Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Feb

Here’s to Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne died last week. He was 96, still a bit sweaty from his morning workout when they found him, and had a vicegrip of a handshake that could crush a man half his age – even on his deathbed. Old farmers had nothing on his grip.

Jack’s TV show was one of my first exposures to the world of fitness, or, as he put it, physical culture. Growing up in New England, I had spent my days exploring the adjacent backwoods, climbing trees, skinning knees, and getting into trouble, but I wasn’t “working out.” I had no concept of it. I was just doing what felt right and what was fun, and most kids did the same. Jack LaLanne introduced us to the formal concept of physical fitness. He was one of the first to realize that the childhood impulse toward physicality and movement needed to be nurtured and developed in adulthood. I still remember sitting in a chair in front of the TV doing knees-to-chests, just like Jack.

Still, something wasn’t quite right, I thought. Here Jack would be doing relatively light exercises on camera – jumping jacks, jogging in place, various full body movements without weights – but he was completely ripped. I mean, he was huge, especially for the time. Big chest, lats like wings that rivaled Bruce Lee’s, a thin waist, biceps like softballs. The guy obviously didn’t get that body doing the workouts he was showing us. He was keeping the good stuff secret. There had to be an entire other world of exercise lurking out there, and I knew it was a whole lot more intense than what he was doing. And I wanted to know.

So I started looking. Thus began my serious pursuit of physical fitness. Jack LaLanne had it, and I wanted it. Our methods differed, of course. I gravitated toward long distance running, mostly because I was a skinny kid with a propensity for endurance, but I became convinced that pursuing excellence in physical fitness was worth doing because of Jack. I mean, fitness as a concept wasn’t even on my radar before him. It was just something you did as a kid because it was fun, and your mom and dad didn’t do because it’s just kid’s stuff.

Jack changed all that. Yeah, LaLanne wasn’t Primal, but we had more in common than you might suspect:

He famously said “If man made it, hate it.” Jack only ate real, whole food and never touched refined sugar. He shunned red meat late in life and ate egg whites, lean meats (mostly fish) and whole grains, but his emphasis on real food is notable.

He worked out every morning in a fasted state before breakfast and ate just twice a day.

He wore ballet flats that might as well have been barefoot shoes.

Before we had easy access to reams of medical journals featuring research on the link between physical activity and brain function, Jack intuitively knew exercise was about mental fitness and psychological well-being as much as it was about physical fitness. A constant refrain of his was that people were unhappy, unfit, and messed up because we had forgotten how to move and live naturally.

He bucked Conventional Wisdom. All the experts insisted that weight training made athletes slow and bulky, turned women into man-beasts, and was bad for older people, heart disease patients, and the libido. We know this to be nonsense, but it was “truth” sixty years ago. And it might still be if Jack hadn’t opened up the nation’s first gym in 1936, popularized strength training, and got a nation of women interested in fitness.

He fed his dog, Happy, raw ground beef and liver every day.

He valued quality over quantity. “I really don’t give a damn how long I live, but I want to live while I’m living.”

Besides all the overlaps with Primal living and not even taking into account his famous feats of strength (beating Arnold in a chinup and pushup contest at Muscle Beach, towing a fleet of 70 ships across the Long Beach Harbor at age 70) , Jack LaLanne was just an awesome dude.

He had a penchant for sexual innuendo. Check out his seemingly throwaway comment on the famous fingertip pushup video, and note his preceding form: “Get your husband to try it tonight, but not you.” And then there’s his extremely explicit Playboy interview from 1984.

He influenced my disdain for the overly complicated and drawn-out warmup: “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.”

Only he could pull off those skintight sleeveless jump suits (paired with those amazing ballet slippers, of course). Actually, this is probably, literally true; LaLanne had to get his jumpsuits tailor made because his body proportions were so exaggerated.

