KING OF FITNESS, JACK LA LANNE
BY: DAVID GENTLE
A Tribute to Jack La Lanne from David Gentle, on his 85th Birthday.
Way back in 1955, Jack La Lanne made worldwide publicity for bodybuilding and fitness when he swam the two-mile distance from Alcatraz to Fisherman's wharf (San Francisco), in handcuffs. To show he was not fatigued by covering the distance in less than an hour, with his hands fastened together, as soon as the manacles were removed Jack breezed through 30 fast push-ups. He's been making news ever since and is a credit to natural bodybuilding and healthy eating, and at 85 years of age is still raring to go.
On meeting Jack La Lanne in London, on the occasion he received a special recognition award from the O.H. Foundation. I politely asked his age, he looked so fit, and it was hard to guess. "Eighty three" was his answer. "I can't die, it would spoil my image." Later that evening, or should I say early morning, Jack was demonstrating dips in tough style, i.e. with arms fully extended, testing every muscle in the body. Everyone agreed he certainly lived up to his legendary reputation as the bodybuilders' "King of Fitness."
World's Greatest Authority on Fitness
This phenomenal, almost evangelical feverous believer in physical fitness is know not only the world of bodybuilders but also by most of the general public. Via his over 30 years of appearances (starting in 1951 at KGO-TV in San Francisco, and going national in 1959) on TV shows, along with numerous books sold worldwide, plus his inspirational articles and personal records, published in the world's muscle press. To bodybuilders, the name "Jack La Lanne" is synonymous with "High Rep" ability, and endurance. Many of Jack's feats will be listed at the end of the article for those who care to compare with similar performers and athletes.
Sensational Rise from Weakness to World Fame
Now living in Morro Bay, a picturesque community about 240 miles north of Los Angeles on California's central coast, one of the most beautiful spots in California. Jack was born 26th September 1914 in San Francisco, California. As a child he resembled one of those early Charles Atlas "before" advertisements, being skinny and frequently sick, often missing school through illness. His parents worried about Jack's health and moved to a better climate in Berkeley, California, but Jack became affected with one illness after another, needing more than just sunshine.
At his school, however, he met a friend who owned a set of weights, joined him in his workouts, and soon discovered great satisfaction in training and gaining size and health. As well as reading bodybuilding magazines, he broadened his knowledge and began to study all relative subjects in health, fitness and bodybuilding exercise and nutrition. He became a voracious reader of Grey's Anatomy (I lost the plot halfway through). He studied pre-med, and also went to Chiropractic College and graduated. Thus taking better care of his general eating, sleeping, and emotional habits, along with exercise, he began to make progress.
One day, Jack, always eager to learn about his new "hobby," attended a lecture given by the famous health authority Paul Bragg. Highly impressed by Bragg's advice and theories, he followed Paul's way of eating and immediately cut out sweets, candies, etc., discovering as he says "I was a junk food junkie, and addicted to sugar." This strict regime helped forge him into one of the world's healthiest and finest built men. His muscular development at 5'7'', 175 lbs. was symmetrical, making him look good from any angle, with especially well developed abdominals.
After 7 years of vegetarianism, he slowly reintroduced meat protein to his diet, but continued to stay low on carbohydrates, making sure his meals contained all the required vitamins and minerals, through plenty of fruits and vegetables. Currently I believe he is back to being a vegetarian. This improved diet, increased muscle, stamina, and coordination, so that Jack vigorously and energetically engaged in a multitude of sports, including football, baseball, track and field events, gymnastics, wrestling and swimming, along with his regular training with weights.
Owned the First Physical Culture Studio
Jack's confidence grew such that he began instruction others, and then in 1936 realized a dream by opening up the first ever "Health Studio" in the bay area, on the 3rd floor of an old office building in Oakland. His first two clients were a policeman and a fireman (he charged them $5.00 a month for services). So successful were his pupils in making progress that Jack's fame as a teacher spread, forcing him to move and expand his gym. "I was 40 years ahead of my time," said Jack. "By then I knew more about the workings of the muscles of the body than most doctors. People thought I was a charlatan and a nut. The doctors were against me; they said that working out with weights would give people heart problems and they would lose their sex drive. Even the coaches predicted athletes would get 'muscle bound' and didn't want them to work out with weights. I had to give them keys so that they could come in at night and work out. What I was doing was scientifically correct. Starting with a healthy diet, and now everyone knows it. Today all the world-class athletes work out with weights."
