Jack LaLanne, born in 1914, was a highly respected figure in the American fitness industry. He was seen as “the godfather of fitness” and offered nutritional expertise and motivational speeches. LaLanne turned his life from one of junk food and misbehavior to a healthy life of nutrition and discipline when he was 15 years old. LaLanne believed that the overall health of the country greatly depended on the health of its citizens.
LaLanne was publicly recognized long before the health and fitness promotions by celebrities such as Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda. LaLanne taught the public about the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise long before fitness became popular. LaLanne found success in his published books on health and fitness, as well as hosting a fitness show called The Jack LaLanne Show with its signature exercises called “trimnastics” up until 1985.
When he was 21, Jack LaLanne opened one of the country’s first gyms, located in Oakland, California. This gym became the first of many gyms to use his famous name. At his health club, LaLanne offered guided weight training and exercise instruction, in addition to giving nutritional advice. His main goal was to improve the overall health of his clients through encouragement, motivation and lifestyle changes.
LaLanne’s fame as a gym owner and fitness expert led to a short-lived professional wrestling career in 1938. Because wrestlers embraced weight training while not many other athletes did, they frequented LaLanne’s health club. This led LaLanne to become interested in wresting and to actually perform as a wrestler for a few months.
LaLanne spent a lot of time encouraging women to join the fitness community. He was the first to encourage women to lift weights, despite the thought that this would make women appear manly. He also focused on elderly and disabled people, teaching them that incorporating exercise in their life would enhance their strength and help them live a healthier and more mobile life. LaLanne invented several exercise machines for people of all skill levels, including pulley devices with cables and leg-extension machines.
LaLanne was also a successful bodybuilder, being recognized for his success by other bodybuilders, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. Upon his death, Schwarzenegger referred to LaLanne as being an inspiration to billions of people to lead healthier lives, acting as “an apostle.” LaLanne has a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood and was inducted to the California Hall of Fame.
For 34 years, LaLanne gave exercise and fitness advice on his television show. He created the longest running TV exercise program to date. Beginning in September of 1951 as a short, local San Francisco-area show, LaLanne funded the airtime himself to help promote his gyms and health products. His show continued until 1985.
The show’s minimalist set inspired viewers to use only basic home objects to exercise with. The New York Times says that LaLanne reported his show to be very personal, making the viewer feel as if they were along in the room with Jack. Using everyday objects such as a chair helped anyone to get involve in the exercising process. People could perform their exercises at home, along with Jack on the show. He had a passion for encouraging viewers to stand up and move along with him in his basic exercise motions.
This was the birth of the modern day workout video. Due to the timing of the show being during the day, LaLanne’s primary audience was stay-at-home moms. Because of this, his wife would participate in the show to demonstrate exercises and to show that performing these exercises would not ruin a woman’s figure. LaLanne would also attract children to his show with the use of his dog, Happy. This helped drive his point home that everybody should exercise.
LaLanne was a published author with several books fitness and nutrition. He also appeared in several movies, and even dabbled in the music industry when he recorded a song with Connie Haines. LaLanne was a salesman of sorts for his exercise products such as exercise equipment, electric juicers, and a wide range of vitamin supplements.
LaLanne was one of the first to blame processed foods for many modern day health problems. He advocated a clean eating diet, primarily consisting of lean protein and vegetables. LaLanne believed in eating meat for every meal, and eating several servings of vegetables throughout the day. LaLanne did experiment with vegetarianism, and often turned to fish for his lean protein.
In LaLanne’s ideal diet for a day, breakfast would consist of eggs, fruit, and whole wheat toast. Lunch would be a large salad, plus a lean protein. Dinner would also be a large salad, with the addition of two vegetables, lean protein, and fruit. LaLanne did not snack or drink coffee. Some funny quotes that LaLanne is known for include telling people to spit out any food that tastes good and if it was made by a human, do not eat it.
LaLanne preached that foods such as ice cream, cheese, butter, and whole milk contain way too much fat. He believed that the public didn’t know how much of the food they were consuming could contribute to health issues such as high blood pressure. He believed food products such as coffee and doughnuts did nothing to properly fuel the body and only end up causing disease.
One of his great accomplishments in life was swimming from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf. He did this while handcuffed and shackled, towing a one thousand pound boat. At the age of 70, he did this again, towing 70 boats with a total of 70 people on board for a mile and a half.
Jack LaLane advocated lifting lighter weights for more reps, as opposed to the heavy resistance workout popular with bodybuilders and power lifters today. Remember, LaLane wasn’t training athletes, he was trying to show that anyone could dimprove their health with exercise.
He invented early versions of resistance machines that are still popular today. He recommended performing exercises until muscle fatigue, lifting to failure. According to researchers from McMaster University, lifting to muscle fatigue with lighter weights is as effective as lifting with heavy weights and can be especially beneficial as you age.
The main reason you can’t lift heavy all of your life is that it hurts! Your ability to recover is compromised as you age. So lift lighter, but to fatigue and [you’ll have] less damage to muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints, while still [experiencing effective] muscle growth. — Stuart M. Phillips, Ph.D. FACN, FACSM Professor & Associate Chair Graduate Studies Department of Kinesiology
LaLanne released a book entitled Live Young Forever on his 95th birthday. This book helped to explain to the public how he was able to maintain his health in his aging years and live such a long and healthy life.
Biography.com reports that Jack LaLanne passed away on January 23, 2011 from respiratory failure, leaving behind a legacy that still inspires millions.