The man was a force to be reckoned with. He was an admitted zealot, a self-described health and fitness nut who, when asked how long he’d live, replied, “The earth will go first.” I will say that he seemed to have a poor opinion of human nature. He seemed to buy into the notion that we are savage beasts, constantly struggling against our animal natures, whether it was lust for drugs or junk food or booze or meat – and copious amounts of training and ironclad discipline and willpower were his buffers against that side of himself. I think for someone who can pull it off and keep it up, the draconian self-regulation works, but I think it can be harmful for a lot of people, especially when they fail or slip up. And that’s his other legacy, one that I shy away from, personally.

In the end, though, all of us involved in physical culture, diet, and health – we’re all fighting for the same goal. Our methods may differ slightly or massively, we may be vegans or full-blown carnivores, but we can all find common ground. Jack LaLanne wouldn’t have agreed with a lot of what I have to say, and I bet he would have agreed that my cookbook was one of the year’s unhealthiest, but we were both trying to make people healthier, happier, and stronger.

Well, Jack, you’re gone and the earth remains, but it’s just not the same. Here’s to you. I’ll toss an egg yolk in your honor.

nathancremisino Flickr Photo (CC)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Rest in peace.

    Carson Rossen wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • What are your thoughts on the health benefits or lack thereof of drinking alkaline water or its benefits in regards to cancer?

      erin wrote on August 29th, 2011
  2. Excellent piece Mark. I’m very glad you wrote this. RIP Jack Lalanne.

    mlkrone wrote on February 1st, 2011
  3. Excellent post, and he absolutely deserved it (don’t even get me started on that NYT article!). I was born after Jack LaLanne’s show went off the air, but I watched a bunch of the reruns online after I went Primal. And I remember thinking the same thing – “seriously, what does this guy ACTUALLY do?” He looked like a Greek God!

    Jim Arkus wrote on February 1st, 2011
  4. The Playboy interview is really interesting. Thanks for adding that.

    SuperMike wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • Yes. It is very interesting. It may be a little explicit but there is a lot of quality information in there.

      Does anyone know why he started to eat grains?

      Primal Toad wrote on February 1st, 2011
  5. From that playboy interview he only really got into grains when he was in his 70’s. I wonder what that did to him health wise.

    Ryan wrote on February 1st, 2011
  6. I remember as a kid, trying to emulate Jack LaLanne while standing it front of the idiot tube – he was truly an icon and an inspiration – he must have done somethin’ right lasting and healthy (and virile!) till 96, yes?
    Hopefully our direction here is “standing on his shoulders”
    RIP Jack…

    DaiaRavi wrote on February 1st, 2011
  7. He did steroids =/

    Jester wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • Really? Any evidence of that?

      “Share Guide: You never did that in your body building days, did you?

      Jack LaLanne: No, never. When I was entering Mr. America and other contests, all that junk was just becoming available. I wouldn’t do that—no way. ”

      Carl wrote on February 1st, 2011
      • Well he didn’t object to marijuana or cocaine so I doubt steroids held much fear for him. He certainly never condemned Arnie for taking them.

        Jgrey wrote on February 1st, 2011
        • Ah, DEFINITIVE PROOF that Jack took steroids. Thanks for setting us straight.

          pj wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • Another fantastic interview. Jack LaLanne was such a great man. Rest in peace!

        Primal Toad wrote on February 1st, 2011
  8. Jack’s gone but, never forgotten and will live on in those wonderful clips from his show. What quality he was.

    primal tree top wrote on February 1st, 2011
  9. Mark, I’m SO glad you did a piece on Jack. I was strangely saddened last week when I heard he’d died. I guess because I used to watch him so much when I was a kid (I think you and I are about the same age).

    He really was ahead of his time, wasn’t he?

    I saw a cartoon tribute to him last week in which he’d accidently ripped one of the pearly gates off it’s hinges…. :-)

    wilberfan wrote on February 1st, 2011
  10. i loved, at 5, doing push ups with jack! and his wife! and my mother was right next to me, smoking her cigarette between a jumping jack or two. which at the time, didn’t seem so out of the ordinary.

    tracy wrote on February 1st, 2011
  11. Before Jack came along, common wisdom was that cardio would give you a heart attack, and weight training would make you impotent. He was an educator and an inspiration! He was the first fitness guru, and all those who come after him, owe him a debt, and honor. Good on ya, Mark… Good on ya.

