Jack La Lanne: Still the King

by Mary Monroe on Mar 01, 2007

"King of Fitness" Jack La Lanne made exercise a household word - but says there's still a lot of work to be done.

Fitness phenomenon and 1986 IDEA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jack La Lanne is 92 years old. He works out 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. He eats two meals a day, at 11:00 am and 7:00 pm, with a daily regimen of 10 raw vegetables, five pieces of fresh fruit and six to eight hard-boiled egg whites, or fresh fish, for protein. In short, Jack La Lanne still walks his talk, and he’s got more passion for health than fitness pros one-quarter his age.

“If something saved your life, wouldn’t you be enthusiastic about it?” he asks, with a “duh” tone that says he can’t really understand how anyone could not be as intense about fitness as he is. “When I was young, I had blinding headaches and an uncontrollable temper. I had a mastoid [a bony structure behind the ear] so painful that I tried to kill my brother. I tried to burn down the house. I felt I was psycho when I was a kid, but then I started exercising and eating right, and it saved my life. So now I want to save everyone’s life. When I started, I had one dream: to have every man, woman and child eating right and exercising every day.”

In 1936, when La Lanne was just 21, he opened the nation’s first modern health studio in Oakland, California. “You can’t believe what I went through—everyone thought I was a crackpot. I was 40 years ahead of my time,” La Lanne says. “The doctors were against me—they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive. Varsity coaches banned their athletes from lifting weights; I had to give the athletes keys so they could sneak into the gym at night!”

La Lanne was relentless in his drive to change Americans’ lifestyle habits. He’s credited with the invention of many exercises, among them the jumping jack. He developed the first models of exercise equipment used in spas today, including the first leg extension machine, the first pulley machines and the first weight selectors. At age 40, he swam the length of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge underwater with 140 pounds of equipment, setting a world record. Two years later, he set another world record by doing 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes on national television. At age 70, handcuffed and with feet shackled, he towed 70 boats with 70 people for 11/2 miles in the Long Beach, California, harbor. In 1951, The Jack La Lanne Show, the country’s first television show about fitness, made its debut. Critics were certain the series would die in 6 weeks; it lasted 34 years.

La Lanne advises IDEA fitness professionals to make a difference in local schools and communities. “There’s still so much to be done in this industry,” he says. “Health has to be a way of life, and it has to start in kindergarten. We need to take junk food out of schools and put compulsory physical education back in. We also need to get exercise into every company and every senior center. Healthy living should be the thing to do, not once in a while, but every single day.”

La Lanne adds that fitness pros must be strong role models and encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and their health. “People need to know that it’s never too late to get healthier and there are no excuses. If you’re watching TV, you can do bicycling motions with your legs during commercials and get 12 minutes of exercise in every hour! People need to know that attitude is what matters. If you’re not happy at this very moment, why aren’t you? Nobody’s going to do it for you. Life is a pain in the backside—you have to work at it! Forget the good old days. The only time that matters is this very second, and what you do with it is up to you.”

Fitness Journal, Volume 4, Issue 3

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© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Mary Monroe

Mary Monroe IDEA Author/Presenter

Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area.