Learning From Superhumans: The Incredible Fitness and Success of Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne was a pioneer in the world of fitness.

The gyms that you see all over town? He opened one of the nation’s first fitness gyms in 1936.

The machines that fill those gyms? He invented dozens of them.

All of those home workout videos and television weight loss shows? He was the man who first brought fitness into your living room. The Jack LaLanne Show was the longest–running television exercise program of all time. It was on television for 34 years.

And that’s just his business career.

If you really want to be impressed, take a look at a handful of his personal fitness achievements.

Here are a few of the fitness feats that LaLanne accomplished…

  • He swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco while wearing handcuffs.
  • At age 42, he set the world record for pushups by doing over 1,000 in 23 minutes.
  • At age 45, he did 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 pullups in 1 hour and 22 minutes.
  • At age 60, he swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf for the second time. This time he not only wore handcuffs, but also towed a 1,000 pound boat.

LaLanne was in such remarkable shape that he could do one—armed fingertip pushups while in a completely stretched out position. Here’s a video of him doing them on his television show. (You’ll notice his dog, Happy, in the background. Happy was a long–time partner on the show with LaLanne.)

Click the video to play.

Ready for something really incredible?

To celebrate his 70th birthday, LaLanne swam 1.5 miles along the California coast from the Queen’s Way Bridge to Long Beach Harbor. And he did it while wearing handcuffs and shackles on his arms and legs and towing 70 row boats holding 70 people.

It sounds impossible, but here’s a photo of the 70–year–old LaLanne finishing the swim with all of the boats dragging along behind him.

Jack LaLanne

On his 70th birthday, Jack LaLanne swam 1.5 miles while towing 70 boats filled with 70 people.

What Made Jack LaLanne Different?

In some ways, LaLanne’s accomplishments are so out of the ordinary that it’s hard to translate them into our own lives. (I mean, I love doing fitness challenges, but I’m not planning to tow 70 boats anytime soon.)

Thankfully, there is a lesson you can learn from Jack LaLanne that applies to nearly everything in your life. You won’t discover it by looking at his accomplishments, but rather, by examining his daily habits.

The Daily Routine of Jack LaLanne

The only way you can hurt the body is not use it.
—Jack LaLanne

LaLanne was a big believer in rituals and routines. He realized the power that consistent daily actions could have on his life.

Here are a few of the habits that Jack LaLanne did every day for decades…

  • Lift weights and do strength training for 90 minutes.
  • Swim or run for 30 minutes (in addition to his strength training).
  • Eat 10 raw vegetables.
  • Eat two meals: a late breakfast and an early dinner (hmm… that sounds familiar).
  • Wake up at 4am (in his later years, LaLanne “slept in” until 5am).

Look at that list. It’s not overly long, but imagine doing those things not just for one day or one week, but for 60 years like Jack LaLanne did.

Even at age 94, LaLanne was still exercising for two hours every day. 90 minutes of strength training. 30 minutes of swimming or walking. 10 raw vegetables. Every. Single. Day. For 60 years.

When we see someone who accomplishes something incredible, the easy way out is to discount it, chalk it up to natural talent or genetics, and claim that they were born with something you could never have. It takes the responsibility off of you. But the truth is that most incredible people — even the ones who accomplish superhuman feats — are simply more consistent than everyone else.

It was his incredible consistency that made Jack LaLanne superhuman.

When you look at Jack LaLanne’s life, it’s easy to focus on the big accomplishments and overlook the daily habits. Similarly, in your own life it’s easy to spend all of your time focused on transformations, big goals, and rapid changes, and forget that it’s the daily habits that lead to long–term success.

Success is any field is about lifestyle choices, not life–changing transformations. It’s your daily routine that will carry you to wherever it is you want to go.

If Something is Important to You, Schedule It

How did Jack LaLanne stick to his daily habits with such consistency?

Do you think he just waited until he felt motivated to workout each day? No way. His consistency has very little to do with willpower or motivation. Nobody is motivated every day for 60 years.

LaLanne knew what was important to him and so he scheduled it into his life. He started every day with strength training. Then he did his swimming and walking. Then he has his breakfast. Same order. Same time. Every time.

