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A Bodybuilder's Guide To The 2019 Arnold Sports Festival

Domenic Mauro

Contest Coverage Sponsored By:

The 2019 Arnold Sports Festival is set for February 28 through to March 3, in Columbus, Ohio, and in case you’re new to the industry, be advised—the ASF is, outside of the Olympics, the largest multi-sport event in North America, if not the world.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer have co-produced the Arnold Sports Festival since 1989, when it debuted as a one-day bodybuilding competition known as the Arnold Classic. The Arnolds, as it’s known to many fitness enthusiasts today, has grown into a four-day extravaganza that adds fans, events and exhibitors every year. The sports and events feature 14 Olympic sports, eight IFBB Pro League contests, the Arnold Strongman Classic and the world famous Arnold Amateur Championships. It attracts more than 22,000 athletes from 60 nations, competing in 80 events, including the 14 Olympic sports mentioned, and almost 200,000 fitness enthusiasts each year. The Arnold Fitness Expo, with more than 900 booths, features the biggest names in health and fitness presenting the latest trends in sports apparel, supplements and equipment. Celebrity sightings of athletes from the IFBB, the WWE, the NFL and Major League Baseball as well as film stars and the weekend’s namesake, Arnold Schwarzenegger, are part of the fun—and let’s not forget the MUSCLE INSIDER crew, who’ll be bringing you the most up-to-date coverage! 

If you’re headed to Columbus, here are a few things to keep in mind as you prep for an intense weekend full of muscle and unlimited opportunities for high jinks and mayhem!

Arnold Sports Festival Grows Bigger, Better In 2019

The Arnold Sports Festival, the largest multi-sport event in North America, will grow to a record 80 sports and events as it goes into its 31st consecutive year in 2019. Some changes have taken place since the close of the Veteran’s Memorial in early January 2015. The Arnolds will now take place at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Ohio Expo Center and several other venues in Central Ohio. New events in 2019 include Armlifting, Foosball, Futsal, High School Weightlifting, Speed Cubing and the Viking Dash Trail Runs. All professional and amateur bodybuilding contests will be held at the convention center. If your entire bodybuilding family is taking part, several competitions and the Arnold SportsWorld Kids & Teens EXPO will be at the Ohio Expo Center. The 31st Annual Arnold Classic, Arnold Classic Physique, Fitness International, Figure International, Bikini International, Physique International and Arnold Wheelchair professional bodybuilding contests will be held at the Battelle Grand. Prejudging for some events will be presented on the Arnold Fitness EXPO stage. The Arnold Amateur IFBB Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure, Bikini & Physique Championships will also be at Battelle Grand and the Arnold Fitness EXPO stage. Women’s events will be on Thursday, Februry 28th and men’s events on Friday, March 1, with finals in bodybuilding, fitness, figure and bikini scheduled for Saturday, March 2 on the Arnold Fitness EXPO stage. The 2019 Arnold Fitness EXPO, the heart of the Arnold Sports Festival, will be held March 1-3 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, and has grown from 700 to more than 900 booths over the last 4 years. It’ll feature the latest in sports equipment, apparel and nutrition and a stage that hosts unique, non-stop competitions and entertainment.

Survival Tips

Where to Stay. Make sure you book your hotel at least six months ahead. If you don’t, you’re pretty much SOL, so if you’re just now deciding that you want go this year, you’d better start hitting the travel Websites as soon as you finish reading this.

How to Get Around. First come, first served goes for parking as well as hotels. If you can buy a parking pass ahead of time at one of the lots, do it. By midmorning you may as well leave your car at the hotel. The complimentary Arnold Shuttles carry visitors from the major hotels in to the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the major scenes of action, and there are shuttles from the parking lots as well. Find more info on this at www.ArnoldSportsFestival.com.

As for cabs, unless they’re on the spot when you need them, you could be looking at a 30-plus-minute wait.

Who to Bring. Bring your buddies—don’t bring your significant other! If you do, you’ll wind up sleeping on a bench at the gym when you get home. There are too many hardbodies and freaks showing off their hard work in the gym in very little clothing to distract you. Your head will be on swivel the entire weekend.

What to Bring. Bring a backpack. Aside from having a place to put all the supplement samples and swag you’ll collect at the expo, you’ll need some essentials. Top of the list is water. At the convention center, a 500ml bottle could cost you more than $5! Also, bring food, especially if you’re dieting for a show. Yeah, there are plenty of samples at the expo, but it all starts to taste like sawdust after a while. One more essential: pack your camera. There are so many celebrities and so much to see walking around that you’re going to want to take some pics, if only so your friends will believe your stories.

