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The Ultimate First-Timer's Guide to the Arnold Classic

the Arnold statue Columbus, Ohio

For nearly 35 years, the Arnold Classic has been one of the biggest events in the world of bodybuilding. Sure, it went under a rebrand as the Arnold Sports Festival in 2006, but it will forever be The Arnold to us long-time lifters.

The Arnold Classic 2024 has the potential to be the best one yet, with world-renowned athletes, hundreds of vendors, and tons of events. Here's everything you need to know about heading to the Arnold for the first time and getting the most out of the experience.

When is the Arnold Classic 2024?

The Arnold Sports Festival will take place from Thursday, February 29 to Sunday, March 3, 2024. The earliest events start at 8:00 am, and the latest events end at 10:00 pm, so plan for a long day!

Where is the Arnold Classic 2024?

The Arnold Classic is held in Columbus, Ohio, each year. This year, the event will span several locations to accommodate all of the events. The main events occur at the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the Ohio Expo Center, which are 2.2 miles (3.5km) from each other. Other venues include:
  • Hilton Columbus Downtown
  • Hilton Columbus
  • Hyatt Regency
Most events occur at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, where you can visit the booths, watch people move big weights, and get the full Arnold experience. It's also where you can visit the Bells of Steel booths. We'll be at 545 so come say hi!

Why is the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio?

The Arnold Classic started in Columbus in 1989, but the event's history dates back to 1970. In 1970, our pal Arnold competed against Sergio "The Myth" Oliva — another bodybuilding legend — on "neutral ground" in Columbus, Ohio and won the title of Mr. World. The event was so well run and impactful to Schwarzenegger that he made a handshake deal with Jim Lorimer — coach, mayor, sports promoter, and true Renaissance man — to bring more bodybuilding events to Columbus.

After bringing a few Mr. Olympia events to Columbus, Schwarzenegger and Lorimer realized they could make Columbus a hub for bodybuilding and fitness-related events. As a result, The Arnold Classic was born in 1989. The legendary Jim Lorimer sadly passed away on November 24th, 2022, at age 96, but his legacy lives on.

Arnold Classic Hotels: Where to Stay

There are 21 official Arnold Sports Festival hotels in Columbus to stay at, with the Hyatt Regency being the top recommendation from the event organizers. The Hilton Hotel and the Dury Inn and Suites are also connected to the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The closer you are to the convention center, the easier it is to navigate to and from the event. Arnold Classic hotels book up to 6 months in advance, so get your room ASAP!

Arnold Classic Transportation

As with any major event, parking and transportation at the Arnold Classic can be tricky. Planning in advance is a must. Book your spot in advance if you want to park at the Convention Center. You can also book parking at the Arena District garages on Chestnut St. and Front St. The Hyatt, Hilton, and Dury Inn also offer paid parking.

Still, checking with the hotels before arriving is important, as these spaces fill up quickly too. You can also secure parking at the Ohio Expo Center for $10 a day or $24 for the whole weekend. A free Arnold Express Shuttle Bus runs between the major hotels, the Convention Center, and Expo Center all weekend.

These shuttles fill up quickly, so give yourself lots of time! Cabs and Ubers are in high demand during the Arnold. If you choose this transportation method, book your rides in advance or plan to wait and play the Hunger Games with your fellow attendees. You can take advantage of ride sharing and carpool with your newfound friends to streamline your transportation (and spend the rest of your money on swag).

Arnold Classic Packing List

If there's one overarching piece of advice we can offer when packing for the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, it's be prepared. Dress and pack for long days at the convention center. You might attend with specific events in mind, but there's so much to see that your plans could change. Here is the ultimate Arnold Classic packing list:

Backpack

You are allowed a backpack in the Arnold expo, which we highly recommend. Use this to carry around your belongings and store your samples. With 1,000 booths to visit, you'll be leaving with tons of packages. Rather than carrying around a bunch of bags, toss these in your backpack.

Light clothing and shoes

Wear some light, comfortable clothes. The convention center gets warm, especially when people pile in for the feature events and shows. Comfortable shoes are also a must. You'll be walking around a lot and standing in lines, which is often tougher on the body than an intense strength workout. Older lifters, we see you!

Warm outer layer

Spring may be on the horizon, but the weather is still pretty chilly in March. The average temperature is 5-10°C (41-51°F), and snow often makes an appearance. Pack a warm outer layer if you have to walk or wait outside. Canadian attendees: pack your best toque and swimsuit.

Bottled water

Staying hydrated is important at an expo focused on health and fitness. Sure, it won't give you the muscle pump of the best bodybuilders in the world sharing the space, but we can all dream. Bottled water at the venues follows that weird pricing rule where everything costs more at a concert or airport. In other words, BYOW unless you want to spend most of your budget on water. You'll also receive a ton of supplement samples that you'll likely want to try throughout the day. For the sake of your digestion, do NOT try them all.

Snacks

Throw some protein bars and easy snacks in your bag to keep you fed throughout the day. There will be food onsite, but it's worth having something to nosh on between meals.

Portable charger

It's worth grabbing a portable charger to throw in your bag for the event. You'll be hard at work doing Instagram curls and overhead selfie presses with the best of them, so don't miss a minute.

Cash

Most of the booths take cards. Yet, one of the biggest complaints previous attendees have is overburdened WiFi, slow connections, and payment timeouts. Your best bet is to have some backup cash in your bag in case your card fails.

What to Watch at the Arnold Expo

With so many options, it can be challenging to choose what to see. We recommend keeping an open mind and seeing as much as possible. Of course, you'll want to see the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition and watch the best bodybuilders in the world strut their stuff on the stage.

Pre-judging takes place on Friday evening, and the Finals are Saturday night. You can see the women's bodybuilding events on Friday (Fitness International) and Saturday (Bikini International and Wellness International). You should also check out the Pro Wheelchair bodybuilding competition to see some truly amazing athletes in action on Saturday morning.

See some incredible feats of strength at The Arnold Strongman Classic, where Bells of Steel athlete Maxime Boudreault will be competing on Friday and Saturday. The Arnold Strongwoman Classic is happening at the same time and place, featuring Bells of Steel athlete Samantha Belliveau.

The Arnold is a multi-sport event with athletes from all backgrounds and skills. We also recommend checking out the Foosball competition, Medieval Fighting, and Strict Curl for endless entertainment. And, of course, don't forget to come see us at booth 545. We can do cool things too...

When to See Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger is arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time. So naturally, you want a chance to see the legend himself at his famous festival, right? You can see Arnold on Sunday morning at the Arnold Showcase. You will need tickets specifically for this event, which are sold separately or included in the Strongman and Bodybuilding VIP packages.

How Much Are 2024 Arnold Tickets?

Tickets for the 2024 Arnold range from around $35 for an early bird daily ticket to $799 for full weekend VIP packages. In the past, there have been tickets available at the door. However, some days sold out early at the 2023 Arnold Classic, so plan ahead. Full ticket details are here.

Arnold Sports Festival FAQs

Who won the 2023 Arnold Classic?

Professional bodybuilding competitor Samson Dauda won the 2023 Arnold Classic. Runner-up Nick Walker also won Franco Columbu Most Muscular.

What is the difference between Mr. Olympia and Arnold Classic?

These are two separate competitive events with unique entry requirements. Competitors in Mr. Olympia have to qualify to earn their spot on the stage. Competitors in the Arnold Classic are invited to participate.

Who has won the most Arnold Classics?

Dexter Jackson has won the most Arnold Classics. A five-time winner, Jackson was the reigning champion in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2013, and 2015.