Jack LaLanne Is Still an Animal
Those biceps! That thorax! How, after all these years, does the godfather of fitness do it? By balancing the brain with the beast--and knowing the power of a stretch jumpsuit.
By Donald Katz
Jack LaLanne, fresh from a "systematic, vigorous, and violent" two-hour workout and only a few weeks shy of his 81st birthday, rose nimbly from a couch and--as if by force of some mechanized habit--struck the pose. The godfather of physical fitness stood there within a glowing nimbus of California coastal sunlight, his feet outspread, his hands clamped to his waist, his elbows pointing wide to each side.
Though the signature Jack LaLanne health and fitness power-pose would be adopted over the years by pro wrestlers, midcentury dictators, Yul Brenner in The King and I, Mr. Clean, and any number of comic book superheroes, the aesthetics and implicit totemic power of the LaLanne stance--as with so many popular accoutrements connected to the realm that Jack still refers to as "physical culture"--was invented years ago by the grinning man standing before me in a blue jumpsuit, probably the greatest gym teacher of all time.
At the edge of an era of Victorian physiques based on stout "bay window" bellies grown as indications of a man's prosperous caste, Jack LaLanne invented a body image that looked like two equilateral triangles joined at one corner. The deeply tapered thorax that he shaped through torturous workouts every day was accentuated by the inevitable jumpsuit, the sleeves cut high enough to expose the intricacies of his bulging arms.