The good old days of fitness…weren’t. They were full of judgement and practices far worse than today (The Biggest Loser, with your extreme and unsustainable methods, we’re looking at you). Yet exceptions exist. One was Jack LaLanne.

LaLanne was a fitness innovator. He came on the scene as technology was allowing Americans to become more sedentary and convinced people of the benefits of regular exercise. He opened one of the first weightlifting gyms in the U.S. in Oakland in 1936. Many medical experts of the time scoffed. They alleged that lifting weights would cause hemorrhoids and erectile dysfunction, that women would look like
men and that athletes would become muscle-bound.

LaLanne inspired people with amazing physical feats to show what a body could do. When he was 42, he did 1,033 push-ups in only 23 minutes. On his 70th birthday he swam a mile through the strong currents of Long Beach Harbor. While towing 70 rowboats carrying 70 people. While handcuffed.

LaLanne was motivated to help others because he had experience being both physically and mentally unhealthy. As a teen he described himself as a “junk food junkie” who suffered from bulimia. He lacked direction, dropped out of school at 14, and was prone to episodes of violence. “I was a miserable goddamn kid,” LaLanne said. “It was hell.” LaLanne’s father died at the age of 50 from heart disease, but the young man was inspired by a lecture on diet and exercise. It changed his life—then he changed the lives of many others.

LaLanne broke new ground in fitness, and people paid attention to him because of it. He completed these feats seemingly as a challenge to the rest of the world that said, “Let’s see you do that!” And he really did want us to do that. His TV show began broadcasting locally in San Francisco on September 28, 1951, and was nationally syndicated in 1959, running until 1985. It was enthusiastic and inclusive, encouraging people to do what they could, to seek enjoyment in movement and healthier eating. LaLanne often spoke of how exercise was supposed to be enjoyable, not some endless, swear-word-inducing drudgery. His ever-present smile spoke volumes, and his exuberance for fitness inspired many. LaLanne taught us that if you didn’t use it, you were going to lose it. But he also worked to convince many older people that if they had lost it, it was never too late to get it back.

LaLanne lived for 96 years and was active, spry and almost superhuman right up to the end.

Let’s see you do that.  

Photo of Jack LaLanne in Elaine LaLanne’s book, “Pride and Discipline/The Legacy of Jack LaLanne”.

You may also like: Five Questions to Ask When Hiring a Personal Trainer

IMPACT Magazine Inspiration Issue

Read This Story in Our 2024 Inspiration Issue
Read about our 2024 Canada’s Top Fitness Trainers – our top 30 from across Canada! How to Hire a Personal Trainer, The Dangers of Overtraining, Return to Running After Illness, Easy Vegan Garlic Noodles and more!