Classic Interview: Jack LaLanne and Bill Phillips

—-Today’s blog is a look back to an interview I did, some years ago, with fitness icon Jack LaLanne for USA Today’s weekend paper. Jack LaLanne practiced what he preached and lived 96 energetic years and inspired millions of people to start working out and eating healthy. In the personal time I spent with Jack over the years, I learned a lot about his mindset and what kept him young at heart throughout his life. Two key things he said to me I keep, always, in the front of my mind:

LaLanne’s Lesson #1) Keep Moving! Jack was never inactive — he was strong as an ox the last time we worked out together and he was in his 80’s at the time!

LaLanne’s Lesson #2) Keep Challenging Yourself! Jack set goals with deadlines and used positive pressure to keep him motivated. For example, on his 70th birthday, he achieved a strength and endurance goal of swimming a mile and a half while shackled as he towed 70 boats in Long Beach Harbor (seriously, he actually did this!).

Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne (1947)

I’ll also never forget his philosophy on ‘warming up’ before a workout and ‘cooling down’ afterwards: “Bill, does a lion warm up before he bursts into action and runs full speed to get his dinner? No! Does he cool down afterwards? No!”

Jack taught us that eating healthy and exercising are the best medicine we’ll ever get. He was scoffed at for years as a ‘health-nut’ but five decades later, science proved him to be exactly right. He (and Arnold) inspired me to start lifting weights in my early teens and he has motivated me to keep working out right up to and through the final chapter.

I am very grateful to Mr. LaLanne and it was always an honor to do interviews with him, like the one reprinted in this blog. The USA Today journalist asked the questions and gave the introduction. ~Bill—-

—————————-

Classic Interview: Jack LaLanne and Bill Phillips (March 21, 2001)

Jack LaLanne and Bill Phillips

Jack LaLanne and Bill Phillips

On an impossibly perfect California afternoon recently, two generations of fitness gurus met for lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara to discuss health and fitness. The old guard was represented by the “Godfather of Fitness,” Jack La Lanne. Representing another generation was Bill Phillips, the Colorado native who penned the mega-successful fitness book, Body-for-LIFE. As the two shared breakfast (eggs and fresh fruit) La Lanne, a quick-witted testament to the benefits of nutrition and exercise, summed up his perspective: “You don’t get old from calendar years,” he said, removing the yolk from one of his four hard-boiled eggs. “You get old from inactivity.”

USA WEEKEND: What would you tell a 50-year-old who is thinking of starting a regular exercise regimen?
LA LANNE: Get a physical. Then just start walking around the house. You can join a gym. There are a lot of good books and tapes, too.
PHILLIPS: Before even considering an exercise and nutrition program, I recommend that the person put on some swim trunks and have somebody take a photo of them. Then take a good look and ask yourself: Is this who I really am? If you don’t see yourself as that, you have the opportunity to change it. But you need to change your mindset.
LA LANNE: I tell people that the scales lie. You may have played basketball and weighed 175 pounds, with a 30-inch waist, back when you were in college. And you may still weigh 175 at 55. But you probably have a 35-inch waist and you’ve probably lost 30 or 40 pounds of muscle — and gained 30 or 40 pounds of fat. The tape measure doesn’t lie. Get that tape measure out and put it on your hips and your waist. Keep checking it. And keep exercising and cutting those calories down until that tape measure gets close to where you were in your prime.
PHILLIPS: Progress is made where progress is measured. People will set a New Year’s resolution: “I’m gonna get in shape this year.” But they don’t set a parameter for how they’re gonna measure it. Or if they do measure it, they wait until the first day of the next year. You’d never run a business that way. Document your progress.

USA WEEKEND: Should people who are 50 and over dive into the sort of workout program someone much younger would do?
PHILLIPS: Tufts is a leading university in research on strength training and muscle metabolism in people over 50, and they’ve shown that muscle cells strengthen in response to intense exercise — whether you’re 18 or 88. But the intensity is what’s lacking in most people’s workouts. And there are doctors who’ll give you the advice, “Well, don’t push it.”
LA LANNE: That’s ridiculous. What the hell do doctors know about exercise? Most of them know zero. You gotta push elderly people to failure like anybody else. Then the body responds.

USA WEEKEND: Lots of people start fitness routines. But how do you sustain it over a period of months, even years?

Bill Phillips (age 17) inspired by Jack LaLanne to start working out and lifting weights early in life.

Bill Phillips (age 17) inspired by Jack LaLanne to start working out and lifting weights early in life.

