Monday, August 13, 2007

Non-archaeological post: In praise of Jack LaLanne

A ways back I posted on the 30th anniversary of "Pumping Iron". Now, I send a shout out to an earlier generation of fitness gurus, or at least one. I believe he was one of the first to have a fitness TV show during the day. I remember my mom watching his show in the '60s and exercising along with it, or at least I think I do; it could have been some other guy in a dark jumpsuit.

At any rate, he was on TV and in bookstores in the mid-late 1950s onward. Which is all interesting and stuff, but it does have a personal angle. By the time I hit my teens, I wasn't what one would call an athletic kid. I don't have the right physique to ever become really fat, but I can (and did) easily develop a pot-belly/love handles. It's one of the prices of being scrawny, I guess.

At any rate, I was yer basic scrawny, pot-bellied, out-of-shape dorkwad when I was probably 14-15 or so. (And I had a 'fro! And a 'fro comb!) One day I eventually got sick of being at least pot-bellied and out-of-shape. I was bored one summer and found an old Jack LaLanne book that my mother had -- I think it was The Jack LaLanne way to vibrant good health; I'd know it if I saw a picture of the cover -- and started reading it. It was a neat book. His basic contention was that one could exercise and get into fine shape just by using stuff you have at home, in this case a couple of kitchen chairs and a bath towel. (And some other things, but I remember those two items) In some ways it foreshadowed the whole Nike line of "Just Do It"; run, walk, do calisthenics, but just get moving.

So I started doing some of the routines in it and was amazed that it actually worked. I could do this stuff. I could even feel my pecs actually becoming. . .pecs! Results! Without a big gym with hundreds of pounds of barbells, dumbbells, and weight machines! One of the exercises was dips which you can do using the backs of two chairs (you really have to watch out that they don't both tip back at you though). This was also one of the things in the President's Physical Fitness Challenge or whatever it was called that we all had to suffer through in school. HATED it. Anyway, after doing this stuff all summer, I wowed all the kids at school by jumping up and whipping out 15 of 'em, no problem.*

LaLanne teaches a valuable lesson, which has really stuck with me over the years. Working out has been part of my daily routine for years now, and I can't imagine ever not doing it. Of course, instead of chairs and a towel, I go to a gym with thousands of pounds of barbells and dumbbells and weight machines, but the principle is the same. I don't have a personal trainer, I don't record everything I do in a notebook; I just go in every day, do mostly basic iron-pumping routines, and that's that. Still, if I'm traveling I will often take some time out to do a bit of a work out using hotel chairs and a bath towel, though a lot of places have little fitness centers in them these days. But heck, with chairs and a towel you can work out in your own room in your underwear (please, gentle readers, do not try to imagine that of your host; I use only as an example).

Last I heard, Jack is still going strong. I think he quit doing the weird stuff on his birthday like swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco pulling a boat in his teeth and stuff. But he's always had a good philosophy of what exercise and staying fit is all about, which is working it into your life such that it's as natural as breathing. He didn't exactly make me start on the road to working out daily, but he was a good influence at the right time and in the right way. So, thanks, Jack.

* Never did pass the dumb thing. The peg board always got me. I swear one of these days I'm going to sneak down to the local school and do every damned thing that was on that miserable list.