Jack LaLanne: Ahead Of His Time, Then And Now!

Jack LaLanne will be remembered as the world's ultimate fitness expert, and a visionary. You can even argue that he was the fittest person ever. But his genius didn't end there.

As a colleague of Jack LaLanne's and a lifelong admirer of his captivating high energy, powerful motivational personality, fitness inventions, and fitness-education works, I'd like to reflect upon the scope and depth of his contributions to fitness science and culture. Jack was a trailblazer, a founding father of fitness, with many well-known "firsts" that we take for granted.

Imagine a fitness world without any of these innovations. Because he pioneered all of them:

  • Opening the first modern health spa
  • Presenting a nationally syndicated exercise show on television
  • Encouraging athletes, women, and the elderly work out with weights
  • Combining a gym with a health-food bar
  • Offering a weight-loss "Instant Breakfast" meal replacement drink
  • Having a coed health club
  • Combining weight training with nutrition in a systematic way
  • Offering the first nutrition snack bar
  • Selling vitamins and exercise equipment on television
  • Teaching scientific bodybuilding by changing the program every two to three weeks
  • Encouraging the physically challenged to exercise
  • Performing feats of strength and endurance to highlight the results of fit living
  • Developing the first leg extension machine, weight selector machine, cable/pulley machine, calf machine, and wrist roll machine, all now standards in the fitness industry.

His incredible feats of fitness are legendary. At 45, he completed 1,000 pushups and chin-ups in an hour and 22 minutes. At 70-an age when most men are shuffling around retirement homes-Jack, handcuffed and shackled, fought strong winds and currents to tow 70 boats holding 70 passengers 1 1/2 miles from Queen's Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary.

Remarkably, Jack's feats of physical fitness are surpassed by his genius for fitness science. He was many decades ahead of his time. The day I wrote this tribute, I read about the results of a major study conducted by the University of Oxford, which found that eating more servings of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease.

The Thomas Edison of Fitness

Here are some of the LaLanne Exercise Innovations and approaches to help make achieving physical fitness more effect at the gym and in the home:

  • The Exterminator - helps firm up the entire body
  • The Fighter - a punching style exercise
  • Stretchnastics - LaLanne stretching moves
  • Fannie Firmer - helps firm buttocks
  • Jumping Jacks - cardiovascular warm-up
  • Backwards Leg Extensions - single leg tucks and extensions
  • Posture Improver - pretend to try and crack a walnut between your buttocks
  • Rockette Kicker - overhead kicks
  • Get up and Get down - lie on the floor, get up, lie down, and repeat several times
  • Lower Body Firmer - leg scissors, lying on your side
  • Towel Breaker - series of exercises using a towel
  • Broom Stick - series of exercises using a broomstick
  • Chair - LaLanne chair routines, made famous by Jack on TV

Eating a whole-food diet, with plenty of vegetables and fruits, was the foundation of Jack's nutrition approach, which he started writing about and teaching people 70 years ago.

Here are some examples of the fitness-science insights that were the basis for creating Jack's user friendly LaLanneisms, which he used to drive home his health-enhancing lessons:

"If Man Makes It, Don't Eat It"

Jack's nutrition philosophy isn't just about what not to eat, but also what to eat to make you healthier and to prevent diseases. Today, we know this; back in the early 1900s, this was revolutionary concept.

Jack lived through a phase in history that saw nature's bounty of nutritious whole foods replaced en masse by highly processed, chemical-laden foods. His own experience of turning around his health by avoiding over-processed foods, stripped of their vital nutrients, in favor of eating a diet rich in healthy nutrient packed whole foods, is testimony to the fitness benefits of eating the right foods.

For example, eating more fruits and vegetables is a signature feature of Jack's nutrition approach. Higher consumption of these foods has been tied to a reduction in many diseases, including obesity, certain cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Jack also realized the awesome health benefits of eating fish, including easy-to-digest, high-quality protein, reduced inflammation, good cardiovascular health, and brain wellness. Also, a recent study reported a new benefit of omega-3 fatty acids: increased muscle protein synthesis among older adults.