With a mind as energetic as his body, his interests included singing, and although he turned down a chance to study voice in Vienna, his powerful oratory stood him in great stead as a "Preacher of Fitness." In World War II, Jack enlisted and became an "Athletic Technician" - we would probably settle for physical training instructor - where both at sea and ashore he worked as a PTI (see, I told you), doing exceptional work by helping to rehabilitate wounded veterans. Throughout his service career, he continued to keep in top physical form, engaging as often as possible in his favorite sport of handbalancing, learning many skills from professional gymnast Paul Kanaver. Jack was featured in some fine balancing stunts in many of the muscle magazines, with another famous bodybuilding gym owner, Ed Yarick. Other partners of Jack in balancing were muscle men Norman Marks and Jimmy Payne. For a while Jack worked professionally as a balancer on his return to civilian life.
Jack La Lanne's workouts were extremely strenuous, few if any could follow Jack in a training routine, and in fact for years he laid out a challenge and offered anyone $5000 if they could keep up with him in an hour long workout; no one ever took up the money. In his routines, along with basic barbell exercises, he included press-ups, dips, chins, lever exercises, squat jumps, etc. Up to 20 exercises per workout, for 4 to 6 sets or at 50 times or more repetitions. True endurance training, only for super heroes. And not recommended for those seeking size. His terrific triceps development he put down to his practice of handstand dips/press ups. He could then do 45 hand stand press ups, 1,000 dips, repetitions in dumbbell presses with 2x100 lb dumbbells, two arm pullovers with his own bodyweight, i.e. straight arms, using 165 lb and 15 consecutive hollow back handstand press ups on pedestals.
(See also, later lists of just some of his other fine facts.)
Jack's mind is active as his muscles helped him to invent and develop some of the first models of exercise equipment that is now considered standard in most health/fitness studios or gyms. Including weight selectors, smith machines, wall pulley machines, leg extension machines, wrist- roll machines, calf machines and others, many originally built to Jack's specifications by machinist Paul Martin. He encouraged not only fit men, but women, invalids, and the elderly (see, there's no escape) to exercise for health.
His reputation as a fitness guru spread and by the early '50s Jack took to and used to his best advantage the medium of television to reach literally millions of Americans, and world wide fitness fans, with his books and videos. Jack was approached to do a TV show in San Francisco in 1951, and his show was broadcast each morning from 9 to 9:30. Jack also met wife Elaine in the TV show, soon forming a team. In 1953 the show moved to Hollywood and seen nationwide, his gospel message of "Get up, exercise and feel good" spread like wild fire, and as a teacher he was a magnificent motivator, living by what he says to others all his life.
Today Jack continues to receive awards for his pioneering efforts. In 1997 the U.S. Sports Academy awarded Jack the Eisenhower trophy for his contribution to the nation's fitness. And of course as mentioned in our introduction, he came over to London in 1998 to great acclaim, and he, accompanied as always by his supportive wife Elaine, still lectures, writes, gives interviews and TV appearances, busy among many other things with the Jack La Lanne Youth Foundation. He also enjoys golf, still playing despite a serious automobile accident which damaged his knee. He said he "can't die, it would ruin his image." I hope he doesn't ruin his image just yet.
Each year, he used to celebrate his birthday with some extraordinary endurance stunt/feat. Here's just some of them.
