I have been involved with the fitness industry since 1997 and I have seen the big changes going into 2017 (that’s 20 years if you can believe it!).

In this article, I will discuss how the world of bodybuilding, muscle development and health have progressed or regressed over the last few decades based on my personal experience at LIVE events.

Celebrities at Fitness Conventions Today vs. 10+ Years Ago

Ten years ago, you could see a celebrity like Stone Cold Steve Austin or John Cena for multiple pictures and for conversations.

Today, the Arnold is so busy that they don’t even allow the fans to take posed pictures with the biggest stars.

Instead, fans just get autographs to keep the lines moving. Frequently, if a fan does take a picture with a big-name star, they need to buy $100 of supplement products to get a golden token in order to get in the photo shoot line.

I think from a personal perspective the conventions have gotten too known.

In 2005, you would see big name stars and you could get pictures with all of them for free and at events like the Olympia, there was barely a line at all.

Then years later, Dwayne Johnson “The Rock,” will get on the microphone, announce that he is at the Olympia Expo and the whole EXPO will be flocked with people!

In 2005 it was free without a line (at west coast events),  in 2010 you had to buy $40 of supplements for a pic, in 2015 you had to buy $100 of supplements and after 2016 the celebrities would make more big announcements on the mic!

For example, at the 2016 Arnold Triple H would just be in the ring telling fans about wrestling coming to the Expo and The Rock would be on the mic at the 2016 Olympia telling the fans that in 2017 he would like the Olympia televised! Ten years ago, they would just be standing around taking pictures with fans and talking.

WINNER – Fitness Industry of 10+ years ago.

Booth Models Today vs. Booth Models 10+ Years Ago

The events are known for bringing in some of the greatest models from around the world.

So, which time had better models?

Well, ten years ago, the models were competing to get into magazines and as a whole the economy was stronger.

Today models promote themselves off of social media sites like Facebook pages and Instagram.

Or they are working on face selfies or snap chat with all the filters to see how cute they are as dogs, whereas before it was having that bombshell body to get into the magazines.

Some of today’s models use social media to make them appear more popular and attractive.

 WINNER – Fitness Industry of 10+ years ago.

***Note- there are more different types of models today than the past because of more events. There are also more booths today. This means that you can meet more muscular cross fit models and a greater variety of females involved in fitness. They would just rate overall lower on the 1-10 scales, but there are more types.

Freaky Bodybuilders & Monsters of Today vs. 10+ Years Ago

A lot of people go to the events for the freak show. They want to escape reality and see monsters like no other.

Are they bigger today or ten years ago at these events?

Due to health concerns, a declining magazine industry and a focus on all types of fitness has led to a decline in freaks.

Ten to twenty years ago there were more 400lbs lean monsters walking the planet from Greg Kovacs standing at 6’3 and weighing 430lbs. Greg died at the age of 44 on November 26, 2013.

Bodybuilding names like Trevor Smith and Jeep Swenson were over 400lbs.

O.D. Wilson was one of the most monstrous strongman who ever lived and he died in his 30s. Although, the bodybuilding freaks aren’t as massive today, the freaks are in much better condition.

WINNER – Freaks were bigger 10+ years ago. (They are healthier and more fit today.)

POWERLIFTERS and STRONGMAN 10 Years Ago vs. Today

Back in 2000, Glen Chabot won the 2000 Arnold as he bench pressed 720lbs in a single ply shirt at 6’2 276lbs.

Fifteen years later we have Kirill Sarychev bench pressing 738.5lbs RAW at 6’5 and weighing over 395lbs.

This means the highest RAW bench of today would beat the Arnold winner in a shirt from the year of 2000.

It also goes to show that Bill Kazmaier’s 19-year bench press record of 661lbs back in 1981 wouldn’t even be a top-level bench press today.

In fact many of the all time RAW world records have been broken in 2015.

Ray Williams set the highest squat ever in 2015, squatting 938.  At 275 Zakhir Khdayarov squatted 1,041lbs RAW.

At 308lbs Eric Lilliebridge squatted 1,052lbs and at Super Heavy Weight, Andrey Malanichev from Russia squatted 1,058lbs.  (I’m sure these records will have changed by the time you’re reading this.)

