Taking a Closer Look at the Evolution of Fitness in America

U.S. Marines stand with Arnold Schwarzenegger as he jokes with the crowd at the 2013 Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio.
U.S. Marines stand with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he jokes with the crowd at the 2013 Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, on March 3. (Capt. Joseph Reney/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The multibillion-dollar-a-year industries of fitness, health, nutrition and weight loss have made remarkable revenue gains in the past 30-40 years. However, it seems ironic that as the fitness industry grows, so does the average American waistline. Maybe all that money being spent is being wasted, to some degree.

I recently attended and gave a lecture on Special Ops fitness at the 20th annual Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio. This event started as a bodybuilding show and now features more than 35 sports competitions from table tennis to mixed martial arts and strongman contests. As The Arnold has evolved, so too has America's pursuit of fitness for aesthetics and performance.

The fitness world is really split among those who utilize fitness as a means to get better at sports and other athletic events (performance), those who body-build (aesthetics) and those seeking just to get healthy, lose weight and live life better. The latter can be overwhelmed by all the options to "get healthy" these days.

I know I was as I walked the convention floor, looking at the endless supply of vendors who peddle fitness equipment and supplements. These companies appeal to fat-burning and muscle-building types. However, there were a few interesting fitness product and nutrition companies that have some products that help with performance, recovery and endurance.

For those seeking to go from unhealthy to fitness-healthy, simply start stretching and moving more, drinking more water and fewer sugary drinks, and eating less junk food. You do not need a line of supplements to get started, and weight-loss pills are not an answer for you at this time of transition to being healthy.

There's no need to spend money joining a club, buying expensive equipment or dietary supplements. Getting involved in proven programs will work best for beginners. Programs that involve regular light exercise and eating plans is all you need. But before you do anything new or take anything for weight loss, consult your doctor or certified nutritionist.

Some of the more memorable personal experiences was seeing Joe Weider receive one of his many lifetime achievement awards. Weider was responsible for my first workout book and bench press and concrete weights I ever owned in my early teens. His efforts and others like Jack LaLanne turned fitness mainstream in America decades ago.

The military was well-represented as well at The Arnold Classic. It was refreshing to see the USMC and Army have booths there for recruiting. It is a target-rich environment for recruiters who hand out free shirts and information if the spectators could perform a certain number of pull-ups or push-ups.

Also, I met four-time Super Bowl winner Bill Romanowski at a GNC awards ceremony I attended with Perfect Pushup and Perfect Pullup inventor and former Navy SEAL Alden Mills. After retiring from the NFL, Romanowski developed a nutrition line with which I am very impressed.

Anytime you can last 16 years in the NFL, the training and nutritional supplements allow for longevity. Romanowski gave samples of his products as well as his book, Romo, to read. As a former military member, I could make similar comparisons to his transition from the NFL to a new career to exactly how it felt going from the SEAL teams to the civilian world.

I am finding the book an excellent read, not only as a fan of football but also as a student of longevity methods. His business can be found at www.nutrition53.com (his football number, if you are not aware), and he has a line of supplements that are becoming highly regarded. Specifically speaking, his "Neuro" supplement was developed personally for him after suffering more than 20 concussions in his career. Nutrition53 also has sleep and recovery products and weight-loss products as well.

For those seeking performance increases for athletics but do not wish to take illegal and dangerous performance enhancing drugs (PED), there are many companies out there that have an endless supply of recovery drinks, vitamins, protein powders, and more.

The companies you should look into are those who have their products tested by an independent, third-party lab to check for impurities. Many supplements can have banned substances in them, which will cause an athlete to pop positive on a PED test.

One company that I recommend is StrengthPro. Not only are their products independently tested by www.informed-choice.org, but they also meet the NCAA and Olympic standards for protein to carbohydrate ratios as well as other standards.

The bigger the company does not necessarily mean that the supplement line is better, more pure or even works. I have never been a big fan of supplements; many of my writings in the past have criticized their use in military training and among young athletes.

I only recently have started researching personally for recovery products. At the age of 40 this year, my body requires more rest than 20 years ago and maybe more ingredients than I consume in a day. I am still searching for them but have found the StrengthPro.com recovery drink line is working well for me, as well as the EAS product Muscle Armor. But the jury is still out as to how I can be 20 years old again.

You have to find what works for you. One product, program or piece of equipment may or may not work for you and provide the best results. Your body will adapt to what you throw at it, good or bad, so when in doubt, just get moving more and eat less junk food.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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