One of Jack's exceptions to his no-processed-foods rule concerns foods intentionally designed to be healthy. That means nutritious meal-replacement products, nutrition bars, and, yes, even dietary supplements, which Jack was a pioneer in developing and selling starting back in the 1950s. Note that the USDA's Health Index 2005 reports that for all age groups, there is inadequate intake in nutrient rich fruits and vegetables.

This leads to low vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient intake. These inadequacies have been a consistent reality for decades, so while Jack recommended eating more fruits and vegetables, and healthier foods, he also realized that people needed to supplement their diet with specially designed health foods.

Here are some of the findings from the recent USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines that confirms what Jack already discovered decades ago. Keep in mind it took millions of dollars and dozens of experts and hundreds of research studies to reach these same conclusions that Jack discovered starting in the 1930's.

Americans should choose fiber-rich carbohydrate foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and cooked dry beans and peas as staples in the diet. Low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products are also nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates in the diet and provide high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals.

High-energy, non-nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources that should be reduced to aid in calorie control include sugar-sweetened beverages; desserts, including grain-based desserts; and grain products and other carbohydrate foods and drinks that are low in nutrients.

The health benefits from consuming a variety of cooked seafood outweigh the risks associated with exposure to methyl mercury and persistent organic pollutants, provided that the types and sources of seafood to be avoided by some consumers are clearly communicated to consumers.

Overall, consumers can safely eat at least 12 oz. of a variety of cooked seafood per week provided they pay attention to local seafood advisories and limit their intake of large, predatory fish. Women who may become or who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and children ages 12 and younger can safely consume a variety of cooked seafood in amounts recommended by this Committee while following Federal and local advisories.

During one of our discussions, I mentioned to Jack that I saw him on a talk show during the 1970s, when I was learning about the science of exercise and nutrition. During the interview, he started talking of the numerous health benefits of fruits and vegetables-not just the obvious, the vitamins and minerals, but new things like trace minerals and other beneficial substances in plants.

The discoveries were only just in their very early stages of discovery at the leading universities and National Institutes of Health back then. But, Jack already knew what they would "discover."

After I told him about this, he smiled for a moment, and then proceeded to give me a personal seminar about a series of advanced nutrition insights he discovered from his decades of work. This was beyond anything I ever learned about from science books or journals or lectures. Forget about going to moon or other planets-what Jack was teaching me about his scientific discoveries was more meaningful to mankind than most discoveries made in history.

"If You Don't Use It, You Lose It"

Jack would follow this line with a story about imagining what happens if your arm is in a sling for a long period of time. Your arm muscles shrink, they get weak, eventually your bones will get weak, and your nervous system stops working in those muscles. Circulation becomes impaired, and you end up with an unhealthy, shriveled-up arm.

Now, the reality is that for people who do not exercise "correctly" on a regular basis, which includes resistance exercise, this is what starts to happen to your entire body.

Jack's approach to exercise was the most comprehensive I have ever learned about. He actually studied the anatomy of the entire body, and created a comprehensive system of exercise that both exercised and stretched every muscle and joint in the body, including the most overlooked tiny muscle around joints and even the spine.

The benefits of Jack's comprehensive approach to exercise are for all people of all ages. While Jack was one of the first people to recognize the health and performing benefits of resistance training starting in the 1930s, the most recent scientific studies reconfirm what he discovered.

Fit To Print

Here are some of Jack's publications, some of which he coauthored with his fitness wife of over 50 years, Elaine. His most recent book-Live Young Forever: 12 Steps to Optimum Health, Fitness and Longevity-is a must read for everybody. This book should become standard reading in all schools.

