioner’s specific goals and/or limitations. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises.

Pilates believed that mental and physical health were interrelated.

In his youth he had practiced many of the physical training regimes available in Germany, and it was from these he developed his own work. It has clear connections with the physical culture of the late nineteenth century, such as the use of special equipment and claims that the exercises could cure ill health. It is also related to the tradition of “corrective exercise” or “medical gymnastics” as typified by Pehr Henrik Ling. Joseph Pilates, like many Germans, was interned in Britain during World War I. On the Isle of Man, he started teaching other interned Germans about his techniques.

Stott Pilates is a version of the Pilates method of physical exercise. It was developed by Lindsay and Moira Merrithew, with the collaboration of physical therapists, and sports medicine and fitness professionals. The most significant difference between Stott Pilates and Joseph Pilates’s original method of the early 1900s is that, where the original method uses a straight spine during exercise, while the Stott Pilates method has exercises designed to restore and maintain the natural curves of the spine and rebalance the muscles around the joints.