By Marc Alexander

America is in the middle of a huge health/fitness irony. Never before has there been such focus on the importance of being healthy while at the same time, never have so many Americans been so fat and out of shape.  It seems like TV advertising is a battleground between fast food, beer commercials, and thirty-minute infomercials on the latest fitness craze that will transform your slovenly self into Joe-with-a-six-pack. The tabloids are filled with wonderful and horrific pictures of celebrities delineating who has the worst or hottest bodies.

Billy Blanks

The Ab-Roller, The Ab-Rocker, The Ab-Cruncher, The Shake Weight, and the The Perfect Push-up are just some of the faddish products associated with the recent fitness mania. These are all products designed to take shortcuts to in-shape city. As any expert will tell you, there is no faddish way to achieve sustained success; a person must change their lifestyle and mindset to be healthy for the long haul. In the history of the “be-healthy” movement, there have been a few fitness gurus who’ve transcended fads or gimmicks. A fitness guru is the leader of a movement. They capture the public zeitgeist and garner a sustained focus on what they are doing because it’s never been done like that before.

But who is the Greatest fitness guru of All Time? Who has had the biggest impact on getting people in shape and thinking about being healthy?

Many would seem to qualify for this title like Billy “Tae Bo” Blanks, Jake “Body by Jake” Steinfeld, and or Sean “Insanity” T.  But compared to my candidates they are fitness flashes in the pan. The G.O.A.T. fitness guru must be decided from fitness legends like Richard “Sweating to the Oldies” Simmons, Jane “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, and Jack “Mr. Juiceman” LaLanne.

Fonda seems to have led four different lives: as an Oscar-winning actress, as a political activist, and as a celebrity wife. It is her “Jane Fonda Workout” that has put nine zeroes in her back account. During the 1980’s  it wasn’t unusual to see several of her workout tapes in people’s houses, and her spandex and headband outfit was replicated from Anchorage to Key West by those wanting to get into shape.

Simmons – a marginally successful actor from New Orleans -parlayed his concern for some overweight friends into a lucrative series of exercise tapes called “Sweating to the Oldies”. Simmons became as famous for his flamboyant TV appearances and his tear-soaked pleas to save people from the flesh layered hell of obesity.

Jack LaLanne

Last, but certainly not least, there is Henri “Jack” LaLanne. LaLanne is universally known for being about health and fitness in the days when cigarette and liquor ads ran rampant on TV. LaLanne transformed himself from, in his words a “Sugarholic” and a “Junk food junkie” into a sculpted advocate for better healthier living. LaLanne created some of the weight lifting devices still in use today and as he got older became a spectacular spectacle as he performed feats of strength seemingly beyond human capacity.

In my opinion, the argument for who should be dubbed the G.O.A.T. is not even close. For Fonda, though she was incredibly successful at being a fitness guru and getting millions to focus on working out, her foray into fitness was little more than a phase in her overall incredible life.

Promoting fitness and health has been Richard Simmons’ passion for decades, but he has sometimes deviated into a bit of a sideshow with his TV appearances and obscenely short shorts.

The name “Jack LaLanne” has, in short, been synonymous with fitness. When people weren’t even talking about it he was urging others to stop smoking and drinking and embrace a healthier lifestyle. Also, the thing that makes LaLanne G.O.A.T.- ish is he evolved as he got older and was able to demonstrate what astounding things the human body is capable of when taken care of.  Simmons has sustained his zeal for the less healthy but he wasn’t swimming the length of the Golden Gate Bridge underwater with his hands bound and towing seventy-six people in boats. Simmons never paddle boarded non-stop from the Farralon Islands to San Francisco, or did a thousand chin-ups and jumping jacks in one hour and twenty-two minutes.

Jack LaLanne practiced what he preached for seventy-five years, and at age ninety-three he was awarded the President’s Council on Fitness Lifetime Achievement Award, thus making him my choice for the G.O.A.T. fitness guru.

Agree? Disagree? Go ahead, make your argument. I dare you.
Marc Alexander is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer and purveyor of urban culture.

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