Showing no signs that there is any exaggeration in his slogan, "I can't die. It would ruin my image," Jack LaLanne celebrated his 90th birthday on September 26th, looking as spry and fit as a man half his age. And
if you were to ask him how old he feels, his response would be "29,"
the prime age of a man in terms of fitness.
LaLanne, as most of you probably know, was the person that almost
single-handedly popularized weight training as a means of general
conditioning. He also opened the first gym in America in 1936. In 1951,
he brought fitness into American homes with The Jack LaLanne Show,
which remained on the air for more than 30 years.
On his show, LaLanne showed viewers how to exercise using items found
in any household. Since you can find general information on LaLanne on
many Web sites, we'll celebrate his birthday by listing some of what I
consider to be the more entertaining highlights of his iconoclastic
career. Explaining the age estimation mentioned above, LaLanne once
devised a scale where you could compute your "fitness age."
Since this scale topped out at 29, he always claimed he was really 29.
A few years back on the Larry King Show, Jack could barely sit still
for the interview (giving the impression that he rarely sits still) and
prodded—literally—King to ask him his fitness age. When King finally
took the bait, Jack exclaimed, "Twenty-nine!" When he first started
out, LaLanne had a very hard time getting anyone to pay attention to
him and was referred to as a "muscle-bound charlatan."
Desperate for work, he made a deal with the coach of a local college
football team that if he could impress the coach, he'd be allowed to
train the players. Meeting up at a steep sandy bluff, LaLanne put the
team's largest player on his back and sprinted straight up the hill. He
got the job, and the rest is history.
A proponent of supplementation, LaLanne takes hundreds of vitamins and
supplements daily. Though one of these is desiccated liver, his diet is
mainly vegetarian, and on his Web site you can purchase a juicer along
with various recipes for natural concoctions. Jack's diet advice is,
"If man makes it, don't eat it." His birthday challenges are legendary
and almost none of them have been repeated. My favorite is the one on
his 70th birthday, where he pulled 70 people in 70 boats across Long
Beach Harbor (around 2 miles), while swimming with his hands and feet
shackled. Responding to one interviewer who seemed incredulous, he
said, "[I swam] like a dolphin [showing a dolphin motion]. They don't
have hands or feet." He also pulled a barge loaded with 2,000 pounds
the length of the Golden Gate Bridge while swimming underwater. It's
very hard to generate force this way—unless you are a dolphin. He
wanted to top this off by swimming entirely underwater from Catalina
Island to Los Angeles, about 26 miles, but had to call it off because,
he said, "My wife told me she'd leave me if I tried it."
In an edgy Outside magazine article written by Donald Katz, the
always-quotable LaLanne pooh-poohed a lot of modern training
"knowledge" with some gems, including saying Suzanne Somers "should
have been thrown in jail" for peddling the ThighMaster as a fitness
solution and that Tony Little was an embarrassment: ". . . the guy who
screams on TV. He's like an imbecile!"
But my favorite was his critique of modern sports medicine that
included, "Fifteen minutes to warm up! Does a lion warm up when he's
hungry? 'Uh-oh, here comes an antelope. Better warm up.' No! He just
goes out and eats the sucker. You gotta get the blood circulating, but
s#%t, does the lion cool down? No, he eats the sucker and goes to
For years, he offered up $10,000 to anyone who could keep up with him
for a one-hour workout. In his mid-eighties, he allowed a fitness
magazine writer to take him up on the challenge, even though he no
longer publicly offered it. When the author first saw him, as he stated
in the article, he thought it would be easy money, noting that Jack
resembled his grandfather. The next line was something like, "We're not
quite done with the warm-up, less than five minutes in, and I'm about
LaLanne then went on to outlift him by an average of 50 pounds on each
exercise. At the end of the workout, they got into Jack's 55-degree
pool where the writer was harnessed to the wall and told to butterfly.
He stopped after about a minute, totally out of breath, only to hear,
"I used to do that for an hour every morning." Now 90, LaLanne isn't
about to slow down and you still hear scuttlebutt around the fitness
world of the Catalina-to-LA swim. He calls retirement "a death knell."
"You've got to work at living," he always says. "99.9% of Americans
work at dying!"
Check out the more recent interview of Jack on his 96th birthday in the "videos" section!
Let’s live life to the fullest and give it our extreme best.