If you look at LaLanne’s daily habits, everything had a time and place when it was going to happen. Can you say the same about your goals?

So often we tell ourselves things like, “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to workout more” or “I’m going to start writing more” … but we never say when and where these things are actually going to happen.

Carve out some time. Pick a date. Choose a place. Give your actions a time and a space to live.

LaLanne didn’t rely on his willpower or motivation. He just stuck to his daily schedule. That’s how all professionals approach their work.

Lessons from LaLanne: Keeping Life In Perspective

In his later years, Jack LaLanne was fond of saying, “I can’t afford to die. It would ruin my image.”

Eventually, he passed away at 96 years old. And in all of those years, I think one of his greatest accomplishments was holding on to his happiness as much as his health. Even with all of his fitness achievements, LaLanne didn’t ruin the rest of his life in pursuit of a particular goal.

The balance between achievement and happiness is something that I think about often – not just in my own life, but also in what I write on this site. I’m still working on it, but I believe that you don’t have to be dissatisfied to be driven. There’s no reason you can’t love the life you have and want to make it better at the same time.

But it’s not easy. Happiness and gratefulness require constant tending, much like diet and exercise.

Check out this 3–minute clip from The Jack LaLanne Show where Jack LaLanne explains the importance of happiness and health, and the connection between the two.

Do you see how old that clip is? And do you notice how applicable the advice is even today?

Your happiness and your health form the basic foundation of your life. There’s nothing new or complex about this — despite what the newest commercials for health products, new drugs, and fitness programs want you to believe.

This balance between happiness and achievement is something that I’m working on getting better at myself. What Jack LaLanne showed us — not just in his words, but also through how he lived — is that you can do incredible things and have a wonderful time while doing it.

Learning From Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne lived an incredible life, and he mastered something that we can all benefit from: the daily routine.

Is there a skill that is more valuable than the ability to consistently work towards goals that are important to you while maintaining a sense of perspective and happiness?

It’s not the incredible achievements, but rather your daily habits that determine who you are and what you accomplish. Get your habits handled, and the rest will fall into place. If we can take this small lesson and apply it to our lives, there is no doubt we will all be better off for it.

41 Comments

  1. CW says:

    Great post, great posts! Love your photography, too.

  2. Dena says:

    What an inspirational post! He was amazing and the second video is exactly what everyone says about today! I guess our problems aren’t so new after all!

    • James Clear says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Dena! And you’re right — our problems aren’t so new … and the solutions usually aren’t either. :)

  3. Appreciate the article James!

    Something I struggle with for incorporating a routine is responsibilities and opportunities that come up during my scheduled/planned workout times. I find that I choose the social networking events or scheduling of calls early in the day with European collaborators getting in the way of a routine approach.

    I remember you mentioning in a past article the importance of at least doing something each day, even if it isn’t meeting your goal or schedule. Would the approach be on days that the routine is compromised to just find the time to do something and stick to the schedule otherwise?

    I find my happiness and mental health can come from these social interactions and work commitments. Do you think it is ok to be equating these shifts in schedule that end up discounting the physical exercising?

    Thanks!

    JK3

    • James Clear says:

      Dearest Kohn — tough call here. There will always be more opportunities than we can commit to, so in some sense you’ll always be fighting this balancing act.

      That said, at some point it comes down to deciding what the most important thing is for you.

      Example: for me, I write a new article every Monday and Thursday. I know that — no matter what — I’m finding a way to get that article out. (And, as you mentioned, I reduce the scope when necessary.)

      You can’t take this approach with everything in life, but if you can figure out what is most important for you, then you can structure your day around that … even when distractions and other opportunities arise.

      So, I think it comes down to a combination of scheduling, scope, and priorities.

      But that’s just what works for me…

  4. moose says:

    James, I love the idea for this new Superhuman thread on the blog.