    Poppabear wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • First fitness guru? Hold on there.
      Most people don’t know that it was
      Paul Bragg who pull a young 14yo
      Jack from the gutter of sickness,
      and turned his life around. No
      disrespect to Jack, But if wasn’t
      for Paul, Jack wouldn’t be who he
      was today. Rest in peace to both
      the forefathers of health and
      fitness, Paul Brag and Jack LaLanne.

      keithallenlaw wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • What about the ancient Greeks and the Minoans before them? They all left evidence of a fitness culture. They left us the Olympic Games.

        Jack was great, though. I grew up watching him, too. RIP, Jack LaLanne — Thanks for all you did for the health and fitness movement!

        Paul Kemp wrote on February 5th, 2011
      • “I” knew that. Was interested in Paul Bragg since the 1970’s AND I found out later that Jack was dragged to one of Paul’s seminars. They were late so Jack had to sit on the stage – in the corner of it. It changed his life, he said. Jack was a “baddie”. I think he tried to burn a house down or something to the effect, he said. Interesting: My mother was born the same day and year as Jack. She lived just as long…..

        June wrote on April 7th, 2012
  12. Oh boy, am I’m going to greatly miss the robust old Jack Lalanne! I did not know he died last week. Well, actually I was wondering if he was still alive. I hope he’s in the very presence of the Most High God, the creator of all things. I loved the way Jack did not allow age to stop him, that was great! Only death stopped him unfortunately. We’ll missed you Jack.

    Candice Sparks wrote on February 1st, 2011
  13. Heard he died of “the old man’s best friend” — pneumonia. That confuses me, if true.

    What a great guy…..

    Thanks for the obit, Mark; done with heart and rhythm.

    Ross wrote on February 1st, 2011
  14. Well done sir. A fitting tribute.

    We will miss you greatly, Mr. Lalanne. Further proof that aging is largely a result of society, not years.

    fritzy wrote on February 1st, 2011
  15. Mark, I wondered when you would comment on LaLanne’s passing. He was a force that took on all comers with a passion and a certainty made you a believer. While some of what he advocated goes against the primal lifestyle, much was right on target–bodyweight exercises, movement, real foods, and play.

    He lived the kind of life for which we should all strive–a life of purpose and passion, long and vibrant to the very end.

    Kent Hawley wrote on February 1st, 2011
  16. Mark,

    Great obit for Jack. Clearly he was a fitness/health visionary with a little bit of PT Barnum mixed in.

    And, thank you for pointing out the dark side of his philosophy as well. The concept of will-power is a throwback to another time, and as you said, harmful to many people. You have to balance any man’s life, and I think you did so in an authentic, classy manner.

    Mofrobeat wrote on February 1st, 2011
  17. I find it interesting that no one mentions that he was a chiropractor and that getting adjusted on a regular basis played a huge role in his health and life.

    Kresimir Jug DC wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • Too bad the whole “chiropractic” thing and spine alignment stuff is a load of BS.

      Maxx wrote on February 1st, 2011
      • Maybe, but they can still get results. I had a pain in my side that would not go away at all after a rough day of jiu-jitsu, and my doctor couldn’t fix me, nor could the physical therapist to whom she sent me. It wasn’t until I saw a chiropractor that I got healed, something about a disk in my back being misaligned or something. Anyway, it cleared up in a few days after he did his thing.

        Calvin wrote on February 1st, 2011
      • So not true buddy. I have literally walked into a chiropractors office bent over like a 90 year old woman with osteoporsis and walked out upright..the results were always amazing…

        Janine wrote on February 1st, 2011
        • Curative aspects of chiro work – they have to or else no one would see them for back pains, etc… it’s the disease-prevention stuff that’s pseudoscience – the guy that invented chiropracty believed all modern diseases was caused by a misaligned spine, or by damage that only chiros can detect

          mm wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • Whether some of the more esoteric claims of chiropractic are true, I couldn’t say.