PHILLIPS: I’m a believer in routine. I like to see people work out at the same time each day.
LA LANNE: And make it quick. One of the reasons so many people fail is they get on this treadmill for an hour or an hour and a half. That’s totally unnecessary. If it’s cardiovascular, you don’t need more than 15 to 17 or 18 minutes if it’s vigorous.
PHILLIPS: We also talk about progress — not perfection — as one of the things that helps change the mindset. People feel so guilty about not exercising. Especially people over 50, who feel like they’ve gone a lifetime without taking care of themselves. Instead of aiming for perfection, you should try to celebrate the progress you’re making.

USA WEEKEND: What’s the biggest mistake people make when they decide to get into shape?
LA LANNE: Their goals are too high. You start out with an hour on the treadmill, then another hour of lifting — hell, in two weeks you’re not doing anything anymore. You gotta be reasonable.
PHILLIPS: Sometimes people — especially people over 40 — underestimate what they really are capable of. They believe they’re not capable of doing something great. I tell people who are over 40, “I don’t want your best. I want better than that. I want better than what you perceive your best is.”

USA WEEKEND: How do you guys feel about nutritional supplements?
LA LANNE: I was the first one to come out with a protein supplement, so I think they’re useful. I was also the first one to come out with the nutrition bars.
PHILLIPS: Some supplements work; some don’t. It can be faddish like diets. What about these people who say you should eliminate carbohydrates from your diet?
LA LANNE: No!
PHILLIPS: I agree. The brain’s preferred source of fuel is glucose/carbohydrates. And when you go on a low-carb/high-protein diet, your brain is using low-octane fuel. You’ll be a little groggy, a little grumpy.

USA WEEKEND: If somebody was gonna do only one exercise …
LA LANNE: Swimming. No doubt about it.
PHILLIPS: I’m always asking people to do something in their mind [first]. So if they’re gonna do one exercise, it would be to ask themselves what they want to change about themselves in the next 12 weeks. Once they solve that, the body will follow.
LA LANNE: You can’t separate the mind and body. It’s impossible.

USA WEEKEND: What should people do first thing in the morning?
LA LANNE: Count your blessings.
PHILLIPS: Plan what you’re gonna do that day and commit to it.

Comments

  1. Fantastic. And what is great is that it’s all the same excellent advice. Now if we could all listen!

  2. Diane Daly says:

    Great read….thx

  3. Kathleen says:

    Thanks so much for posting this, Bill. Words of wisdom that withstand the test of time from two iconic fitness gurus.

  4. Two brillant and inspiring men! Thanks for sharing and for inspiring me Bill!

  5. Pamella says:

    Loved Jack LaLanne! I started watching his show when I was a young teenager, he inspired me to start working out & eating right which I always try to do. Thanks Bill for posting that interview, you are also an inspiration to me!

  6. Marguerite says:

    Yes! Just what I needed to read tonight, thanks for sharing!

  7. Michele Banks says:

    Excellent post….Thank you!

  8. Phil De Carlo says:

    Old German (?) Saying, “Vee get too soon oldt, undt too late schmart!” It’s never too late to wake up and get a move on. I live in a 55+ village.There are many fit people here. One 94 year old (yep ninety four) drives a golf ball 200 yards and bowled a 270 last week. .And this kind of activity is common here for the 65 year old+ residents! Great reminiscing with Jack and Bill. Keep ’em coming, Bill!

  9. Jon Fogg says:

    Thanks for sharing this interview. It’s not only inspiring but also spot on accurate. I’m 57 y.o. and still pump iron and do cardio. My wife also works out, thanks to Bill’s inspiration.
    She’s also 9 years younger than me so, hey, I’ve gotta keep up!

  10. I have always loved that interview.

  11. Brilliant and subtle. The illusions got busted for me here and I realized that I am creeping up on 56 and using excuses I never knew I had. Commit and Act. Thank you gentlemen.

  12. Vickey Vance says:

    That was awesome! Same message as today!

    Sent from my iPhone

  13. Melanie Hodges says:

    Thank you Bill, for the powerful information. I love Jack La Llanne and I appreciate you posting the picture of that beautiful man.

  14. Adrian Powell says:

    Hi Bill, being new to fitness and living here in England, I’d never heard of Jack until now. But thanks to you I’ve since hopped over to Wikipedia and searched him on Amazon and of course there’s youtube too! What a great journey I’m on. Thanks Bill I’m on a great journey of discovery.

  15. Carolyn Murphy says:

    Great Interview! I always was inspired by Jack Lalanne. You, Bill are also
    very inspiring!!Thanks for the post.

  16. Bill – What an honor to have had the opportunity to spend time with a true fitness legend and in many ways a founder in the modern fitness movement. Thank you for reaching back into the archive and sharing this with all of us. A worthy read!

  17. clinton morin says:

    i was having some issues thinking i wasn’t working out long enough but i reread this blog and you guys say fast and efficient. so thank you and thank you for inspiration bill.

  18. Francisco says:

    You’ve earned your rest Jack! You’re an inspiration to us all!

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