Vail Daily column: We can learn from LaLanne’s legacy |

Vail Daily column: We can learn from LaLanne’s legacy

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Jack LaLanne was a man ahead of his time and his legendary fitness advice is alive and well in today’s physical culture. On Sept. 26, Jack would have been 100 years old. Even though he passed away on Jan. 23, 2011, at 96 years old, his words of wisdom likely affected his magnificent longevity we all strive for. This column is a tribute to the man who put fitness in the limelight.

LaLanne was an American fitness, exercise and nutritional expert who is sometimes referred to as “The Godfather of Fitness” and the “First Fitness Superhero.” He described himself as being a “sugarholic” and a “junk food junkie” until he was 15. His mother took him to a Paul Bragg lecture after Jack had to drop out of school for six months because of an apparent food-related illness; Bragg, a wellness expert, described Jack as a “human garbage can.” This was an instrumental turning point for LaLanne that fueled a passion that would forever transform the landscape of fitness in America.

Decades before health and fitness began being promoted by celebrities, LaLanne was already generally recognized for publicly campaigning the health benefits of regular exercise and proper nutrition. He published numerous books on fitness and hosted the fitness television program “The Jack LaLanne Show” between 1953 and 1985. At age 21, he opened one of the nation’s first gyms in Oakland, California, which became a prototype for dozens more to follow.


LaLanne also gained recognition for his success as a bodybuilder, as well as for his extraordinary feats of strength. Here are a few of my favorite LaLanne accomplishments: At age 45, he performed 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 chin-ups in 1 hour, 22 minutes, to promote “The Jack LaLanne Show” going nationwide. He stated this was the most challenging of his stunts, but only because the skin on his hands started ripping off during the chin-ups. He felt he couldn’t stop because it would be seen as a public failure. He also achieved great fame and recognition for his uncanny ability to swim. On several occasions he swam great distances, usually handcuffed and shackled. His greatest swimming achievement, in my opinion, was at age 70, when handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents, he towed 70 rowboats one mile, one of which had several guests aboard!

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Arnold Schwarzenegger once exclaimed “That Jack LaLanne’s an animal!” after a 54-year-old LaLanne beat then 21-year-old Schwarzenegger badly in an informal contest. On the occurrence of LaLanne’s death, Schwarzenegger credited Jack for being “an apostle for fitness” by inspiring “billions all over the world to live healthier lives.” Jack performed daily rigorous exercise until his death, and lifting weights even though controversial during his time, was the cornerstone of his fitness routine.

Jack LaLanne was a meat eater for most of his life. By the way, all of you vegans back off with the phone calls and hate mail for a moment, I’m just the messenger. I’m not touting an agenda for the government or the cow farmers in America. Anyway, LaLanne ate two meals per day. His breakfast mostly consisted of hard boiled eggs, whole grain bread and fruit. For dinner he ate meat, fish, salad and other raw vegetables. He apparently didn’t consume coffee or drink alcohol. He was a Pescatarian during his later years, which is a vegetarian who eats fish. Jack used to say that “if man made it, don’t eat it” and “if it tastes good, spit it out.”

Here are some other great LaLanne quotes. “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.”

“Dying is easy. Living is a pain in the butt. It’s like an athletic event. You’ve got to train for it. You’ve got to eat right. You’ve got to exercise. Your health account, your bank account, they’re the same thing. The more you put in, the more you can take out. Exercise is king and nutrition is queen: together, you have a kingdom.”

“I know so many people in their 80s who have Alzheimer’s or are in a wheelchair or whatever. And I say to myself, ‘I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be a burden on my family. I need to live life. And I’d hate dying; it would ruin my image.’”

Well, he did perish as we all will someday. But he lived to be 96. That’s not a bad run. All of the fitness propaganda that he spun was controversial during his peak. Some thought LaLanne was a Charlatan. I think LaLanne had some of this figured out. I hope we all can learn something valuable from his legacy. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. His passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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