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What Jack LaLanne Did For Your Body

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Jack LaLanne wasn't just a fitness guru. Mere fitness gurus don't tow 70 rowboats—while handcuffed—at age 70. Jack was a powerhouse. He died today, at 96. But not before eating and lifting his way through exercise gear history.

Jack LaLanne started off life as an unhealthy, junkfood-addled mess of a child. He was "a miserable goddamn kid," explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. "It was like hell."


So he turned himself around. He read obsessively about physiology, and devoted himself to a diet of fish, fruit, and vegetables. And lots of exercise.

Lots, and lots of exercise. LaLanne blasted his way through gyms of the 1930s when strenuous weight workouts were yet to be the status quo. LaLanne was instrumental in popularizing the use of weights in exercise, in part by using them like some sort of mythological titan. The man's exercises were often more spectacle than sport—swimming to Alcatraz in chains, cranking out 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes, swimming with boats filled with people tied to him—and all of this while middle aged. I have trouble getting out of bed some mornings.


But LaLanne wasn't just into herculean stunts. He wanted your body to be awesome. He couldn't stand processed foods. Or laziness. Disgusting! He compared the American breakfast diet to a dog smoking a cigarette. He didn't just want to raise awareness about exercise and health. He wanted to smash you with it. So he worked, and pushed, and promoted—elastic exercise bands, workout videos, licensed gyms, and, of course juicers.

He also invented the original Smith Machine, leg extension machines, weight selector device, calf machines, and wrist rolling machines—all now commonplace in any weight room.

But let's go back to that juicer. As much as LaLanne knew the right hardware was required for good health, he never skipped the science. Thinking back to his childhood, he abhorred processed foods: "If man makes it, don't eat it," he would quip. The popularity of fresh fruits and vegetables and all natural meals is ubiquitous now, of course. But LaLanne was spreading the gospel of good produce more than half a century ago—up until the day he died.


It might have taken several hundred towed boats and laps to Alcatraz to get the word out there, and yes, the man did take on an almost cartoonish persona of health consciousness. But what impresses you into eating your veggies—your mom barking at you, or a 61 year old man swimming the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, handcuffed, pulling a thousand pound boat behind him? [via SFGate and CNN and Jack LaLanne]