Me at the 2018 Arnold Sports Festival ( no idea why I'm cheesing so hard.)
In 2017, I constantly kept coming across people I followed or knew asking if I was going to what they referred to as "The Arnold." It was nearing the end of February and I continued to hear about it over and over again. After being told over and over I needed to go I did a quick Google search about the event and instantly I was sold. I told my boyfriend and we purchased our tickets and began our search for a hotel. Everything, literally everything was mostly booked, having no prior knowledge or understanding of the event I was super surprised how difficult it was to find a hotel room. After diligently searching I was able to find and opening at a Red Roof Inn about half an hour away from the venue. Our experience was awesome, I wouldn't trade it for the world, however, having some insight beforehand would've definitely made a difference!
So what is the Arnold?
Every year, the first weekend of March, the Arnold Sports Festival brings an estimate of 200,000 athletes and fans to the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio from Friday to Sunday. There are events from powerlifting, bodybuilding, karate, dance, cheer, etc, and over 1000 booths. That being said it's a pretty huge weekend, in order to make the best of your experience I've created my guide on planning, attending and enjoying the Arnold Sports Festival without breaking the bank or getting lost in the sauce.
I am a freak when it comes to planning, I sometimes plan too much, I knew early this time I wanted to go, so instead of paying more for a crappy room, I booked our hotel at the end of November. It was still pretty pricey ($256USD for two nights.) However, it was only 10 minutes from the venue and much cheaper. I checked back later, at one point the hotel was $20 extra a night and then eventually it was completely booked. Both years I attended, I booked through Expedia, I got a nice deal where I had the option to cancel up until 24 hours, and I didn't have to pay up front. AirBnB is also a nice option, I have yet to do this for the Arnold but I've only heard good things from friends. Regardless which route you choose, plan early for the best price!
It is definitely a perk to live in Metro Detroit when it comes time for the Arnold, I am a 4 hour drive from Columbus which is not a bad drive at all. If you plan on driving hit the road early, there are always surprises with traffic. If you're coming from Michigan like me, watch out there is almost always construction on I-75. Although, I don't personally fly to the Arnold, when I fly anywhere else I always use Kayak. It's an awesome website that gathers the lowest price on airplane tickets by comparing all major airlines (except Southwest) to populate the cheapest deal. I was able to get the buzz from a traveler from Virginia, "The Columbus Airport isn't so busy, however, during the Arnold be sure to give yourself sometime as it can get crowded and busy. Depending on your hotel there are shuttles but Uber and Lyft is always a good option. I flew Spirit and got a really good deal, I recommend booking your flight at least 3 months in advance if you can!" The local airport is the John Glenn Columbus International Airport which is a 9 minute drive to the venue without traffic.
3. Picking a Day
If you want to go all days, great! However, I usually only choose one, although the best day to attend is Friday, both times I've gone on Saturday. I work full time and I cant justify using my PTO for the Arnold unless I am competing or have a booth (maybe one day lol.) If you have days off, don't work Fridays, or whatever the case may be, I highly suggest making the trip on Friday. It is super packed on Saturday and you almost have to stand in a line for anything, even the bathrooms. I've gone on Saturday and I always tell myself I'm going to take the day off work so I can go Friday but sadly I have yet to do that. Overall, the lines are shorter and everything is fresh as it's the first day and booths are fully stocked!
The ticket cost is $15 in advance and $20 at the door, I bought mine online, if you buy six you only pay $40. However, the fees get you for sure. The deal is technically two orders, so I paid the $6 processing fee twice so $12 and the order processing fee was $3.50. Altogether, for six tickets it costs $95.50. So if you pay at the door or in advance doesn't really matter.
If you plan on driving be sure to account for parking, the price generally ranges from $20-$30. This year we left the car at the hotel and took a Lyft, it was nice because Lyft had a code to save $5 on two trips and we had 6 people to split the cost. Going on a day like Saturday, the busiest day, the parking options fill up fast and you have to walk further which isn't fun cause sometimes its pretty cold, that being said...
If you aren't from the Midwest, don't let the month March confuse you, that doesn't mean warm weather, chirping birds and springtime. It means the sun may peak out but it's a deceitful cruel joke as it is still freezing. There is a coat check (did it last year) it cost about $10 but the best bet is just bearing the cold for a few seconds and leaving your coat at the hotel, or in the car. Sometimes we get lucky but for the most part and get some warm weather but trust me, it's not usually going to be hot or even warm. This year, it was mid 30's, I'm always freezing so I bought a light nylon quarter zip that I could take on and off as the expo hall was still chilly to me.
7. Meeting People
If you want to see your fitness idol, make sure they will be there on the day you attend and during the time frame you'll be there. Don't be surprised if its a wrap around line for almost anyone whose famous. Personally, I do not go to meet people, I don't have anyone I really idol or look up to, I go mostly for the fun time, experience, and freebies. The first time I did decide to see Rich Piana (RIP) I'm glad I did as it was his last Arnold, the line was about an hour. I recommend you decide beforehand who you really want to see and understand you may be only able to see 4 or 5 people depending on how popular they are and how long lines are. If you are trying to see Arnold he does walk around and there are documented times he is presenting or just around, but as you can imagine he's hard to get to. However, there is a forum you can get into for $25 to pick his brain, or just stare at him in awe. If that's your goal be sure to check out the guide and the website for times to fan girl over Arnold.
8. Scoping out the booths
This is my favorite part, the freebies, I literally walk away with so many things, from entire protein bars, pre-workouts, blender bottles, shirts, and more. Some of the bigger booths like Optimum Nutrition and Bodybuilding.com tend to have longer lines, like over an hour wait. A lot of times some of the smaller booths have really great products to giveaway as well. Freebies aside, this is the perfect time to discover new brands, products, and explore what else is out there. From protein pods, to blender bottle inserts, I've see it all at the Arnold.
9. Spending Money
Is Spring Break around the corner and you can't afford to spend a ton? No worries, I always hear people say you need to bring x amount of dollars to the Arnold but honestly the first time I went I hardly spent any money. While there are discounts and cool products its not the first and last time sales will be held. The fear of missing out is so real but forget about the need to buy and just enjoy yourself. Discounts and sales come and go don't feel the need to impulse buy cause you're there. There are powerlifting, bodybuilding, strongman shows you can watch for free, shirts, blender bottles, giveaways and plenty of freebies. If anything I say at least $100 spending money is nice but not at all necessary.
10. Have a Blast
The Arnold is the perfect time to take a trip with your gym buddies, meet your idols, explore the fitness community and so much more. Even if you don't go every year its definitely something to do at least once. I've had the chance to discover cool products, watch meets, discover new inventions, and even meet some followers. It's a fun weekend and doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to go! Don't keep talking yourself out of it and make the trip, you won't regret it!
See you there next year!