5 lessons from the Godfather of Fitness

Before Shaun T. and Beachbody. Before Jillian Michaels. Before Richard Simmons and Denise Austin. And even before Jane Fonda and her leg warmers, there was Jack LaLanne.

If you grew up before the mid-1980s, then you likely remember LaLanne and his trademark blue and red jumpsuit outfits.

LaLanne is known as the Godfather of Fitness, and rightfully so. His television fitness program, “The Jack LaLanne Show,” ran from 1953 to 1985. He started into a fitness regimen as a teenager after an illness he attributed to his junk food diet, and remained fit and muscular until his death at age 96 in 2011.

LaLanne was truly a fitness and nutrition champion. He worked out every morning for two hours and ate only two meals a day. His diet consisted mainly of eggs, raw vegetables and fish. His workout primarily included weight lifting and swimming.

He was just as famous for his wise quips as he was for his strict nutrition and exercise regimen. He was in demand as a motivational speaker and his example offers up many life lessons. Here are five.


LaLanne was always topping one extravagant feat after another; he was a true showman. He had fun with what he did. The set of his TV show was minimalist, often the only “gym” equipment was a chair. But his enthusiasm was like that of a preacher and he was a great encourager, often bringing his dog Happy on the show. He was having fun.

But the fun went way beyond his fitness program. He twice swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, with his legs and hands bound. The second time he did it when he was 60 years old and towed a boat behind him!

He was also known for his pushups. In 1956, at the age of 42, he appeared on the show “You Asked For It,” hosted by Art Barker, and did 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes!

But, his biggest feats were usually in the water, and perhaps his most famous was in 1984 when at age 70 he again donned the hand and leg cuffs and towed 70 rowboats, one with several guests, for 1 mile from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary.

His view, “Anything in life is possible and you can make it happen.”


LaLanne was preaching healthy eating long before it became the norm. He was one of the first to rail against processed foods, artificial food additives and drugs. He preferred to eat his vegetables raw, and developed and marketed two juicers.

He summed up his food philosophy, which is akin to the clean eating lifestyle of today: “If man made it, don’t eat it.”


LaLanne was an innovator. He was always looking for ways to improve fitness and nutrition and to inspire others to get healthier as well. He is credited with opening the country’s first gym (1936), with encouraging women to go to the gym, with designing the first leg extension and pulley machines, for coming up with the idea that morphed into the squat machine, and for encouraging healthy eating and exercise.

Some of his other firsts: first to have a co-ed gym, first to create a meal replacement drink, first to create an edible nutritional snack bar, first to encourage the physically challenged to exercise and to work around their disabilities.

He also published 12 health and fitness books.

While his statement, “It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do all of the time that counts,” might be aimed at a fitness and nutritional lifestyle, it certainly explains his innovative spirit.


LaLanne performed many of his fitness feats after the age of retirement and he actually stuck to his two hour a day workout until the day before he died at age 96. But he also started lifting weights at age 15. Back then, he was ridiculed that weight lifting was not healthy – that it would limit your sex drive, make you uncoordinated, and make you fatigued.

No matter your age, young or old, you can take control and regain your fitness. In fact, as he aged, LaLanne continued to encourage his peers to keep moving.

Remember what LaLanne said, “People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.”


From the time he had his revelation about junk food and health at the age 15 until his death, LeLanne aimed for and made a living doing what he loved. His television program, juicer, books, and gym were his passions. He loved what he did – encouraging other to be healthy. And doing what he loved built his fitness empire.

This LaLanneism is true of both his fitness philosophy and of the health empire he built: “Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen, put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.”

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