Jack Lalanne - The fitness Pioneer and Lord of Discipline

Jack Lalanne

Jack began in his early 20's and never stopped living the fit lifestyle.

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The leg extension machine, the calf machine and the jumping jack have all been around for so long, it seems as if they've been with us forever. Yet someone had to invent these basic tools of our sport. And that someone is Jack LaLanne.

Jack LaLanne is a household word nowadays-a name that is synonymous with fitness and good health. But it wasn't always that way. In fact, in his youth Jack was a sugar addict! Born in San Francisco in September 1914, the young Jack gave little indication of what was to come. "As a kid," he said, "I was a sugarholic - a junk food junkie! It made me weak, and it made me mean. I had boils and pimples. Little girls used to beat me up."

Then at age 15 he and his mother attended a lecture by the pioneer nutritionist Paul Bragg, who was gaining fame as a guru of health and nutrition. Bragg promised Jack that if he gave up sugar, ate well and exercised regularly he could become a shining example of physical fitness. Jack took on the challenge with his customary zeal and tenacity. Unable to participate in sports at the private school he attended, he purposely got himself kicked out so he could go to a nearby public school that had an excellent sports program. He went on to become a champion wrestler and football player in high school and committed himself to lifelong fitness. The result is the Jack LaLanne we know today.

Jack read many of the leading books on nutrition and the body, including the classic Gray's Anatomy. Once he had mastered this new knowledge, he used his savings to open one of the first gyms in the country in Oakland, California. It was 1936, and Jack was just 21 years old.

Starting a gym was not as easy then as it is now. Nearly everyone looked down on people who lifted weights. Medical doctors claimed that working out would give people heart attacks and eliminate their sex drive. Others claimed that weight training caused hemorrhoids! Coaches ordered their athletes to stay away from the weights for fear they would become muscle-bound and hurt their sports performances.

Women in particular were told to stay away from the gym so their reproductive systems would not be irreparably damaged. Working out, in fact, was so "uncool" that men and women trained at odd hours of the day so no one would see them. Yet Jack persevered. He went to high schools in the area and challenged students to improve themselves. He took skinny kids and helped them build powerful muscles. He took fat kids and slimmed them down. This turned the public's attitude around.

It was at his Oakland gym that Jack invented much of the basic exercise equipment we still use today. He developed the leg extension and calf machines, as well as the cable pulley, Roman chair and wrist roll machine. He also created a variety of exercises that people can do in their homes, including the fannie firmer, the broomstick, a variety of chair exercises and, of course, the jumping jack. (Just think, if Joe Weider had invented the jumping jack, we'd all be doing jumping joes now!) These exercises helped millions to get into the physical lifestyle and helped build the foundation for today's fitness movement.

In 1951 Jack's now-famous television show began its 25-year run. He always opened the show with jumping jacks and closed with a song. This easygoing style soon attracted millions of viewers of all ages. He also had two German shepherds on the program, Happy and Walter (We All Love To Exercise Regularly!). The show, broadcast from Los Angeles, soon made him famous throughout the country.

During the 1950's Jack competed as a bodybuilder. He was runner-up in the '54 Mr. America contest at the age of 40 and was awarded the Best Chest trophy. He also started performing his "Incredible Feats" to prove to everyone that you don't fall apart at 40. Among his feats are a world record for 100 handstand push-ups in '55 (five minutes, 20 seconds) and a world record for 1,000 chinups and 1,000 pushups in '59 (one hour, 22 minutes).

Jack is a firm believer in the power of the mind. To achieve your goals in bodybuilding (or anything else, for that matter), you need pride, confidence and discipline. He feels that there would be fewer drug problems if people understood this. "Your body is your slave," he noted, "so make it work it for you!"

Pride in your abilities (but not conceit) is the first essential step. This leads to a confidence that you can establish your direction in life. Every day you should move in the direction you have chosen, and in time you will achieve your goals. "You need to plant a seed and let it grow," he explained. "Goal achievement leads to greater confidence, so you can take on even bigger challenges in life."

Nothing comes easily, however. It takes discipline to make things happen. You simply have to decide that you won't do the things that are bad for you. Jack admitted that after all these years he still has cravings for sugar, but he asserted that "you can't give in to the cravings. You must have values. Life is not easy. It takes guts to live. Discipline is the difference between failure and success in life."

