THE FATHER OF FITNESS
By Jerry Janda
(Reprinted with permission of AOBS newsletter)
Jack LaLanne is a legend.
This is obvious as we walk the floor at Club Industry '99. I'm
Jack to where we can talk privately. I'm walking quickly because I
get Jack off the show floor before he draws too much attention.
Jack is wearing wrap around sunglasses. A light jacket covers his
sleeveless unitard. He is moving fast. I figure he's inconspicuous,
another face in the crowd.
"You're the man, Jack!" a guy yells as we pass him. Jack smiles. The
young. He probably never saw Jack's exercise show.
Other men and women, most of them in their 20s, also recognize Jack.
crowd around as we hurry through the aisles. They ask to have their
taken with Jack. They request autographs. Jack obliges happily. He
At 85, he gives bone-crushing handshakes. He pats men on the shoulder.
invites people to feel his "scrawny arm," then flexes a rock-hard bicep
would put most 18-year-olds to shame.
I look at my watch and wonder if I'm ever going to get an interview.
I'm anxious but not surprised. These admirers may have been born after
Jack LaLanne Show left the airwaves, but they are still aware of Jack's
contributions to our industry.
He is a pioneer, a personal trainer who promoted exercise when
condemned working out as dangerous.
He is a trailblazer, a lecturer who preached about proper eating habits
vegan before vegan was chic.
He is an entrepreneur, a businessman who brought health and fitness to
millions through his television show, gyms and personal appearances.
He is, in short, a legend.
Eventually, we make it into the pressroom and take a seat. I'm hoping
10 or 15 minutes of Jack's time. I set my sights short. Jack talks
nearly 45 minutes. He is animated, perpetual motion, a generator of
seemingly endless energy. He slams his hand down on the table for
He grabs my right arm and pulls me in close when he makes an important
We talk about exercise. He still does the same daily two-hour workout
done for most of his life. He spends one hour lifting weights and
hour in the water. His love of aquatic exercise has not abated over
years. "I'm so high on water work for everybody," he remarks. "I've
top athletes like Schwartzenegger and Ferrigno into the water and
out for five minutes, and they are so sore, the next day they can
He discusses his diet. He eats 3 or 4 ounces of fish every day. He
gets protein from egg whites. He rounds out his meals with at least 10
vegetables and five pieces of fresh fruit. The only grains he eats are
percent whole grains, all natural. He calls cream, milk and butter
"killers." He won't consume anything that comes from a cow.
"I'm not a suckling calf," he says. "I don't have three stomachs. You
70 percent of the people on the planet are allergic to milk? Name me
creature that drinks milk after they are weaned."
Jack supplements his daily meals with 40 to 50 vitamins, minerals and
He takes everything from A to Z, all natural. He's done this for
Even with a diet as healthy as his, he wants to make certain his body
everything it requires to remain strong.
We chat about the early days, when he owned and operated fitness
He talks about his innovations. He claims that he invented
equipment, pulley machines, the leg extension and more.
"You know the Smith machine?" he comments. "That was 1 million per-cent
I invented that. There were old guys in my gym, and they couldn't keep
balance, so I had this thing made for them."
Then why isn't the Smith machine called the LaLanne machine?
"I never had anything patented," Jack replies with a shrug.
That may seem strange, but for Jack, inventing new equipment was a way
give his customers variety, not a way to make money. It's an attitude
still carries today. He loves seeing all of the modern high-tech
out on the show floor. It reminds him of his own efforts to keep people
excited about exercise.
"In my gym, you couldn't move two feet," Jack remembers. "We had stuff
out of the ceiling and out of the floors. And every couple of months,
invent a new piece of equipment for my students. They said, 'What's he
to get for us this time?' You see, I kept their enthusiasm up."
Jack's own enthusiasm for exercise came at an early age. He describes
young Jack LaLanne as a "sick, weak kid who was 30, 40 pounds
That all changed when he attended a health lecture. He left the lecture
new knowledge and a new outlook. He became a vegetarian. He gave up
He ate natural foods. He started to exercise. The sickly child became a
At the age of 15, Jack became interested in body building. He wanted to
everything about how the body functioned. Since bookstores weren't
lining their shelves with information on exercise, he picked up a copy
"Gray's Anatomy," the classic scientific text that many still consider
the ultimate source on the workings of the human body. The adolescent
read the book constantly, to the point where it began to interfere with
high school studies. "I'd be in algebra class, and everybody's
I'm reading this damn thing," he says, laughing. After graduation, Jack
to chiropractic college to further his knowledge of kinesiology.
Since exercise and nutrition had saved his life, Jack wanted to save
He set out to do just that in 1936 when he opened "the first modern
club in the United States," as he calls it. He figured his reputation
successful football player, baseball player, wrestler, swimmer, and
builder would attract clients.
The problem was bad publicity. Coaches criticized him, saying that
who lifted weights who lifted weights would become so muscle-bound,
would be unable to raise their arms. Newspapers called him a charlatan
crackpot. Even physicians attacked him, claiming that the Jack LaLanne
regimen caused everything from impotence to hemorrhoids.
