Jack LaLanne—The Godfather of Fitness

The fitness industry is ever-changing with new fitness equipment, techniques, and trends.  As a personal trainer, I am always on the lookout for new and exciting research that will help guide my clients to fitter, healthier, and happier lives. While there are many new approaches to exercise and fitness, I have found that the best practices—the fundamentals I use every day—are neither new nor exciting, but were laid out over 60 years ago by the godfather of fitness, Jack LaLanne.

An exercise and nutrition expert, LaLanne was regarded as the first fitness superhero. During the 1950s, fitness gyms were not on every other block like they are today. The gyms that did exist were populated by heavy weightlifters and were unwelcoming to women. But in 1953, LaLanne hosted the first-ever fitness television show. The Jack LaLanne Show featured exercise and nutritional guidelines, and LaLanne strongly emphasized the importance of fitness for women. The show often opened by requesting the viewer to “run and go get mother. Tell her Jack LaLanne wants her to come to the television set.” Then LaLanne would walk viewers through a series of exercises or would discuss nutrition habits that are still recommended today.

Walk into most modern gyms and you will likely find weight machines, another contribution from Jack LaLanne to the fitness world. LaLanne invented the leg extension machine and the original version of what became the Smith machine (a barbell within fixed railings, named for gym manager Rudy Smith) as ways to safely engage muscles. Jack believed that everyone could benefit from weightlifting, not just the powerlifters who had already discovered the techniques. Strengthening muscles helps prevent osteoporosis and helps maintain independence as we age.

Jack’s routines demonstrated that anyone can work out, even if they don’t have access to a gym. Sixty years later, this is something I still stress to my clients. Jack insisted that you don’t even need dumbbells or weight equipment; he encouraged viewers to grab soup containers or milk jars. To work the legs, Jack recommended a simple chair. LaLanne also produced the first line of at-home gym equipment, the Glamour Stretcher, an early forerunner to the stretch cord.

Jack encouraged cardiovascular exercise, too, by explaining that 30 minutes of walking around the block, riding a bicycle, or swimming (his favorite) was significantly more beneficial than sitting on the couch. His personal feats of fitness are still regarded as some of history’s most ambitious and outrageous. On his 70th birthday, Jack swam one mile pulling 70 rowboats, some containing people, with his hands and feet shackled. As a fitness professional, I consider that pretty impressive.

Outside the gym, LaLanne was the first to connect the importance of nutrition on physical fitness and health—an uncommon idea at the time. Today nutrition is a fundamental topic in conversations about health and fitness. I find that many of my clients remember Jack and his show quite fondly. His philosophies were ahead of their time in many ways.

Jack LaLanne was an inspirational and informative role model. He had a unique way of directing and informing the viewer that I have applied to my training. I studied him in school, and even now, I will go back and watch clips of his show on YouTube for ideas of how to communicate the message of fitness. As we look to our future, sometimes it pays to take a lesson from the past.

Kyle Ciminski is a personal trainer at the Fidalgo Pool & Fitness Center in Anacortes. He holds over 30 professional certifications, and you can reach him at kyleciminskitraining@gmail.com or at 360-969-1386. Learn more at trainwithkyle.com.

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