Jack LaLanne was an incredible showoff, and with good reason.
If you can do 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes at the “over-the-hill” age of 42, then by all means show yourself off. If you can swim more than a mile through the strong currents of Long Beach Harbor while towing 70 people in 70 rowboats on your 70th birthday, then you’ve earned the right to show off — especially if you do this while handcuffed and shackled.
Jack lived his life completing implausible feats of strength and endurance, seemingly as a challenge to a world that said, “Let’s see you do that!”
He wanted us to “do that” too. He wanted us to unglue our collective butts from our couches and move.
Yes, Jack was a showoff who sought to inspire others. He also wanted to bring attention and respect to a profession that lacked it.
For years, he was dismissed as little more than a “muscle man,” which was hardly an endearing term during the first half of the 20th century. But he used his physical deeds to prove that he was more than just a guy who carved his body into something akin to a statue of a Greek god. His accomplishments showed the world that his approach to fitness made the human body healthier, more functional and more capable.
In time, it became accepted as more attractive as well. For proof of this, all you have to do is rent the movie “300.”
Considering that about one-third of Americans are now overweight and another one-third are obese, one might conclude that Jack’s mission to promote healthy living was a failure. But he had more success than people realize.
Before Jack came along, there weren’t any weightlifting gyms. Before Jack, you never saw people jogging, and bikes were used only for transportation.
LaLanne anticipated the current state of adipose affairs. “Now that we have too much of everything in this great land of ours, too many things are being done for us,” he lamented in one of his early television appearances. “We have become soft, mentally and physically.”
To head it off, he had a vision to get people moving and exercising intensely with weights.
When he began his crusade in 1936 by opening one of the nation’s first health clubs in Oakland, the medical establishment wasn’t exactly supportive. “The doctors used to say, ‘Don’t go to that Jack LaLanne, you’ll get hemorrhoids, you won’t get an erection, you women will look like men, you athletes will get muscle-bound’ — this is what I had to go through,” he recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. (Keep in mind, this was the same medical establishment that thought it was OK to smoke cigarettes.)
But Jack didn’t give up, and he started a fitness revolution.
Jack taught us that if you didn’t use it, you were going to lose it. But he also worked to convince many older people that if they had lost it, it was never too late to get it back.
He also taught us that exercise could be fun.
“The Jack LaLanne Show” aired on TV for 34 years, and he often spoke of how exercise was supposed to be enjoyable, not drudgery. His ever-present smile spoke volumes, and his exuberance for fitness inspired many. Although those of us who embrace the fitness culture are still in the minority, we’re more likely to be accepted — even admired — than seen as crazy or vain or as people with hemorrhoids.
I don’t follow all of Jack’s advice. I prefer to chew my fruits and vegetables rather than cram them through a juicer, and the only supplements I take are vitamin D and omega-3s. Other than that, I’m a firm believer in his approach to nutrition. Among the LaLanneisms I live by are “If man makes it, don’t eat it” and “If it tastes good, spit it out.”
Jack’s strength and endurance have prompted many to find out what they’re physically capable of. In the spirit of being a showoff like Jack, I’ve created my own bucket list of exercise accomplishments. Before I die, I want to finish an Ironman, run a 10K race in less than 40 minutes, do a 360 off a ski jump and surf a big wave.
Well, maybe not too big a wave.
There will never be another Jack LaLanne. The current generation of fitness “gurus” seems to be overrepresented by celebrities promising shortcuts and quick fixes instead of focusing on the basics of plain old hard work.
Jack, you will be missed.
Jack LaLanne lived for 96 years and was active, spry and almost superhuman right up to the end.
Let’s see you do that.
Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.