        But if your back or neck is out, they can pop it right back where it belongs, and it will stop hurting.

        fitmom wrote on February 1st, 2011
      • Too bad so many are tied to conventional wisdom and the load of BS in their closed minds.

        That “chiropractic” spine alignment thingy has worked for my back pain where specialist docs, drugs, and therapists have all failed.

        Asturian wrote on February 2nd, 2011
      • In 1994 a 3000 person retrospective study at Cal Irvine Medical School showed that people receiving Network (A gentle chiropractic technique) had improvement in over 100 areas of quality of life…physically, emotionally, mentally and primarily their ability to deal with stress. Doesn’t sound like BS to me.

        chiromom wrote on February 2nd, 2011
      • Some chiropractors are full of crap. You have to find a good chiropractor just like you need to find a food MD or other problems/ diagnosis. Making a blanket statement is ridiculous. If you pinch a nerve you will have problems. Some chiropractors may overexaderate the importance of getting adjusted. But spinal rehab is no joke. Correcting the curve in a person neck has been shown time and time again to improve health by taking pressure off the brain stem. Foward head posture is horrible. It would be like trying to straighten out a banana(snap). Chiropractic is an outstanding tool. Many MDs and CHiropractor and physical therapist work together and exchange patients and see multiplied results. The only problem i see at some offices is that they do not explain the importance of exercise and nutrition. Without propper nutrition you cannot heal bones and cartilage and without propper exercise you cannot permanently correct posture and protect health.

        kevin wrote on February 2nd, 2011
        • Agreed.

          Some people are full of crap all the time, and all of the people may be full of crap some of the time, but NOT all people are full of crap all of the time.

          However, my experience with chiropractors is that they are much more in tune with practical nutrition than the typical MD and their nutritionist/dietician referral specialists. Some chiros may adhere to some CW nonsense about “whole” grains over “processed” grain but just about all do encourage avoidance of sweets and other obvious SAD food toxins. My current chiro is for low-carb non-grain based diet (more like paleo than primal).

          The therapy includes deep tissue message and accupuncture/accupressure techniques in addition to skeletal adjustments. I will admit that my chiro is kind of weird about the drinking ionized alkaline water crap.

          Asturian wrote on February 3rd, 2011
        • my chiro is from the nutritional school of Weston Price.


          PHK wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • I am pain free because of chiropractic care! I have regular adjustments and am rarely sick. It is common sense that if something is out of place (subluxation) that it needs to be put back where it belongs. You need to open your mind, grasshopper.

        Kate Schwan wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I didn’t realize he was a DC. I knew he was a ardent advocate and supporter of chiropractic. Thanks for that info.

      chiromom wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  18. My mother used to watch Jack every day when I was little. I thought he looked like a spaceman in that jumpsuit.

    John wrote on February 1st, 2011
  19. I really enjoyed this piece. From over the pond as I am (and a little younger than some!) I wasn’t aware of him at all. I watched the Youtube and then read the Playboy article and you can hear him speaking through the text!

    What a character.

    Kelda wrote on February 1st, 2011
  20. I’m pretty sure Jack also said, “if it tastes good, spit it out.” I know what he was going for, but really, did he ever try bacon?

    PartyLikeAGrokstar wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • Haha probably not. Seems like he was on the low-fat wagon!

      Rhys wrote on February 1st, 2011
  21. He was quite a character around town in Morro Bay where he and Elaine retired. He would ask the waitresses at the local restraunt to marry him at least once a week! Last mothers day we went to brunch and he was there sipping mimosas and going from table to table kissing all the moms. His grip was truely strong for sure!

    Dave wrote on February 1st, 2011
  22. Mark me down as another that watched him in the morning, before Captain Kangaroo.
    He was truly a class act. Thank you Jack for keeping real & simple.
    Carry on the legacy!

    Peggy wrote on February 1st, 2011
  23. Was hoping you’d chime in on ol’ Jack. Quite the character, he was. I’ve used a photo of him for inspiration for awhile now. He’s in his late 80’s with his body about 6 inches off the ground, nothing but his toes and fingertips touching down.

    Truly inspirational. Thanks for your take, Mark!

