When you first step inside the Arnold Fitness Expo, odds are you'll be greeted by the thumping bass of a dance party fueled by energy drinks and preworkout powder.
The ladies with washboard abs shake their hips to the Cupid Shuffle.
A mixture of pungent sweat and sweet whey-protein pancakes fills the air.
For many, the sprawling expo is the main event of the Arnold Sports Festival. Through Sunday, 200,000 people will pile into the Greater Columbus Convention Center to meet fitness celebrities, peruse 1,000 vendor booths and cheer on their favorite athletes in both iconic and lesser-known competitions.
Rows and rows of vendors make sales pitches for the latest in sports equipment, apparel and nutrition. Gawkers weave through the walls of people, cellphones recording, but it's doubtful any video will compare to experiencing it firsthand.
Taste the peach-mango amino acids, the pure liquid egg whites and the mint-chocolate-chip protein mix. Let the man in the unicorn mask sell you the powerlifting Pikachu T-shirt. The $300 bejeweled bikini is a bargain, compared to its original price of $650.
You can even buy mattresses, beard butter and super-healthy pet food.
But if you want to sample some of the expo's most popular freebies, be prepared to wait in very long lines for hours, longtime expo-goers warn. Many of them spend a good portion of the fitness convention standing in one place, but they say it's worth it to access all the supplements and merchandise under one roof.
Their advice: bring a big bag for swag and plenty of patience.
"At least you can check out the scenery while you wait," joked Rose Behanna, who drove from West Virginia to spend her third weekend in "muscle-man heaven."
She and friend Jayme Jett expected to wait about two hours for free items from the Optimum Nutrition display. And Friday at the three-day expo is the "slow day," they added.
At one stage Friday, a swarm of men in kilts used pitchforks to hurl a weighted burlap bag to the tune of bagpipes. At another, crowds cheered on a 66-year-old armwrestler with all the fervor of teens at a high school lunch table. Metal music blared as the guy with giant muscles and bulging veins went for one more rep at the bench press.
Throughout the weekend, among the sea of shoulder-to-shoulder spectators, some may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the man himself: Arnold Schwarzenegger. He supposedly passes through once a day to pose for photos at every sponsor booth with the help of dozens of security guards.
It's not difficult to spot him, expo veterans Amy and Jeff Crace, of Findlay, said.
"Just listen for the crowds screaming," she said. But, he added, "don't expect to get too close."
This news has been published by title Bring Patience And A Bag For Swag To Fitness Expo, Regulars Advise
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