At the beginning of 2000, the big thing was who would be the first man to bench press 800lbs with a bench press shirt. Today we have Tiny Meeker surpassing the 1,100lbs mark.

The lifters today are a lot stronger at the top level than the lifters were ten years ago, twenty years ago and any time before then.

WINNER – Lifters of today.


Thanks to social media the fitness industry is way more known than ever before. I used to see these fitness events as “private paradises,” and now they are mainstream all over the world.

As recent as ten years ago, there was the Arnold event in Columbus Ohio, and that was the main event. In 2006, the Arnold changed its name to the Arnold Sports Festival because of its great growth!

Fast forward ten years later and the Arnold is in Australia, Asia, Africa, Brazil and Europe.

There are other events all over the world that exist now which didn’t exist twenty years ago or ten years ago.

The Arnold is also promoted all over social media creating an event of over 200,000 attendees.

On top of that, the Arnold in Columbus Ohio now has over 56 competitive events. The industry has grown in a very big way!

WINNER – Fitness Industry of today.


Over the years the Arnold has developed many more events and has become much more main stream. If you take an event like the Arnold ten years ago, you would see table tennis on the main stage.

Today you will see WWE wrestling.

There are over twice as many competitions today and so many competitions there are different buildings for them, including a kid’s fitness expo.

They have everything from swimming to strongman. The event has totally evolved and now has something for everyone.

WINNER – Fitness Industry of today.


Since Critical Bench sells a program to increase ones’ bench, I thought it would only be fair to include this topic.

Twenty years ago and even ten years ago, the bench press was way better as it was on the main stage with World Powerlifting Organization (WPO) and tons of high powered energy at the Arnold.

It was what every powerlifting fan got excited about each year. Today the competitions can be found in different rooms in the convention center or in different buildings.

This is also more annoying for the fans because it’s not on the Arnold stage which means it gets far less spectators. In addition, fans can’t enjoy the expo while the bench pressing is taking place because it’s in another location.

WINNER- Fitness Industry of 10+ years ago.


Variety spices up life and expands our interest and perspective. The fitness industry today has way more variety. There are a greater variety of athletes, competitors, trainers and styles. This leads to a healthier and more balanced industry. This means there is far more for everyone.

However, with variety comes a potential dark side. Example, the crowds get larger which can make the fitness industry a victim of its own success. It also makes the industry more known which might make booths less personal or increase rules when meeting stars.

The industry also can become less hardcore as the ‘energy’ changes. In fact, it makes the conventions less popular with the hardcore overall and more popular with the masses.  Part of this is because as things expand, some of the hardcore flavor gets swallowed up into everything else. Some people even think as the fitness industry has grown, it appears to be more fake.

WINNER – Tie – Depending on who you are and what you value. Are you new age or old school?


Was it better watching events today or ten years ago? In the past, if you wanted to see competitions or lifts done in the animal cage or on the main stage, you had to travel to be there.

Everything that happened stayed at the Arnold or was then published in magazines.

Today, you can just watch everything on YouTube or videos on people’s social media pages as it happens in real time.

Now many people will walk around the expo and use the LIVE filters on social media to show people what is going on. Nothing is quite like being at a LIVE event which gives attending the event in the past the edge.

WINNER – 10+ years ago.


Today the fitness industry adds new things every single year whether it’s a kids expo, a Spartan type race, mascots, talent competition or a trainer competition. Every year the fitness events expand on the entertainment side of things by adding new extravaganzas.

WINNER – Fitness Industry today.


Ten years ago, the magazine industry was booming. You had various powerlifting magazines ranging from Powerlifting USA to Monster Muscle.  There were also tons of different bodybuilding and fitness magazines.

The magazines also frequently had over 300 pages of information, and at these events people would get very excited to be published in various magazines.  Ten years later, many of the magazines are either out of business or have fewer pages than the magazines of old.

Today technology has changed the world a lot. If you go to a big convention and take a picture with someone, there is a great chance they will tell you to post it on social media and to tag them.

Before these events even happen, there’s lots of marketing with hash tags going on. It went from a magazine planet to very much of a social media planet.

There are pros and cons to each of these worlds.  Today people can share personal progress reports, make personal friends, give personal comments, show people whatever they would like and build whatever network they want.

