Knowing Jack

Photo by Cliff Riddle

Being a terminal geek, I was thrilled to learn recently that Roku has added to its line-up of television streaming options a channel devoted to The Jack LaLanne Show.

If you are of a certain age — say, prehistoric, like me — you will recall LaLanne as the more knowledgeable, more appealing and way less gay predecessor to Richard Simmons.

From 1953 to 1985,  the broad-shouldered, wasp-waisted LaLanne — remembered today as  “the godfather of fitness”  — donned a form-fitting jumpsuit to bring exercise to the television masses.   In the early days, especially, LaLanne was a hit with quietly desperate housewives whose daytime doldrums were enlivened by his friendly advice and encouragement to get moving.

And move they did, in no-frills, fast-paced workouts that required nothing but fortitude. Two minutes of Jack LaLanne in your living room looked like this:

Yes, these ancient television segments are dated, and often corny. Yet there is something appealing not only in LaLanne’s earnestness and can-do attitude, but the purity of his approach. The fanciest piece of equipment in a typical TV workout was a chair, so his exercises were simple, without being easy. And the only measure of success that mattered was doing them, movement after movement, day after day.

Inhale.  Blow it out.  On to the next.

Today, you’d think it impossible to effectively exercise without a fitness tracker or GPS watch or heart-rate monitor synced to a smart phone and every other high-tech device you own or would like to.  And cutting-edge footwear and clothing.  And an assortment of specialized foods, fuels and electrolyte replacements without which you would undoubtedly keel over, because water and a sensible diet are just not sufficient.  garminforerunner

All of which — not coincidentally or insignificantly — costs oodles of money.

Now, I’ll admit that I am what they call a “late adopter,” meaning I am slow to embrace change, and that, additionally, I am what they call “cheap,” meaning I am slow to spend money. I have been running for 30 years, and my biggest bow to technology is an inexpensive chronograph I’ve had longer than I can remember.

At 56, it seems I have joined the ranks of the precociously middle-aged, who feel chronically left behind and faintly curmudgeonly about the notion that “new” is always an improvement on “old.” I have yet to figure out, for instance, when the cheap polyester race shirts I hated became the “technical” running shirts  I should now prefer as race mementos to the aging, soft-cotton assortment in my dresser drawer.

I am a fossil, I suppose, embedded in this quaint idea that I can stay fit by donning running shoes and enough clothes to not get arrested and then heading out my door. Which I will do tomorrow in order to run a half-marathon assisted — I admit — by a pre-race packet of Gu as well as feedback from my low-tech watch, which will tell me if I’m starting to bonk.

Should that happen, I will remember Jack LaLanne, who five years ago died at the age of 96. He of the snug jumpsuit, of the compact muscularity, of the friendly but fierce never-say-die attitude. He of the singular exercise imperative:

Inhale.  Blow it out.  And then get back after it.

When it comes to what matters in fitness,  I think Jack knew jack.



This post originally appeared three years ago;  Jack’s been gone 8 years now.  Three days ago, I acquired a deeply discounted fitness tracker no one has ever heard of, which a tech-savvy co-worker declared “appropriate for a child.”  The near-anaerobic effort required to understand how it works keeps my heart consistently in the “performance” zone.  


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