Jack LaLanne: The First Fitness Superhero

Photo: ZUMA Press.

When a 21-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger first came to America in 1968, he witnessed 54-year-old Jack LaLanne down on Venice Beach in California doing thousands of push-ups and chin-ups. A challenge was declared — and Arnold, the youngest Mr. Universe at the time, went on to lose. Badly.

"I beat him in chin-ups and push-ups," LaLanne says. "He said, 'That Jack LaLanne's an animal! I was sore for four days. I couldn't lift my arms!' "

LaLanne, the long regarded "godfather of fitness," passed away at his home in Morro Bay, Calif., on Jan. 23 at the age of 96.

I first heard of the man years ago after he invited some fitness guru to come and attempt one of his legendary challenges filled with push-ups, chin-ups, and a host of other high-intensity workouts. LaLanne crushed him — even in his late 80s.

He had an attitude described as fierce, but even Jack would tell it straight if asked. When questioned whether age ever got in the way of his goals, LaLanne once said:

"I train like I'm training for the Olympics or for a Mr. America contest, the way I've always trained my whole life. You see, life is a battlefield. Life is survival of the fittest. How many healthy people do you know? How many happy people do you know? Think about it. People work at dying, they don't work at living. My workout is my obligation to life. It's my tranquilizer. It's part of the way I tell the truth — and telling the truth is what's kept me going all these years."

LaLanne, who was known for doing 1,033 push-ups in 30 minutes — and also reportedly inspired the "Jumping Jack," was one of the first fitness legends to talk about eating healthy. He was "mostly vegetarian," avoided dairy products, and only occasionally had egg whites or a bite of fish.

"Look at the average American diet: ice cream, butter, cheese, whole milk, all this fat," he said. "People don't realize how much of this stuff you get by the end of the day. High blood pressure is from all this high-fat eating. Do you know how many calories are in butter and cheese and ice cream? Would you get your dog up in the morning for a cup of coffee and a donut? Probably millions of Americans got up this morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a donut. No wonder they are sick and fouled up."

In terms of organic food, Jack thought that while pursuing that option was fine, in his opinion, exercise should be a greater concern for people.

"It's [organic food] a bunch of bull," he said. "How do you know what's really organic? Today, there's all these impurities in the water and the air. The water for the fruits and vegetables has junk in it. If you get enough vitamins and minerals out of normal food and whole grains, and you get enough proteins and exercise (that's the key), then nature builds up a tolerance to all of these things. It's survival of the fittest. You can't have everything perfect, that's impossible, but the fit survive."

In a world rich with quick weight-loss schemes and expensive gizmos designed to tone and shape our forms, it's refreshing to know that LaLanne never took the easy way out. Over 96 years, he showed that a healthy diet and regular exercise are worth more than any pill or fad diet. More than that, however, was a "grab the bull by the horns" attitude that defined his teachings and inspired generations.

Said Jack, "I don't care how old I live; I just want to be LIVING while I am living!"

Thank you, Jack, for the inspiration, exercise tips, and healthy living advice. You will be missed.

Quotes via ShareGuide