    Glenn Dixon wrote on February 1st, 2011
  24. I did not know he wore ballet slippers. That is really interesting. I’ve pondered getting ballet slippers or similar for the gym.

    Eric wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • I think back then they were thought of as “gymnast shoes”. Maybe they still are!

      Barb wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • I’ve actually seen people wearing these at the gym. Seems like they’re coming back.

      John wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  25. wilberfan wrote on February 1st, 2011
  26. Check out this Lalanne meal plan from the 50s:

    It’s 80% primal, with no cereal, no starchy vegetables and only one bread in day and a little dairy.

    But to go back another generation with this, you need to check out Bernarr MacFadden, who started “Physical Culture” magazine in 1899, founded health clubs, advocating long walks as the best exercise and fasted one day per week. Most of what is described as paleo today existed in various forms in the 19th and early 20th century, although there was no science behind it.

    Dragline wrote on February 1st, 2011
  27. Wow, had no idea how handsome he was! Love the finger-tip pushup.

    Danielle wrote on February 1st, 2011
  28. RIP Jack Lalanne I loved the guy in the videos from the 1960s.
    bit disappointed by the playboy interview though.

    Question: if he “didn’t get that body doing the workouts he was showing us”, does that mean Mark you aren’t giving out all your secrets either? the WOW stuff seems a bit soft to me 😛

    oliverh wrote on February 1st, 2011
  29. I’m old enough to remember watching him on a black and white television set … he was a giant.

    rob wrote on February 1st, 2011
  30. Glad you did a more indepth post rather than a few paragraphs I’ve read in a few other places as I wanted to know more about Jack. He got pneumonia after having some surgery. That’s the risk of surgery you open your body up to germs.

    Sue wrote on February 1st, 2011
  31. I saw a twitter post, “Jack Lalanne will be carrying his own casket at his funeral”

    Jack was a legend, awesome dude!

    Jamey wrote on February 1st, 2011
  32. Damn. There was a public memorial today, too…about 2 miles from where I live! God Speed, Jack!

    wilberfan wrote on February 1st, 2011
  33. Love Jack but take issue with his quote about lions just running after their prey. For the most part, they don’t. They wait and stalk for awhile before chasing and pouncing. Stalking is a natural prelude to a chase. Big cats are equipped for bursts of speed, not distance.

    Sonagi wrote on February 1st, 2011
  34. I remember articles in Vogue as well as various other womens’ magazines stating that if a woman wanted to achieve optimum fitness, to just push the vacuum cleaner harder and faster, do big circles with the arms while scrubbing the tub, etc. (I am 62…the articles were written in the mid-sixties). There were no running shoes for women, we were not allowed to run marathons (or fly airplanes)…and then one day I saw Jack Lalanne on TV…he changed my life. Then his wife joined in…she helped change the world for women, all for the better. I DID go to the Marine Corps Ball in Santa Ana with a broken toe after hitting my foot while “working out with Jack”…and in pointy-toe heels! LOVE YOU, JACK! THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL LEGACY…REST IN PEACE, AND TEACH THE ANGELS A FEW NEW TRICKS!

    Cj wrote on February 1st, 2011
  35. Playboy interview doesn’t open for me but if it’s anything like this bawdy, open, free-wheeling interview over at Outside, my respect for the guy just went up 100%.

    (Hope posting links on MDA ok; apologies
    if not.)

    Ross wrote on February 1st, 2011
  36. Don’t waste that egg yolk. I’ll take it.

    Lyle_S wrote on February 1st, 2011
  37. Wow I only just found out who Jack Lalanne was. What an awesome guy, yeah he hit it right on the mark with physical activity well into adulthood. It just seems to me there comes a stage in life where physical fitness seems immaterial because it doesn’t make money, but seeing how long this guy lived and how long he remained active, it’s proof fitness is cheaper than sickness.

    RIP Jack Lalanne, and thanks for yet another great example.

    Matt wrote on February 1st, 2011
  38. Jack LaLanne didn’t brush his teeth.

    He had Chuck Norris do it for him.

    dogfood wrote on February 1st, 2011

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