What to Wear. Dress comfortably, whatever that is for you—we’ve seen everything from leather butt huggers and chaps to feather boas and even the Arm Blaster on Arnold-goers—and wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to spend hours on your feet at the expo, and there’s almost nowhere to sit.

Your Schedule of Events

Thursday. The ASF actually starts on Thursday with the Arnold Amateur Masters Bikini, Masters Figure Prejudging and Finals. Also on the bill: prejudging for the amateur Figure, Open Bikini, Fitness Physique & Routine Round and
Women’s Physique classes. Here you’ll start to see the future stars of the industry.

Over 700 competitors from 68 countries will be competing in the IFBB Amateur Division. Apart from the host country, the biggest teams will come from Canada, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Kuwait and Russia.

After that, you’ll want to head into the Meet & Greet With IFBB Pros, where you can rub shoulders with the world’s best physique athletes, who’ll be competing over the weekend.

Now, if you want to meet some key industry influencers, you’ll want to hit the bar at the Hyatt Regency, where many a deal has been made. Other movers and shakers can be found in the bar at the Hilton, where the pro athletes stay.

Friday. Friday is the first day of the Arnold Fitness Expo, so get ready for an experience you’ll never forget. By midmorning, the crowd at the convention center will be on its way to epic proportions. The pounding music and roaring crowd will be deafening. The isles will be jammed with people storming the booths for a chance to meet their industry idols and the hundreds of fitness models, as well as collect samples of the newest supplements.

The IFBB pros hit the stage at the expo with the Fitness International and Figure International prejudging. If you want a seat, make sure to get there early. Another showstopper is the Arnold Strongman Classic, where the world’s strongest men take the stage to shatter records through sheer power and strength.

Meanwhile over at the Battelle Grand, more of the Arnold Amateur prejudging and finals takes place.

On Friday night, the action shifts back to the IFBB Pros, where the winners of the Fitness International, Figure International and Women’s Physique International will be crowned.

This will be a great night to go wild on the town. A fine place to grab a bite is Max & Erma's, with its casual dining and reasonable prices, “guilt-free” menu, and locally brewed beer—but you can’t stop there. 

Saturday. After a Friday night with a storyline reminiscent of *The Hangover, you’ll be ready to do it all over again. This time, though, you’ve got some experience under your belt, not to mention a massive headache, but no matter. You’re ready to face the even bigger crowds, more events and more yoga-pants-wearing dream girls and tank top wearing dudes offering free samples and swag that are the ASF expo, day two.

Bodybuildingwise, you’ve got the Amateur Arnold finals for men’s bodybuilding, fitness, figure and bikini in the morning at the expo and the pro Arnold Classic, Bikini International and Men’s Physique judging as well as the new addition of Arnold Classic Pro Wheelchair judging and finals at the Battelle Grand in the afternoon. As evening falls, you’ll make your way back to the Battelle Grand for the pro finals. The Arnold Classic is the premiere event of the Arnold Sport Festival, featuring the world’s leading pro bodybuilders. The crowning of the new champ will be followed immediately by the heart-stopping final round of the Arnold Strongman Classic—right on the Battelle Grand stage.

At this point you’ll be starving, and for that there’s nothing better than the best steak in town. Mitchell’s Steakhouse, near the convention center, is an award-winning restaurant that raises the bar for beef, seafood and wine in Columbus.

Stuffed full of beef and seafood, it’s time to party. The official after-party of the Arnold Classic promises a night of fun, food, drinks, dancing, music, star-gazing and world-class entertainment.

Sunday. Sunday gives you another day to catch any booths you missed at the expo. It’s also a good time to rehydrate, make sense of the night before and offer any necessary apologies. It’s also a great day to get in a workout. Power House Gym Downtown boasts 16,000 square feet of space. It’s where most of the IFBB pros hang out and the scene of many post competition photo shoots. You get to train where the pros train, but remember to be respectful. No one wants to be interrupted in the middle of a set.

With your workout done, a postworkout meal is in order. One option is the local Cheesecake Factory. The menu at this beloved-by-bodybuilders chain features more than 200 selections made from scratch, and the staff will gladly make changes to meet your dietary needs. Be warned, however: the place is famous for its generous portions, and, well, it’s not called the Cheesecake Factory for nothing!

If you’re looking for a challenge, you’ll want to hit The Thurman Cafe in Columbus’s German Village district and order The Thurmanator burger—two 12-ounce patties, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle, banana peppers, bacon, ham, sautéed mushrooms and onions and three types of cheese on a bun plus fries. As mammoth as it was, it didn’t stand a chance when set in front of MUSCLE INISDER’S Domenic Mauro!

So there you have it—the 411 on the ASF. See you there!

For more info on all things Arnold, head to ArnoldSportsFestival.com.


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