Jack La Lanne: Feats
Age 40 Swam the length of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge underwater with 140 pounds of equipment, including two air tanks...and undisputed world record. Age 41 Swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco wearing handcuffs. Age 42 Set a record of 1.033 pushups in 23 minutes on "You Asked For It" TV show with Art Baker. Age 43 Swam the treacherous Golden Gate Channel, towing a 2500-pound cabin cruiser. This involved fighting the cold, swift ocean currents that made the one-mile swim a six and one half- mile test of strength and endurance. Age 44 Maneuvered a paddleboard 30 miles, nine and one half-hours non-stop from the Farallon Islands to the San Francisco Shore. Age 45 Completed 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chin-ups in one hour and twenty-two minutes. Age 60 Swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf, handcuffed, shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat. Age 61 Swam the length of the Golden Gate underwater handcuffed, shackled, and towing a 2,000-pound boat against the treacherous tides. Age 62 Commemorating the "Spirit of '76," swam one mile in Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed, shackled, and towing 13 boats (representing the 13 original colonies) containing 76 people. Age 65 In Lake Ashinoke, Tokyo, Japan, handcuffed and shackled, towed 65 boats filled with 6,500 pounds of Louisiana Pacific wood pulp. Age 66 In North Miami, Florida, towed 10 boats filled with 77 people for over a mile in less than one hour. Age 70 Handcuffed, shackled, and fighting strong winds and currents, towed 70 boats with 70 people from Queen's Way Bridge in the Long Beach harbor to the Queen Mary, 1 � miles.
Jack La Lanne's birthdate is September 26, 1914.
Jack La Lanne Has:
In his 30 years of daily television appearances, countless lectures and numerous books on physical fitness, changed the shape of America...
In his many incredible feats, proved his philosophy that anything is possible through body and mind conditioning...
Set a world record swimming the length of the Golden Gate Bridge 20 feet underwater handcuffed and shackled, towing a 2,000-pound boat...
Set a world record of 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes in television's "You Asked for It..."
Swam a Bicentennial mile in Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed and shackled, towing 13 boats with 76 passengers...
Swam Lake Ashinoko in Japan, handcuffed and shackled, pulling 65 boats carrying 6,500 pounds of cargo on his 65th birthday...
In his self-discovered commitment to emerge from sickly adolescence to the fullest realization of his potential, committed himself to the well being of America...
In his extraordinary zeal, became the teacher who lives his lessons, showing the way to a healthier, happier way of living...
In his enthusiasm that knows no boundaries of age, became perpetual youth personified...
Jack La Lanne has routed America on the road to health!
Jack La Lanne Will:
With evangelical fervor, convert doubters into believers of daily exercise and good nutrition...
Exhort his listeners into not only stretching their muscles, but their minds to become the "you" they've always wanted to be...
Change frowns into smiles with his interludes of impish humor...
Have his audience off their chairs, up on their feet and onto a new plateau of exciting physical and mental fulfillment! Their exercise will conclude with a standing ovation to a world ambassador of good health and good living!
"A living legend in his own time."
"When he speaks, the audiences are spellbound, captivated, intrigued."
Louisiana Pacific Corp.
"Superb...the job you've done for General Foods!"
General Foods Corp.
"Of all the speakers we have had, you are the first to receive a standing ovation."
-William H. Walker
American Manufacturing. Co. Of Texas
"You should have been a preacher."
-Norman Vincent Peale
...and from the late Lowell Thomas, these words: "Jack La Lanne is one of the most versatile and entertaining speakers I have ever heard."
Jack La Lanne - Author
In addition to the hundreds of television broadcasts since 1952, Jack La Lanne has also written many books, among them the following:
How to Revitalize Your Life After Fifty - Hastings House
The Jack La Lanne Way to Vibrant Good Health - Prentice Hall Inc.
For Men Only - Prentice Hall Inc.
Foods for Glamour
Abundant Good Health and Vitality After Forty
Slim and Trim Diet and Exercise Guide
Also, several "self-help" pamphlets are available:
Help for Your Hips and Thighs
Meat Makes the Meal
My Daily Dozen (for children)
How to Reduce Your Waist
Jack La Lanne National Recognition:
Jack La Lanne, America's foremost physical fitness instructor, has been honored by many organizations throughout the country and has received many awards. Among them are the following:
Governor's Council on Physical Fitness Lifetime Achievement Award
The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans
American Academy of Achievement
American Cancer Society
American Heart Association
American Medical Association
WBBG Physical Fitness Hall of Fame
APFC Pioneer of Fitness Hall of Fame
Patriarch Society of Chiropractors
NFLA - Healthy Americans Fitness Award
President's Council of Physical Fitness Silver Anniversary Award