Whereas before, you actually had to be featured in a magazine or over a website to get exposure. On the other hand, if you were in the magazine people were following what was happening in the magazines more and they didn’t have social media newsfeeds to look at.

WINNER – Tie- The Fitness Industry of 10+ years ago from a prestigious perspective. Today from a mutual friendship perspective.


One of the biggest changes is the people. If you look at who went to the Arnold in 2005 versus the 2015 Arnold, only about 5-10% of the same people continue to go.

Companies change fast. Models get pregnant; athletes remain in their prime for only so long, and it’s the fans/athletes who can afford to go who keep coming back.

Which was a better time for socialization? Well, if you’re looking for friendships, then definitely the past because the events were more personal! They weren’t broadcasted on every social media site, and you would see the same people every year.

I also knew everyone before each event started because on Myspace (a popular network between 2004-2009,) you could interact with everyone in the industry before the events started and today social media is more about public posts with friend limits!

If you’re looking to meet more people and if you’re excited to meet new people, then today is better as there are more new faces showing up at every event. Still, the true and hardcore keep coming back.

WINNER – Tie – Depending what you want to get out of the events from a social perspective. 

SKILL LEVEL of Top Athletes

Every year records get broken. These record breaking performances keep the urge to be great going. It’s also true that we live in a highly sedentary culture which makes it so that the average athlete would have been better ten years ago.  However, at the top-level athletes are improving. I believe the best of today would typically beat the best of ten years ago in the athletic world.

WINNER – Athletes of Today.


Twenty years ago and even ten years ago the mentality was “Bigger is better and if it’s easy, it has no value.”  There were competitions for freaks, but the regular size fit individuals didn’t have big competitions. There was no such thing as a “212 division,” and there was definitely no “Men’s Physique” competition.

In recent times this has really changed. Before there ever was a 212 division or a men’s physique division, there would be big lines for the super massive freaks and the 6’1 160-lbs fit lifters wouldn’t get lines. Today you have 5’9 300-lbs bodybuilders with only about eight people in their lines.

There are fitness models who are almost 6 inches taller and over 100-lbs lighter with very-very long lines! Some old-school bodybuilders have expressed anger because they had to get known before social media existed and they aren’t getting the attention today. Some people feel the new motto of the industry is “if it’s easy, more people will do it and more people are doing it.”

This statement is in reference to being cut, fit, more aesthetically pleasing and not super big or strong. Fitness models and fans at the booths often take pictures, use hash tags, and post on social media. That’s huge publicity! Perhaps this is healthy because it promotes health, gives mainstream people hope and keeps people connected.

WINNER – Competitors of today just based on overall health.


One of the major things that change in the fitness industry is us and how we respond to our environment.

For example, in 2005, I thought it was pretty exciting to be videotaped at a big fitness expo as I would scream into the camera as loud as I could while doing an interview and do outrageous things in pictures.

My excitement was just off the roof. Basically, I got carried away with the moment and took it for granted.

Sadly, some of the friends I’ve made from past events have passed away and this was a very sobering moment for me.

I now realize that just because I’m seeing certain people at one event, doesn’t mean that I will see them at future events giving each event and every interaction a special aura.

In the past, my energy was pretty much out of control and I would take lots of energy supplements to up my energy at the event even more! Today, I don’t take anything for granted and I live in the moment. I do my best to enjoy the time I get to spend with all of these amazing people.

There are lots of ‘basics’ in the industry that stay the same each year like the strength competitions, physique competitions, babes at booths, champions everywhere you look and people taking pictures like crazy.

Things like this will always be the same and are what make going to LIVE events so much fun. In the details and in our hearts, the fitness industry will always provide great energy and excitement because in every detail there will always be some form of METAMORPHOSIS!

WINNER – Fitness Industry of today.


I gave today’s fitness industry 7 wins, the fitness industry of the past 5 wins and I gave the past & present fitness industries 3 draws.

But which one wins for you?

Of course, that would depend on which categories you find to be the most important and which perspective you take.

No matter what perspective or opinion you have, you cannot deny that the fitness industry has been completely transformed in the past 20 years! I wonder what will happen in the NEXT 20 years???

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By Ben Tatar,
CriticalBench.com Contributor