Jack LaLanne, Jane Fonda, Jillian Michaels: Who's the best fitness guru?

The business, culture, and science of working out.
Jan. 19 2011 4:01 AM

Exercise Time Warp

I spent a week with Jack LaLanne, Jane Fonda, and Jillian Michaels. Who's the best fitness guru of them all?

See the rest of Slate's Fitness Issue.

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Michaels' program offers three 20-minute sessions of increasing intensity. Each workout alternates short circuits of cardio, strength, and abdominal training. There's a long history of hucksters who sell the promise of fitness for little investment of time, so I was skeptical that a 20-minute workout would be thorough and strenuous. Half-way through Michaels' DVD, through, I was begging for Jack LaLanne to tell me four sit-ups were enough. In Michaels' program, you use multiple muscle groups simultaneously—while you do a set of squats, you also lift weights overhead—and not the puny one-pounders that Jane Fonda touted.

Michaels' customers expect to be in agony, something that would have been unthinkable to the "gals" doing trimnastics with LaLanne. She pushes, cajoles, and tells us to move our "tush," but gone are the ballistic movements of the 1980s. Instead the abdominal crunches are much harder for being done slowly. Michaels says that if you put in the effort she demands for the full 20 minutes, "it takes the place of hours of phoning it in at the gym," which was certainly true for me. I didn't mind her annoying techno-pop soundtrack, because my pulse was pounding so hard in my ears I could barely hear it.

Afterward, collapsed in a heap, I felt rather proud—here I was a former "little helper" of Jack LaLanne's who half a century later was getting shredded.

Also in Slate, Emily Yoffe writes that Jack LaLanne was ahead of his time not only physically but psychologically, the Trending News Channel honors LaLanne's life with a video montage, and the Brow Beat blog notes that LaLanne credited his health "to a lifelong devotion to 'clean thoughts and dirty girls.' "

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