One of my favorite fitness and health heros of all time, fitness
guru Jack LaLanne, died yesterday of pneumonia.
He was a young 96.
Jack LaLanne is an icon to many people. He is, perhaps, best known
these days for pushing the benefits of his “Jack LaLanne Juicer”,
as well as the annual strength and endurance feats he performed
until recent years.
Like swimming across from Alcatraz to Fishermans Wharf in San
Francisco – a difficult enough feat – while handcuffed, AND pulling
several boats tethered together – with his teeth!
Or doing 1000 pushups in a row.
I love Jack LaLanne for very different reasons.
First off, think about his story.
Jack was a self-proclaimed sugar addict as a kid, weak, pimply,
prone to illness. A neighbor gave him and his mom two tickets
to attend a session by one of the leading health gurus of the
day, Paul Bragg.
That meeting changed Jack’s life.
As the story goes, Bragg told him, quite bluntly, “You’re a
walking garbage can.” This must have hit a nerve somewhere.
Because Jack immediately went home and built a gym in his
backyard.He devoted himself to training with weights, body weight
calisthenics, swimming, AND…deep breathing.
He reformed his eating habits and went from “sugar addict” to
vegetarian, pushing the benefits of eating and juicing raw
fruits and vegetables for superior health and energy.
(See, there is always hope for us chocolate lovers!)
Jack LaLanne was also a trailblazer in the business of fitness
and health. In 1936, he opened his first health studio and
revolutionized the gym industry. For example, he insisted
on including women in his gyms and programs. He believed that
women could benefit immensely from strength training, and
perhaps needed it even more than the menfolk. Remarkable for
He accepted and trained athletes, which was also revolutionary
at the time. You see, back then, sports coaches frowned
on weightlifting, because they thought it would make their
athletes too bulky and slow.
My how times have changed!
In addition to the advances and new approaches he advocated,
Jack also motivated hundreds of thousands of people over the
years to begin a fitness and health program. His attitude
was infectious and, as he said, he never had a “down day”.
My own fascination with him began during my childhood, in the
late 60s and early 70s.
At that time he had his own daytime TV show. My mom stayed
home with us when we were young, and she would watch his show.
We would often participate by mimicking Jack’s exercises
(and my mom’s exhausted reactions!).
There was Jack, moving, jumping, exhorting…wearing that
dark jumpsuit thingie. Because he was preaching to a
predominantly female audience, he would tailor the exercises
to include quite feminine, graceful movements. But I don’t
think anyone ever gave him any trouble for doing those
movements. The guy had some guns on him!
With just a few props, such as a chair, a towel, a broomstick,
he would instruct his audience on how to do simple yet
effective exercises that worked the entire body. He did the
exercises to music too – presaging a popular approach to
I liked the fact that he would emphasize breathing with the
exercise. “Breath in, now breath out”, he would say.
And he didn’t just stick to exercise and diet tips in his show.
Jack had a wonderful philosophy of life which he shared over
the years through his shows, guest appearances, and the books
he wrote or co-wrote.
His wife, Elaine, was always front and center in everything
Jack did. They had a true partnership in every sense of the
word. Something else for all of us to emulate.
One of my favorite bits of advice is what Jack called his
“Ten Point Self-Improvement Plan”:
3. Positive Thinking
4. Good Habits
8. Help Others
We’re sad to see you go, Jack. But your example, your
inspiration, and your enthusiasm live on!
You Can Do It!
Karen Van Ness
Copyright, Karen Van Ness, 2011