"I'd be six foot six today if they hadn't beat me down," Jack says.
The Power of Truth
Still, Jack knew he was right. He was living proof of the power of a
lifestyle, and he wasn't going to quit. "When you believe, they can't
you," Jack exclaims. "Nobody can. Truth is truth."
Jack decided that if people wouldn't come to him, he would go to them.
on a tight T-shirt to accentuate his chiseled physique and went to high
schools at lunchtime. He endured the insults of the students. They
muscle-bound and challenged him to comb his hair or touch his toes.
he was a vegetarian, they offered him hamburgers. He ignored them
was there for a purpose.
He picked out the heaviest kid and the skinniest kid he could find. He
their home addresses. He visited them at night and wrote out gym
for the families. He guaranteed to take 15 to 20 pounds off the
kids in 30 days or double their money back. The deal was pretty much
for the thin kids, only he guaranteed to put 15 to 20 pounds of solid
Jack got those kids into his gym and he got results. One teenager lost
pounds in seven months. Skinny kids packed on muscle. People noticed.
realized Jack knew what he was doing. They wanted in. More kids came to
gyn. Then their parents.
Exercise for Everyone
Men and women, young and old, amateurs and professional athletes --
trained them all. He claims to be the first to have 80-year-old men
with weights. That's why he laments the fact that clubs today seem to
concentrate solely on young people. He says we need to get exercise
nursing homes. We need to get seniors out of bed and out of
believes that exercise can add many pleasant years to the lives of
"What we know about exercise, what we know about nutrition, living to
nothing," Jack emphasizes. "Man should live to be 120. Dogs mature at
live six times their age of maturity. Most dogs live 10, 12, 15 years
as humans mature at 25. What's six times 25? One hundred and fifty."
One hundred and fifty. Looking at Jack, you believe that age is
He exudes vigor, and I can only imagine the type of enthusiasm he
When people joined Jack's gyn, they weren't just paying to use his
They got personal service. He told students what to have for breakfast,
lunch, and dinner. Young kids got fashion tips. Older students got pep
Every 30 days, Jack would give all the students a fresh program. And he
let them forget that he cared more about their health than a membership
"If you missed two workouts at my gym, I was on the phone to you," Jack
"Damn, I don't want your money, I want you!"
Jack says clubs don't give that type of instruction nowadays -- at
for free. That's part of the reason why he decided to get out of the
business. He didn't like the way the industry was evolving. He saw club
operators who were more concerned with profit than helping people.
"To get instruction today, you have to get a personal trainer," he
"How many people have $100 or $200 an hour, whatever it costs?" Jack
clubs to take an interest in their members. The average person doesn't
how to exercise, he points out. He claims that 95 percent of the people
clubs are doing their exercises incorrectly because they never received
instruction. Improper exercise won't yield results, and lack of results
causes members to quit out of frustration.
"You got to help these people," Jack says. "Why do you think there is
high turnover in these clubs?"
In Jack's opinion, clubs can revitalize themselves if they employ the
business model he used as a gym owner. "If gyms devoted their time to
instructing students in nutrition and exercise, changed their program
three to four weeks, and didn't charge them an exorbitant price, they'd
so much business, they couldn't handle it," he says. "It's going to
back to that, you mark my words."
Proper instruction will not only get people into clubs, it will also
clear up the confusion surrounding health and fitness. As Jack sees it,
people are baffled by the conflicting information on nutrition and
They hear about the miracles of fad diets. They watch infomercials for
products that promise complete workouts in record time. It makes Jack
"You've got 640 muscles in your body, and they all need their share of
he says. "I work out two hours every day, right? I'm wasting a lot of
I could take a Butt Master and do it in two minutes or something. It's
The Dangers of Advertising
Infomercials aren't the only problem. He believes that advertising in
has helped turn the United States into the "most overfed,
nation in the world." He watches fast-food commercials and knows why
are getting obese and dying young from heart attacks. Kids are
susceptible to marketing, he believes. They see their heroes promoting
food, alcohol and soft drinks. They emulate.
"You see Michael Jordan out there with that hot dog," Jack says. "Well,
do you expect kids are going to eat? Hamburgers and hot dogs and all
This statement leads Jack to a closing thought. If advertising is
people's health, then it's up to our industry to market our message as
counterpoint. "That's what we got to do in fitness: We've got to
profession to the kids in school," he notes. "It should start in
kindergarten. These kids should be taught about eating whole-wheat
fruits and vegetables and vitamins, the whole bit. It's the only way wr
going to get it over."
The interview finished, Jack gives me one of his bone-crushing
is still wearing the sunglasses. I suggest that he get a better
remarks that he isn't wearing the shades to be incognito.
"My son gave them to me," he says. "He said they would make me look
As I watch him walk away, I can't help but think that Jack LaLanne is
And it's got nothing to do with the sunglasses.