The Godfather of Fitness

Jack LaLanne is probably best known for The Jack LaLanne Show which aired on television from 1951 to 1984. The first time I saw Jack LaLanne was on TV in the early 1960s. He started the show doing jumping jacks in his trademark blue jumpsuit and ballet slippers. He would instruct his viewers, mostly housewives, in doing knee lifts, pushups, leg curls, the fanny firmer and other exercises. He also gave motivational instruction on calorie counting, weight training, and eating properly while he would drink a glass of carrot juice. He sometimes ended the show with a song after a brief rundown of what to expect on the next show. His own workouts were monumental compared to what he did on the show. Until about 1970 he offered $10,000 to anyone who could match his personal workout. No one ever did.

He has recently been on HSN with his wife Elaine promoting their power juicer. He has also been demonstrating it on an infomercial. He does a TV ad promoting early arthritis detection. Old reruns of his show are being shown on ESPN Classic.

Troubled Youth

Jack LaLanne was born, September 26, 1914 in San Francisco, California to French immigrant parents. As a weak and sickly child, he was the last one standing in a pickup game of baseball or dodgeball or whatever else they were playing. His brother beat him up regularly and even little girls pushed him around. When he was thirteen he developed a terrific habit of eating sugar. He would fill up on pies, cake and cookies. His whole life became sugar, sugar, sugar. At 14 he ended up with a fever of 105° for almost two weeks and was expected to die. He had an uncontrollable temper and migraine headaches. He even tried to kill his brother a couple of times, once with an ax and another time with a butcher knife. He was pulled out of school at 15. Authorities had doctors send him home for six months to improve his health. He was 30 pounds underweight.

One of his neighbors told his mother that a nutritionist was going to speak at the Oakland City Women's Club. Jack and his mother went. They were late and found that the club was filled, not a seat to be found. They turned to leave but someone yelled to them, "Lady with the boy, we don't turn anyone away. Ushers, bring two seats and put them up on the stage." It was Paul Bragg, the nutritionist.

Skinny introverted Jack was horrified to be up there in front of all those people. He had pimples and boils and was nearsighted and now everyone was staring at him. He wished they could have just gone home. After the speaker began his talk, Jack realised that he wasn't the only one with problems.

Paul Bragg told Jack and the rest of the audience that it didn't matter what their present physical condition was, they could improve themselves by eating wholesome and nutritious foods. He said they were "human garbage cans". It didn't matter how old they were or what their present physical condition was, if they were willing to follow nature's laws they could be born again. When Jack heard that he could be born again and be healthy and strong and have the energy that this Mr Bragg had, he was willing to do whatever it took. He wanted to be an athlete. He wanted to be healthy and strong and have lots of energy. He wanted to get good grades in school and for girls to like him. The man said he could have all that. All he had to do was exercise and eat properly.

The Building Years

That night he became a strict vegetarian and swore off sugar and white flour products. A few days later he joined the Berkeley YMCA. He discovered a set of free weights there and began to use them. He could see and feel the results in less than two weeks. His "maddening" headaches were gone. He eventually became captain of the football team excelled in baseball and swimming. He became a bodybuilder, entering many competitions up and down the California coast. He was offered athletic scholarships to more than one college. Gray's Anatomy became his bible. He discovered that the human body had 640 muscles. He studied pre-med and then went to Chiropractic college where he graduated. Using his knowledge of chiropratic and Gray's Anatomy he knew more about the workings of the muscles in his body than most doctors did.

His mother wanted him to become a doctor and go to Africa and do missionary work but he decided to help others as he had been helped by Paul Bragg. He did research on the physiological benefits of heavy exercise during his late teens. He would have local firemen and policemen come to his backyard and he would record their reps and weight loads and their strength changes over time. At the age of 18 he opened a health food store that sold whole grain bread. In 1936 when he was 21 he opened one of America's first health clubs in Oakland, CA.

He received a lot of negative feedback for the workouts he prescribed. Critics claimed that if you worked out with LaLanne you risked having a heart attack. They said you would have trouble sleeping and you wouldn't be able to get an erection, you would get hemorroids. They said women would look like men. Coaches were concerned that their players would become muscle-bound and refused to let them lift weights at LaLanne's gym. So they would sneak over at night. Today almost all world class athletes include some weight training in their workouts.

LaLanne designed a lot of the equipment he used for himself and his club. Throughout his life he tried to exercise every one of the 640 muscles in his body. A blacksmith friend helped him build some of the first machines he designed for the patrons of his gym. He designed the first cable-pulley machine, the first leg-extension machine, and the weight-stack selection system. If he had filed for patents on some of his inventions he would be one of the richest men in the world. He would still become a multi-millionaire many times over. Some of those first machines are in his home gym today.

Physical Fitness Guru

During the 1940s and 50s his reputation began to spread. He encouraged women and the elderly to lift weights. In 1951 he started his TV show. What better way to reach even more people. He was magnetic in that he believed in himself above all others. He was motivational by challenging you to be a better person through your own efforts. He met his wife Elaine at the TV studio where he would do the show. Critics said that it would fold in six weeks, but it stayed on for 34 years.

In 1955 at the age of 40 he was named Professional Mr. America. In order to dispel talk that he was nothing more than a muscle-bound charlatan, he began what would become a regular series of Hurculean feats of fitness, usually around his birthday. Shortly after the Mr. America award he swam from Alcatraz island to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco wearing a pair of handcuffs. When he was 45 he did 1000 pushups and 1000 chin-ups in an hour. In 1964 at the age of 60 he repeated his Alcatraz swim, but this time he was handcuffed, shackled with chains and towed a 1000 pound boat.

A most memorable event was in 1974. For his seventieth birthday he towed 70 people in 70 boats for a mile and a half across Long Beach Harbor near Los Angeles. He trained religiously for each of these amazing stunts. He used the "flopping butterfly" stroke, which he developed since movement of his hands and legs were limited.

One could easily draw the conclusion that LaLanne is a fanatic gone to the extreme. He would be the first to admit that his lifesyle isn't for everyone. But the message he is trying to convey is that anyone can improve their current physical condition if they really want to and are willing to do something about it. They don't have to follow his rigorous routine, just get out and walk, lift some weights, and most important for most Americans is changing dietary habits. Replace some of the junk food with healthier foods. LaLanne eats 8 to 10 raw vegetables everyday. The best way to get people to believe in him is to be a living example. At 90 years of age he still works out 2 hours a day, seven days a week. He hasn't had dessert since 1929 and never eats between meals or after 9 p.m.

On September 28, 2002 just after his 88th birthday, LaLanne received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is a popular motivational speaker and often receives standing ovations. He and his wife Elaine travel all over the world giving seminars and lectures on fitness, nutrition and exercise.

"I can't die, it would ruin my image."


Jack LaLanne Is Still An Animal (
Jack LaLanne: Isn't Life Just Great (
Jack LaLanne Interview on Diet & Nutrition (
Jack LaLanne - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (

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