Working with Pilates as I do, I get to interview some of the most inspirational people involved with Pilates over the years. It makes my job so much more rewarding and helps to inspire and inform our ever increasing audience of Pilates enthusiasts.
During Pilates on Tour 2016 in London, I got to interview Ken Endelman, the man behind the innovative creation of Pilates equipment. It was a golden opportunity to find out more about the man, how he started out, his inspiration and plans for the future.
Before we start, a little background about the man himself for those who are new to Pilates. Ken started out as a designer of custom made furniture back in the 70s along the famous Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. A future customer would change Ken’s path when she came in asking for modifications on an existing piece of equipment, known as the “Reformer.” With no background in or knowledge of Pilates, he studied the original designs from Joseph Pilates, consulted with other knowledgeable instructors and original students of Pilates, and came up with something special. From there would begin a whole new adventure for Ken and Pilates enthusiasts. Today Ken is the CEO of Balanced Body, providing equipment, exercise, instruction and much, much more worldwide.
My first question to Ken was about his early days and that first special client: Looking back now he can remember stalling and putting her off, thinking it was something he shouldn’t really get involved in, that it would be a phase, a passing fancy that wouldn’t really result in anything. However, the lady was persistent, and following some random dates in the diary as to when he would start, the lady in question eventually cornered and confronted him about when he was going to start. So from there, he worked on modifying and refining the Reformer. Ken continued his work on Pilates equipment and creating pieces that helped make Pilates a pleasurable, safer and more unique experience for the user. Input from others helped him to formulate his ideas including an antiques dealer from Majorca, Pilates instructors from all over the States, the use of unusual bits and pieces such as motorcycle parts and various shaped lamps, everything was explored and everything was changed, modified and fine-tuned, until it was right, until it was perfect.
Lawsuits and trademarks made Ken’s early career difficult. Pilates really started taking off in the 1990s, with the enthusiastic endorsement of celebrities and movie stars. However, back in those early days, it was impossible to use the word ”Pilates”, or even call yourself a ”Pilates” instructor without the risk of being sued. The ‘P’ word was a dirty word that everyone was afraid to mention, and it made it difficult for Ken to use it for his new found business in Pilates equipment. Ken took the lead in the Pilates trademark dispute, and thankfully, in 2000 the federal court in Manhattan, along with the US Patent & Trademark Office, decided that the word Pilates was not trademarked and could be used to describe exercise, equipment or studios without risk of legal action, and that had a tremendous impact on Ken Endelman’s career. The result was that the name Pilates was freely available to everyone.
Although Pilates became popular in the 90s, it started much earlier, Ken was happy to fill me in on its earlier history. Joseph Pilates was born back in the 1920s and become popular for a brief period in the 60s before fading away in late ’67. In the 1990s, it gained more momentum with Pilates schools coming up in the mid-90s, and of course, with the help of movie stars and celebrities, it gained worldwide popularity.
For Ken his work is about the process of perfecting, improving, and brainstorming with other people. Collaboration is the key and he’s worked hard with many people over the years to fine tune his existing equipment and to come up with new ideas. At this same time, other aspects of Balanced Body business are developing, like for example, education. Numbers for the Pilates on Tour Conferences, and workshops are increasing and it takes tremendous dedication and focus he to keep all these balls in the air. You take an empty room, he points out, a room with nothing but carpets and walls, and turn it into this dynamic conference centre with equipment, people, and all the dynamics that goes with that, and then at the end of it you have an empty room again.
Looking to the future, Ken mentions that in the US, 85% of Pilates users are female, and this is something he wants to change (considering the founder was a man). It’s good to have more men on-board, and he’s looking to see what he can do to make this happen. Men like to work hard, get sweaty and beat it up slightly, although he’s quick to point out that perhaps he’s generalising a little. As most of the exercises men do, usually, involve standing positions, and Pilates involves lying down and sitting, he’s looking to create something where there’s more focus on practicing in a standing position. What kind of situations can we present people with? What will make it more appetising for them? And how can we market Pilates in a way that’s appealing to people who aren’t doing it now?
In his 40th year in business, Ken is as enthusiastic about Pilates now as he ever was. The beauty of Pilates with its “cool set of principles” that make a lot of sense, but, his mind is still working on improvements and attracting a wider audience. He’s frustrated by the fact that Pilates is only a small part of the fitness world and that people still don’t really understand it and would like to find a way to reach that part of the population and steer them towards Pilates through varied approaches. For example, the Bodhi SuSpension System, a practical and challenging piece of equipment for the Pilates studio owner, it needs somewhere to hang, preferably a strong wall, a wall that’s safe. The Bodhi provides exercises that involve working against gravity. Yes, there are other kinds of suspension like TRX but he feels that Pilates can feature its own unique form of suspension, and he’s keen for people to try it out.
Does Ken know more about Pilates now and does he practice it himself? Yes, for a man who started out as a self-described ‘closet engineer,’ he does enjoy Pilates, even though he started out not having a clue as to what it was. He understood the basics enough to create the machines he came up with, and what their end goal should be, but little more. However, for more than a decade he’s been consistently practicing Pilates back home in Sacramento. He also practices it whenever he can when travelling.
Balanced Body is very much a family affair with everyone involved including his wife and his sons. His daughter-in-law has become a Pilates Instructor and is also involved in the business, Pilates is clearly had its influence on the entire family.
Apart from Pilates, how does Ken relax when he’s not working? He enjoys bike riding and goes for ‘epic’ rides. In 2015 he prepared for a fantastic ride at Lake Tahoe in aid of Leukaemia. His preparations involved daily 100-mile bike rides!
I ask him if he has anything to tell us he’s not told anyone else before, a secret he’d like to share with us today, he thinks for a moment and then suggests philanthropy. He’d like to be a philanthropist, to be able to give stuff away to those most in need. He buys the $5 lottery ticket and thinks about what he’d do with the money should he win a considerable sum. We talk about small kindnesses and the importance of giving. He mentions the book “Who Stole My Cheese?” and we talk about simply being nice, of making someone’s day, just because you can.
His favourite Pilates moves are standing ones mostly, (no surprises there) and also standing moves using the Corealign. He also loves the Elephant.
I ask finally, what’s his birth sign? Pisces. And that’s interesting I tell him because that’s the typical ”giver” – the philanthropist who’s tries and does everything until they have a large body of knowledge. Then they think about what and how can they give to others.
It’s a perfect way to end the interview.