We were a bit skeptical about attending the Arnold Sports Festival. Knowing nothing about physique competitions and unable to name more than a handful of famous bodybuilders, was it really for us athletes who enjoy a healthy amount of carbs, CrossFit and lifting heavy stuff?
It didn’t take long to realize that the Arnold is for anyone who cares about training and nutrition. No matter what your sport, ability or interest level is, the weekend-long fitness festival is a must-do at least once. Here are five reasons why:
1. You’ll see some incredible, world-record displays of strength and athleticism
It’s not just bodybuilding and bikini awards, though those are two of the marquee events and what the Arnold originally centered around. The ever-expanding Arnold has elite powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, Pro Strongman (as well as amateur-level competitions), martial arts and even a CrossFit competition.
Early weekend estimates were 20,000 athletes competing in more than 70 sports and events. Plenty of world records fell, from behemoths like Strongman Brian Shaw and powerlifter Ray Williams (above) to 114 lb. powerlifter Marisa Inda.
2. The girl power is contagious
The Pro Strongwoman competition crowned its first-ever champion in Liefia Ingalls, who beat out Kaitlin Burgess to take home the top cash prize and make history in the process. The sport, unfamiliar to many, drew sizable crowds both days, with the 500-lb. tire deadlifts a fitting finale to a seriously impressive amount of female power.
3. There’s no way you won’t be inspired
If the world records and women weren’t enough to give you the chills, the Arnold hosted its first disabled powerlifting competition this year. Thousands of fans gathered on Friday to cheer on competitors who were born without a limb or sustained military injuries.
There were plenty of masters competitors and the always heart-tugging professional wheelchair bodybuilding as well. The Arnold is about people persevering, whether it was two-time wheelchair winner Harold Kelley or an amateur powerlifter —who competed a day after burying her father— showing how strong the human spirit can be.
4. There are freebies everywhere
Like trying new products? How about free ones? The Arnold expo is daunting in size and features thousands of vendors handing out free food, drink, supplement and even apparel samples.
There’s plenty of discounts and limited edition stuff if you need gear and, though all the cool stuff may have your wallet saying otherwise, the trip to Columbus is fairly affordable overall. You may want to bring an empty bag for your haul. (If you’re into free stuff and discounts, you definitely want in on this as well.)
5. It’s a celeb-spotting/friend-making hot bed.
Want to meet The CrossFit Games champions Katrin Davidsdottir and Mat Fraser?
The pair were among numerous CrossFit athletes who did meet-and-greets, with powerlifting gurus like Mark Bell and Jesse Burdick chatting and working their respective booths and Juggernaut’s Chad Wesley Smith coaching and mingling all weekend.
Grab a training session at Beyond Limits Gym –where the big names adorn the walls and are often there training– and make a stop by world-record holder Matt Wenning’s Ludus Magnus gym as well.
Fitness and bikini celebrities drew some long picture lines while Shaw and Game of Thrones Strongman competitor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson always always had a mass of fans. Of course, the weekend was all about who could spot the man himself: Arnold. Bonus points for pulling off a selfie.