    One of my biggest struggles with scheduling things is biting off more than I can chew. I would love to work out for 90 minutes a day, but I find that I will do it for two weeks or so and then be so exhausted that I can’t complete other parts of my life, like my scheduled writing and meditation times. Any advice for that? I try to keep in mind your “Lion and the Chair” analogy and limit the amount of different things that I schedule, but what can I say, I am interested in so much stuff!

    Keep rocking it.
    moose

    • James Clear says:

      Moose — I hear you. It can be tough to divide your time appropriately if you find all sorts of things interesting.

      One thing I’d note: LaLanne built up to his 90+ minutes of working out over the years. There’s no reason you can’t get there as well, it just takes slow growth rather than rapid change.

      That said, it sounds like you’re dedicated to many different things — I’m sure some of those activities can drain just as much as exercise.

      In the end, it’s about finding your balance. What worked for LaLanne doesn’t have to work for you, but there are still plenty of ways to apply his lessons to your life.

      Keep up the good work!

  5. Mark says:

    Great post on a great man. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. cj says:

    What a fantastically written article, James! When one ponders every day in relation to greatness, what is it that scares them off? I even stumbled across a recent post bashing consistency, crying perfectionism. I do see why it is hard to commit to something everyday, but I also see how sorry people are later in life when they don’t. Regret is hard.

    • James Clear says:

      Good points, CJ.

      One note on regret: we all have things we could beat ourselves up over. In the end, it’s rarely worth the time. I’m guilty of this as well, but I try to focus as much as I can on moving forward rather than looking backwards.

  7. Tammy R says:

    What a great post, James. At first, I was like, It’s so long, I don’t have time…blah blah, but what a man this Jack LaLanne! The video clip about happy people is just amazing in that it is all the same things we hear now.

    I am so with you on habits making life happy. I was very goal-oriented once upon a time. Now, I have just prioritized and every day starts with exercise (5 mile walk 7 days a week), writing (1-2 hours 6 days a week), and weight lifting 3x/week. I also meditate four nights a week. I’m not a superhuman, but I sure feel like one! I can’t wait to read your next one!

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks for sharing, Tammy! I love your daily habits. (And I’m glad you convinced yourself to take the time to read the article!)

      Keep up the good work.

  8. Wow, talk about ‘no excuses’. OK, so it’s time to schedule my exercise.

    Thanks James for an incredible and inspiring post.

    Karl

  9. James, I love Jack LaLanne! So inspirational! And a beautiful review.

    But this, my friend, is what it’s all about! THIS IS GOLD: “When we see someone who accomplishes something incredible, the easy way out is to discount it, chalk it up to natural talent or genetics, and claim that they were born with something you could never have. It takes the responsibility off of you. But the truth is that most incredible people … are simply more consistent than everyone else.”

    Amen.

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks Garry. I thought that little section wasn’t too bad. :)

      As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read.

  10. Braeden says:

    Thanks so much James.

    Absolutely awesome idea — a blog series of “Learning from Superhumans.” As well as a great idea, what I really like is the consistent quality of the information you’re presenting and how easy it is to read.

    And my thanks to those who are commenting here. I know it takes effort and I really appreciate it.

    I followed up on Drew Canole — thanks Moose.

    I’m following James advice/ideas and starting really small but smart: a mirror affirmation every morning I got from Deepak Chopra followed my 2 minutes of intense exercise.

    My ultimate ambitions are way high, but I’m just going to focus on today’s battlefield. Another video from Jack LaLanne: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT0q7tCSUZM

    I’m also enrolled in my first online course by Jean Houston about reaching for your human potential — may not quite fit in with your website James, but it fits in with me and is about being a bigger better human. Wish me luck. I’ve rarely stuck to anything and I’m going to stick, “sticking to it” as my identity, it’s time. Well it’s 5am downunder in OZ, dark before the dawn — I’m off for a short run and meditation.

    Warmest to all, Braeden.

    p.s. In respect for Jack and his spirit, I’m going to sing, maybe not on the bus as in his video, but somewhere this week for life is worth being the fool for…

    • moose says:

      Braeden-
      Sounds like you are totally kicking ass in life and becoming a bigger better human. I hope you keep sharing how you are doing it!
      be well,
      moose

    • James Clear says:

      Braeden — I’m glad to hear you enjoyed post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments too.

