Also known as Francois Henri LaLanne, the "Godfather of fitness." His career in the field spans more than seventy years. At the time of writing ninety-two, LaLanne claims to have begun exercising and eating a healthy diet at the age of fifteen, at which time he considered himself to be a weak, sugarholic junk-food junkie. Suffering from bulimia and headaches, LaLanne decided to get healthy after his father's early death, which was caused in part by poor nutrition (Gentle 2000). LaLanne claims that he was inspired by Paul Bragg, a pioneer nutritionist, who promised him that if he exercised and ate a proper diet, he could regain his health. Highly impressed by Bragg's advice and theories, he cut out sweets and began to exercise. This strict regime helped make him, as he claims, into one of the world's healthiest and finest built men. His muscular development at 5 foot 7 inches, 175 pounds was symmetrical, making him look good from any angle, with especially well-developed abdominals. After seven years of vegetarianism, he slowly reintroduced meat protein to his diet but continued to stay low on carbohydrates, making sure his meals contained all the required vitamins and minerals, through plenty of fruits and vegetables (Gentle 2000).
In 1936, LaLanne became part of a new movement of exercise and diet as part of body reform. He opened the nation's first modern health studio, the Jack LaLanne Physical Culture Studio in Oakland, in 1936. This studio prefigured modern health clubs in many ways, combining a gym, juice bar, and health-food store. At a time when doctors claimed weight-lifting would cause heart attacks and coaches predicted their athletes would become muscle-bound and banned the activity, LaLanne gave athletes keys to his facility so they could work out at night (Gentle 2000). He has since claimed, "Time has proven that what I was doing was scientifically correct— starting with a healthy diet followed by systematic exercise, and today everyone knows it. All world class athletes now work out with weights, as do many members of the general public, both male and female" (LaLanne 1997).
LaLanne also developed many of the first prototypes of exercise equipment used in most modern-day gyms, including the first leg-extension machine, the first pulley machines using cables, and the first weight selectors (Gentle 2000). He eventually opened a chain of gyms (later licensed to Bally) and, in 1951, launched his fitness show. From a sparse set with only a handful of props, LaLanne showed the folks at home how he got—and stayed—strong. "Viewers could see I knew what I was talking about," says LaLanne. The Jack LaLanne Show enjoyed immense popularity with viewers and aired for thirty-four years.
As fitness moved into the mainstream during the 1980s, a new generation of instructors promised dramatic results fast, and LaLanne's show, which focused on the fundamentals, was canceled. He became an info-mercial staple, hawking high-powered juicers—so far, he's sold more than a million of the 150-dollar machines (Gentle 2000). However, LaLanne continues to extol the virtues of diet and, most importantly, exercise to his fans and followers. He explains,
You can eat perfectly but if you don't exercise, you cannot get by. There are so many health food nuts out there that eat nothing but natural foods but they don't exercise and they look terrible. Then
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there are other people who exercise like a son-of-a-gun but eat a lot of junk. They look pretty good because the exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you've got a kingdom!
Some of LaLanne's most public feats of stamina include 1,033 pushups in twenty-three minutes in 1956, setting a world record at the age of forty-two on You Asked for It, a television show with Art Baker. In 1959, he also completed 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chinups in one hour and twenty-two minutes at the age of forty-five (Gentle 2000). At the age of ninety-two, LaLanne continues to exercise routinely and encourages people of all ages to do the same. He has made recent appearances on talk shows such as the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC, and he was also commemorated on his ninety-second birthday on Pardon the Interruption, a sports commentary/talk show on ESPN.
SLG/Jason Weinstein See also Anorexia; Macfadden; Vegetarianism
References and Further Reading
Anon. (1994) "Jack LaLanne," Current Biography 55 (10): 26-30.
Anon. (2000) "LaLanne, Jack," in Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast (eds), St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, five vols, Detroit, Mich.: St. James Press.
Gentle, David (2000) "King of Fitness, Jack Lalanne," NaturalStrength.com, June 30, available online at <http://www.naturalstrength.com/history/detail. asp?ArticleID=3i6> (accessed March 7, 2006).
Katz, Donald (1995) "Jack Lalanne Is Still an Animal," Outside Magazine, November, available online at <http://outside.away.com/magazine/1195/11f_jack-.html> (accessed March 7, 2007).
Kolata, Gina (2002) "Ageless Apostle of Muscle," New York Times, November i9.
LaLanne, Jack (1997) The Official Jack LaLanne World Wide Web Site, available online at <http:// www.jacklalanne.com> (accessed March 7, 2007).
Ottum, Bob (1981) "Look, Mom, I'm an Institution (Jack Lalanne)," Sports Illustrated 55 (November 23): 64-9.
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