A few weeks ago I heard a spirited discussion about who should be carved into basketball’s “Mt. Rushmore.” NBA fans were tweeting all the usual suspects: LeBron James was at the head of the list as he already proclaimed that position long before Miami lost to San Antonio in the finals. Other contenders included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Julius Irving and Wilt Chamberlain. I love this kind of conversation because there are no wrong answers, and everyone is an expert. More importantly, the opinions are a reflection of the fan’s beliefs, a snapshot in time, a window into what one holds dear.

Fast forward to a few days ago…During a rest break between sets, a client asked, “Who shaped your beliefs about fitness and nutrition? Who would be on your Mt. Rushmore?” This question gave me a chance to reflect on who influenced me to ultimately seek a career in fitness. Though there were many, my Mt. Rushmore would have to include…

Jack LaLanne: His daytime exercise show began in 1953 and was primarily aimed at stay-at-home mothers. Sometimes while on vacation or home from school, I would see my mother exercising with him in front of the big TV with the small B&W screen in the living room. Long before scientific research would prove that exercise and nutrition would help people to live healthier longer, LaLanne was a powerful advocate for “Physical Culture and Nutrition.” He authored many books and videos, opened one of the first modern-style health clubs in America back in 1936 and invented many exercise machines we still use today. He also trained the elderly and disabled so that they could live better lives through functional strength training.

As a young boy who was on the short side, seeing a buff 5’6” LaLanne perform unbelievable feats of strength in his fifties was inspiring and set me on the path to become what I am today.

Charles Atlas: His biggest influence on me was the “97-Pound Weakling” who got beat up and sand kicked in his face at the beach by a bully. The weakling not only looses his dignity but his girlfriend, too. Determined to avenge his humiliation, the boy sends away for Charles Atlas’ in-home exercise program and gets pumped up and becomes more confident. Upon returning to the beach, the bully again tries to humiliate the kid. Only this time, the 97-Pound Weakling is really jacked and proceeds to beat the tar out of the bully. Not only is justice served, but the girlfriend returns.

Though I never had sand kicked in my face at the Jersey Shore, this 97-Pound Weakling weighed more than I did at the time. My parents were convinced I had a tapeworm because I was a voracious eater yet skinny as a rail. There was no tapeworm, just a boy’s metabolism. Atlas’ “Dynamic Tension” exercises I sent away for did help me gain muscle mass. Atlas was also true marketing genius, as he targeted a large and growing market. While I admired Jack LaLanne, he spoke to my mother. Charles Atlas spoke to boys and young men in need of a confidence boost on their way to manhood.

Jane Fonda: In 1982 I was 27 years old and concerned about the future. George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 was competing for my vision of the future with Stanley Kubrick’s uplifting 2001 A Space Odyssey. Who knew which path the world would take? But then, with the 1982 release of Jane Fonda’s first exercise video, I knew the world would be OK. Barbarella was here to save us. At 45 years old she looked sexy and well toned in her slinky 80s styled exercise apparel.

Fonda’s first exercise video in 1982 was credited, in part, with the explosive growth of that new-fangled technology…the VCR. She was the first to professionally produce a series of exercise programs that brought fitness into your home, and you could exercise with her on your schedule. Through 1995 she released 23 videos that sold a combined 17 million copies. Then at 72, she released additional videos designed to address the needs of an aging population.

Gilad Janklowicz: Though not a household name like my other Mt. Rushmore candidates, Gilad’s contribution to the world of fitness in general and my appreciation in particular was powerful and lasting. Launched in 1983, Bodies in Motion was the very first fitness show on ESPN. Since then it has aired on Fox Sports, The Health Network and Fit TV, making it the longest running fitness show in US history.

I loved his show in part because it was shot on location in Hawaii. Gilad would lead a small class of students right on the beach. Some of his students were young guys who struggled with the exercises. Others were senior women with great form. Gilad showed that fitness was accessible to all, and that exercise programming could be scaled to match each participant’s level of conditioning. Everybody smiled as they engaged in witty banter. Yes, fitness could be fun.

These iconic four helped shape who I am today as a speaker, trainer, author and coach.

I would love to know who helped shape your views on fitness.