Live Young Forever: 12 Steps to Optimum Health, Fitness and Longevity

Not only has Jack LaLanne been the figurehead of fitness forever, at an active, strong and healthy 95 years old he has definitively proven that his methods work. In his book Live Young Forever, Jack will teach you: - How he reached 95 years old, still going strong - and how you can too! - The most important foods to help you keep trim and healthy. - Exercises that will keep you strong, supple and limber. - How his philosophies helped him become a huge success. -How to live a vibrant, motivated, stress-free, sexually active life that will make waking up a joy for decades to come.
Revitalize Your Life

Written by the foremost pioneer of the American fitness movement,this complete revision of Revitalize Your Life is an expanded new edition specifically targeted to the fifty-something crowd. Jack reveals his secrets to a better life and longevity. This edition includes a chapter on juicing as well as how to improve your looks, health, and sex life.
Celebrating 90 Plus Years Of Healthy Living

Celebrating 90 Plus Years Of Healthy Living is a comprehensive source for juicing with over 200 healthy and delicious recipes for making fresh juices, great smoothies, frozen treats, homemade muffins, and much more! Jack & Elaine LaLanne share their healthy living secrets as well as Jack's philosophy on juicing, exercise, his personal history and achievements.
  More Jack LaLanne Books

During one of our conversations, I had the opportunity to learn about his unique wall-mounted exercise equipment that Jack invented, to exercise and stretch every muscle in the body. It was during this discussion that it became apparent to me that Jack's approach, while very effective for body building and shaping, was much deeper then the superficial benefits of most exercise programs.

Jack's approach was designed to exercise the entire body and all its systems: muscles, joints, circulatory, and nervous system for example. Basically, Jack's approach is also about strategic health building, and has a therapeutic exercise component built-in that is effective for building an impressive physique or figure, or for increasing athletic performance.

But it's health promoting and disease preventing, too, by minimizing inflammation, promoting growth and revitalizing substances in the body, etc. Still today, Jack's exercise machine and companion exercise routine is the most comprehensive, well constructed, and multi-beneficial approach I know of.

I had the pleasure of photographing and interviewing Jack on his 80th birthday in New York City for Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness magazine. His feats in the gym that day, completed so easily in front of his lovely wife and me, were awe-inspiring.

From as long as I can remember, Jack LaLanne was the icon of fitness and health in this country. But it was not just his tremendous functional strength and amazingly fit physique that left a lasting impression on me. It was his vibrant, incredibly positive attitude and friendly "everyman" personality that struck a chord with me that day we spent together - as it had with his fans from TV, magazines and personal appearances over his lifetime.

I am happy to say I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with this fitness legend. He will be sorely missed.

Steve Downs, M.S., C.S.C.S.
MHP Marketing Director

Jack LaLanne represented fitness more than anyone else ever has or ever will. He introduced the world to exercise, fitness and the importance of good eating habits. What I respected most about him was he didn't just preach it he lived it. If it weren't for Jack, I truly believe fitness would not be as popular as it is today. We all owe a great deal of appreciation to The Godfather of Fitness, Jack LaLanne.

Gerard Dente, President & Founder
Maximum Human Performance LLC

"Your Waistline Is Your Lifeline"

This is a result of following Jack's exercise and nutrition program, and is a vital "measure of health." While the medical community only recently adopted the waistline measurement as a health measure, Jack recognized the relationship between the waistline and disease decades ago.

He told me of his observations that when the waistline is smaller, diseases are reduced. Conversely as the waistline expands, diseases increase. As you can see in Jack's photos through his life, he indeed maintained a slim waistline, which was also in perfect condition.

To Learn More About Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne's lessons are both timeless and numerous. These websites offer additional information about his life. You can even view episodes of Jack's original fitness TV show on his eponymous website.

I remember one occasion when we were eating at a restaurant, and some fans stopped by to say hello to Jack. During the conversation with his fans about the importance of eating healthy, like he was doing with the foods he ordered, and how about how regular exercise will keep you young, Jack firmly grabbed the arms of the chair, pressed himself up into one of those gymnast positions with his legs held parallel to the ground, not missing a beat in what he was saying during his fitness demonstration, he then started doing reps, raising his legs up in a V and back to the parallel position over and over again, while holding his body up in the chair.

An impressive feat of fitness for any young man, but Jack was in his 80's!