      Keep up the good work and good luck with that morning run and meditation! :)

  11. Nice post, James—I like the idea of this series.

    I know this is the point of this post, but if your goal is a healthier life, should you be doing weight training everyday (i.e.)? Or could you also say I’m going to do weight training every Mon, Tues, Thurs, Sat? Sometimes I’ve had the problem of saying I’m going to workout 3-4 days a week, which isn’t much of a routine I suppose.

    I’m just wondering if he did it everyday because that almost made it easier to follow. What do you think?

    • James Clear says:

      Brian — thanks for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      I think you’re moving in the right direction with your questions. In general, yes, daily habits are easier to stick to for the long-term and become more engrained in our behavior. So, there is an advantage to working out daily.

      That said, I don’t workout daily. And neither do many of the “experts” who work in the fitness industry for a living. Working out 3 or 4 days per week is great.

      Additionally, I think you can have a weekly schedule or routine, just as well as a daily one. For example, I have a weekly writing schedule. Every Monday and every Thursday, I publish a new article.

      When you stretch the timeframe further than a week, that’s when things get hard in my opinion. It’s hard to have bi—weekly or monthly habits because there is just too much time in between. The behavior is too inconsistent to develop a pattern.

      Bottom line: yes, doing something everyday will probably make it easier to fit into your life and follow for the long–term. But you can make it work weekly as well.

  12. Alexander says:

    Very cool James. Jack Lalanne is a huge idol of mine, both for his longevity and quality of life, but also because he just had this shit figured out decades before most of us did.

    • James Clear says:

      Truth. LaLanne was totally committed to the process, which is something we could all learn from. The results were there for decades, but it was always a result of his commitment and consistency.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Alexander!

  13. John says:

    James — loved this article… reminded me of watching him on TV as a kid. VERY inspiring man. Kudos to you for your great site and efforts.

    All the best,
    John

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks John! I’m glad you enjoyed it. LaLanne was indeed inspiring. I think we could all learn from his commitment and daily consistency.

      I’ll do my best to keep sending useful ideas your way. Thanks for reading!

  14. Roberta Saum says:

    I absolutely loved this article and I’m passing it around. I am old enough to remember black and white TV’s and seeing Jack on TV. James, you did a suburb job of doing justice to Jack. I loved the videos and the timeless wisdom in your write up. It is pure awesomeness. Thank you so much for this. -Roberta

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks Roberta! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. LaLanne was definitely an inspiration in many ways.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts. You’re always welcome in our little community!

  15. This article reminds me of a biography about the great golfer Gary Player. As a teenager in South Africa he had a daily routine of practicing his sand shots from a bunker. He would use a bucket of balls and practice every day. He would not stop until he holed out three consecutive shots from the sand.

    His discipline and daily routine when he was young paid off. He was known to be one of the finest sand players of his day and recognized along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as one of the top three golfers for decades.

    • James Clear says:

      Wow. Holing out three in a row every day? That’s insane. That kind of commitment to the process is something that we can all learn from.

      Thanks for sharing, Bradley. It’s great to have you reading and sharing in our little community!

  16. Jennee LaLanne says:

    Great article! Uncle Jack was a leader in promoting his way of life. He was truly an inspiration.

  17. Chris says:

    Nice perspective, but I disagree that Jack’s actions were not based on will power. It is will power that enabled him to keep his routine, without it he would not have been able to maintain it.

  18. Mahdi Sadeghi says:

    Thanks for the good article. I enjoyed it and I feel the importance of daily routines more and more.

  19. Sharon says:

    I’m in love! :)

  20. Brian K says:

    I came upon this through your Quora post “8 Ways to Get Things Done in the Morning.” Great and inspiring article about a great and inspiring man. I enjoyed the video and will definitely be sharing it! Thanks!

  21. Santoshkrishna says:

    So apt so perfect !

    “unless you do it , it ain’t gonna happen!”

    Thanks James!

  22. JR says:

    James,

    That is best post I’ve read all year. You deserve an Emmy!

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