Jack LaLanne

Jack Lalanne, the man whose name was synonymous with fitness for decades and winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 1995 Dwight D. Eisenhower Fitness Award, died Sunday at the age of 96.

“While many kids were watching Loony Tunes and Mr. Rogers, I remember watching Jack Lalanne,” said Academy doctoral student and interval training specialist Conner Johnson of Walnut Creek, Calif. “(I remember) as a young kid, sitting in the floor trying to emulate his fitness strategies. He planted the seed that inspired me at such a young age like so many kids, as well as adults. Like Elvis did in music and Lincoln did in history, he set precedents in fitness and nutrition with ‘class’ and respect. An icon, pioneer, and role model–his legacy will continue to affect us all.”

Lalanne was born 26 September, 1914 in San Francisco, CA and admittedly, during his childhood days was addicted to sugar and junk foods. At age 15, he heard exercise advocate Paul Bragg speak on health and nutrition, which motivated Lalanne to focus on his diet and exercise habits. He studied Henry Gray’s “Anatomy of the Human Body” and concentrated on bodybuilding, chiropractic medicine, and weightlifting, something virtually unheard of in the 1930s.

In 1936 Lalanne opened his own health spa in Oakland, Calif., where he designed the world’s first leg extension machines, pulley machines using cables, and weight selectors, now a standard in the fitness industry.

“The doctors were against me – they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive,” Lalanne once said. “Women would look like men and even varsity coaches predicted that their athletes would get muscle bound and banned them from lifting weights. I had to give these athletes keys so they could come in at night and work out in my gym. Time has proven that what I was doing was scientifically correct; starting with a healthy diet followed by systematic exercise and today everyone knows it. All world class athletes now work out with weights, as do many members of the general public, both male and female.”

While the Lalanne fitness model was the Genesis of later fitness movements in the 20th century, he found ways to keep himself from fading into obsolescence.

He will most be remembered for ‘The Jack La Lanne Show,” on television in the 1950s, where he did not use a lot of mechanical equipment His biggest ‘tool’ was a straight back chair.  His audience, mostly women, would get that chair from the kitchen each morning and go through the routines with him much like future generations would follow Jane Fonda. His show lasted for 34 years.

He also incorporated a stretchable cord to tighten up muscles called, ‘The Glamour Stretcher.’  He invented the “Jack LaLanne Juicer” that allowed people to make their own fruit and vegetable juice without buying and throwing away a lot of plastic bottles.

He became famous as a stunt man as well as a fitness guru, with memorable moments that include:

  • Swimming the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, underwater, with 140 pounds of equipment, including two air tanks, a world record, at age 40
  • A year later, swimming from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco while handcuffed
  • The next year, setting a world record of 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes
  • A year after that, swimming the Golden Gate channel while towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser, while the swift ocean currents turned this one-mile swim into a swimming distance of 6.5 miles
  • The following year, maneuvering a paddleboard nonstop from Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore, a 30-mile trip that took 9.5 hours
  • Doing 1,000 star jumps and 1,000 chin-ups in 1 hour, 22 minutes
  • At age 60, swimming from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf again, this time handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat
  • Doing it again a year later, this time swimming the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Swimming one mile in Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed and shackled, and towing 13 boats containing 76 people
  • Towing 65 boats in Lake Ashinoko, near Tokyo, Japan, while handcuffed and shackled while the boats were filled with 6,500 pounds of Louisiana Pacific wood pulp
  • At age 66, towing 10 boats in North Miami, Fla., carrying 77 people, for over one mile in less than one hour
  • At age 70, handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents, towing 70 rowboats, one with several guests, from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, 1 mile

“America has lost one of its most helpful and colorful icons as they say good-by to Jack LaLanne who for over a half century has influenced people toward better eating and better health,” Patricia Walston of Examiner.com wrote. “Families all across the US and even around the world owe a debt to Mr. LaLanne for bringing to their attention the need for a strong and fit body.  Generations have benefited from his advice and example.”