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. RIP.

    but i heard in recent years, he switched to a mostly plant diet?

    PHK wrote on February 1st, 2011
  2. I am sad today. He is the standard of exercise extreme and helped me immensely on my journey. Check out Google images for Jack at 71. He looks great. Muscular etc. He is still espousing a meat, eggs, fat diet. He later got taken down by the lipid hypothesis like the rest of us. Started juicing…(sugar)…eating skinless chicken breasts and salads. Quickly became just as old as many other people who never exercised. SAD. I loved him in all his glorious nuttiness. I hate Ancel Keyes and the crooks who convinced Jack the Giant to give up his eating beliefs (You Tube and you will hear him talk about steak, eggs, etc.) and follow their road to unwellness. A SAD day for me, but not a SAD day for eating. Long live the memory of Jack the Giant.

    andre Chimene wrote on February 1st, 2011
  3. the comment about lion warming up is LOL.

    reminds me of a book by a martial art trainer, he said something like

    flexibility without usage is useless. a martial artist should be combat ready at all time. imagine telling your opponent, “wait for me for 5 minutes to warm up so i can kick high!”

    (that was before i switched diet but somehow it just stuck.)


    PHK wrote on February 1st, 2011
  4. I like the guy; he always practiced what he preached.

    Ed Johnson wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  5. I have to confess that I had to look up his name and read his biography, as I sadly had never heard of him before.

    What a man and what an amazing life. RIP Jack.

    kim wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  6. Mark,
    Great post! Jack was a great inspiration to all of us and I totally agree that although everyone’s methods or nutritional beliefs may be different we all are looking for the same outcome. Here’s to a fitter tomorrow!

    Regie Rieder wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  7. He wrote a book, “Live Young Forever”, that was quite an eye opener. Up until about age 14 he was a sickly, scrawny sugar junkie. That sugar addiction added to his own hyper personality, causing him to be continually in trouble, picking fights, etc.
    He went to a lecture on healthy living and it turned his life around. He threw himself into it, trying some weird things, but eventually found what worked for him.
    We need more like him. He should have been on the President’s Council for Physical Fitness all those years, along with Arnold.
    The fact is, as a nation we’ve just become lazy. I help teach Tae Kwon Do and the lack of fitness and coordination of the kids there is appalling. I wasn’t any shining example of fitness as a child, but I could at least play leap frog. We have kids do that in our classes, but so many of them go over their crouched classmates without ever getting both feet off the mat.
    I’ve also read reports that military recruiters are having a hard time finding teenagers fit enough to induct.

    Gary wrote on February 2nd, 2011
    • I’ve read that up to 1/3 of the 17-24 year olds in the US are too fat to enlist making our country’s weight a national security issue.

      chiromom wrote on February 2nd, 2011
      • According to what I’ve read, this was a complaint all the way back in WWI.

        Barbara Saunders wrote on February 2nd, 2011
        • really?

          mm wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  8. A great tribute to a great man! Thanks, Mark.

    skeedaddy wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  9. Well said Mark. Easier for us to see him as a visionary in hindsight than people could see at the time.

    ScullerX wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  10. You haven’t heard of him? His infomercials for his juicer, featuring him and his wife, are ALL OVER the place. He opened the first gym in the country. And to the reply about the lion…for crying out loud, stop splitting hairs. It was for fun!

    Cj wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  11. I can’t tell you how glad I am to see this blog. Jack Lalanne always was, and always will be my hero. And in my opinion he was (it is still unreal to me that he did die) proof of the validity of the Paleo way of life. I cherish his book more than anything in the world, and the more I look into Jack, the clearer it becomes he did live a mostly Paleo lifestyle and anything that wasn’t was posing, because he was also a salesmen. Most of his meals consisted of fresh meats and veggies and desserts were just fruit and juices(looking at all pictures of him cooking I never saw bread, just salads, veggies and meat). Even in his book (live young forever), in the sections on veggies pages and pages were dedicated, where as like 3 were dedicated to grains. He knew what was up, he just didn’t want to take on the conventional wisdom too much, in my opinion of course. With that said, I’m rambling, I’m sorry to see him go, he was a man WAY ahead of his time and the one person who showed us how you can live if you dedicate yourself properly to a healthy lifestyle, one that all of us here at least have the power and knowledge to follow.

    Jeff wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  12. Fav line from Jack Lalanne: (at age 93)
    “My wife and I have sex almost everyday. Almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday, almost on Wednesday…”

    funny guy and the reason they call em’ “jumping jacks”

    Clint White wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  13. Hear hear. RIP, Jack, you’ll be sorely missed. I love that his ever-driving goal in life was simply to inspire others. A true humanitarian.

    Lissa wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  14. I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Lalane on several occasions. It was 15 years or so ago. He was polite and kind to all, but that guy was a FIRECRACKER! Mr. Lalane was a player (not really in a negative way) If Elaine was not looking and some gal walked by, Mr. Lalanes eyes would track her like radar on a Mig… I swear the man moved and talked like he was 25. He was always respectful of his wife and fawned over her…

    Hey! This was going to be a quick post!

    Notch wrote on February 2nd, 2011
    • I had an opportunity to communicate with him as well. I have an autographed picture! Hes my hero. I work out every day because of him.

      kevin wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  15. thank you for giving jack a proper tribute…. eat well, exercise, keep spine healthy, think happy thoughts, live life…..and have lots of sex…lol Jack is the man.

    kevin wrote on February 2nd, 2011
  16. Great post, Mark. I was sad to read that he had died last week. I thought he might just live forever. I loved that he used his common sense. He was definitely an great influence to all of us!

    Lauren wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  17. For an interesting take on LaLanne, physical culture, and culture in general, check out

    Tom Harbold wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  18. I remember Jack as a kid too. I miss him as an inspiration, and and a Brother Mason.

    Tom wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  19. Great article and reminder that Jack was anything but conventional. I find that if everyone is doing or thinking the same thing, then no one is doing much or thinking much of anything -original, that is.

    Jack was an original, who ate real food back when real food was readily available.

    Humans thrive better on a biologically appropriate diet of nutrient dense lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and low glycemic fruits and veggies. The majority of North Americans have insulin related challenges.

    If Americans are to conquer obesity and reclaim their health, we must look to our ancestors. We can do this by eliminating or severely reducing our consumption of corn based food, grains, all sweets, fried foods and sodas. Eat like Jack.

    Healthy fats are essential for humans.
    Protein is essential for humans.
    Carbohydrates are not considered essential for humans.

    I don’t think people realize that every year the food and drug companies spend well over $50 billion on marketing messages to U.S. consumers, designed to influence our food and medical choices.

    We must reject artificial, false foods, GMO’s and vote with our dollars buying only real foods.

    Stay Healthy & thanks for the kind words about Jack!


    Toni Reita ND wrote on February 4th, 2011
  20. Jack LaLanne was a GUN-GRABBING BASTARD.

    Many prayed, and waited for his death.
    His soul now resides in Hell.

    Burn forever, Jackie-boy.
    Where’d it get ya?

    Tony Soprano wrote on February 6th, 2011
    • How can you say where his soul resides? Were you there to see it leave his body at the time of his death??? What makes you an authority on where a man’s soul resides?

      Doug W wrote on February 12th, 2011
    • hey tony, why all the hate towards him?? id never heard of him up until a few weeks back but he seemed like a great guy to say the least. id seriously take a look at my own existence before slating someone elses son. thats the trouble these days,(apart from our failing health) theres too many people like yourself who just talk bulls*t & not enough jacks who just want to make things better.

      chris wrote on August 23rd, 2011

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