He also feels that discipline builds on itself. Once you have shown yourself that you can be disciplined, it becomes a matter of consciously deciding whether to give in to your urges. Nothing is inevitable. There is no fate. No one is forcing you to eat that candy bar. You set your goals and move with discipline and confidence toward them. Nothing can get in your way!

Bodybuilding is a lifestyle for Jack LaLanne. Exercise, he noted, builds the immune system and prevents heart disease, as well as improving your energy and sex drive. Bodybuilding is something you should continue for the rest of your life. "Get hooked on building your body and never quit," he urged. "Be proud of your body. You can do the things you could when you were younger. Results are possible at any age. It's all in your mind. Exercise actually helps prevent aging. An active life and a good diet are the true Fountain of Youth. New goals and challenges will keep you young forever!

"Your body is your most priceless possession, and the most pleasant thing in life is health. The true miracles are all inside of us, just waiting to happen. Nothing is impossible. Yet you need to focus on the events of today. Let's say you have 100 units of energy. If you spend 50 units worrying about tomorrow and 50 units preoccupied with what happened yesterday, what do you have left for today?"

Jack LaLanne maintains a strict dietary regimen. He still follows the teachings of Paul Bragg and eats only whole-grain natural foods with no sugar, salt or fat. He also stays away from red meat, caffeine and alcohol (except for an occasional glass of wine with meals). His main protein sources are egg whites, desiccated liver and yeast. Jack also developed the first protein / diet drink many years ago, and when the Carnation Company came out with Instant Breakfast, he sued the firm for infringement and won an out-of-court settlement.

Over the years Jack has developed a training system that has served him well. He feels you should train every day for the discipline it provides but never for more than an hour. This will keep you from overtraining. You should always warm up for five minutes before your workout, then train to failure while following strict form. Rest only 10 seconds between sets. Jack prefers free weights to machines because of the greater variation that is possible with dumbbells and barbells. Also, in order to keep your training fresh and stimulating, Jack recommends varying the structure of your workouts on a regular basis. For example, you could alternate between high and low numbers of repetitions and between a fast and slow performance of the exercise.

Every three weeks the workout should be changed to keep the body constantly challenged. This will also keep your training from becoming monotonous.

Jack emphasized that intensity is very important in bodybuilding. Also, you should never miss a workout. He feels he gets his best results with a two-day split on bodyparts. This, along with the one-hour daily limit on training, allows his body to fully recuperate between workouts. For aerobics and endurance he enjoys swimming and running.

Today's bodybuilders should help others get involved in physical fitness, according to Jack. They should set a positive example because people need role models nowadays. Yet we should never become satisfied with ourselves, because if we do we won't grow. We also need to keep our goals realistic so we won't get depressed and be tempted to take drugs. And forget about steroids, he said. "Taking steroids is like going to bed with a rattlesnake!"

Few people become legends in their own time. Jack LaLanne is one who has. The King of Fitness has helped millions feel the joy of exercise and has forever changed how our country looks at weightlifting. Yet he remains down to earth and glad to help. He and his wife, Elaine, still lead active lives in Morro Bay, California, and travel around the world as guest lecturers. They seem to have found the secret to happiness and eternal youth. "There's no secret, really," said Jack. "It's very simple. You can do anything if you want to!"

So what are you waiting for?


Age 40: Swam the length of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge underwater with 140 pounds of equipment including two air tanks.

Age 41: Swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco wearing handcuffs. Did a world-record 100 handstand pushups in five minutes, 20 seconds.

Age 42: Set a record of 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes on the "You Asked for It" TV show.

Age 43: Swam the Golden Gate channel, towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser. This involved fighting the cold, swift ocean currents that made the one-mile swim a 6 1/2-mile test of strength and endurance.

Age 44: Maneuvered a paddle-board 30 miles nonstop from the Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore in 9 1/2 hours.

Age 45: Completed 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chinups in one hour, 22 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 while handcuffed, shackled and towing a 2,000-pound boat against heavy tides.

Age 62: To commemorate the "Spirit of '76," in 1976 swam one mile in Long Beach Harbor handcuffed, shackled and towing 13 boats (representing the original 13 colonies) containing 76 people.

Age 65: In Lake Ashinoko, Tokyo, Japan, towed 65 boats filled with 6,500 pounds of cargo while handcuffed and shackled.

Age 66: In North Miami, Florida, towed 10 boats filled with 77 persons for more than a mile in less than an hour.

Age 70: While handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents, towed 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen's Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary (a distance of 1 1/2 miles).

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