The Arnold: Columbus' year-round strength and fitness scene

Chris DeVille, Columbus Alive
Lexi Kaufman

The Arnold Sports Festival is the pinnacle of Columbus strength and fitness - the largest multi-sport event in the United States and the most beloved local athletic event not colored scarlet and gray.

"This is a strength heaven for people," said Jim Lorimer, the promoter who co-founded the Arnold in 1989.

When the fest shuts down, Columbus remains a year-round hub for strength and fitness athletes.


In the late 1960s, Louie Simmons switched from Olympic weightlifting to powerlifting, which focuses on bench press, squat and dead lift. Inspired by Ohio powerlifters like Larry Pacifico and Doug Heath, Simmons developed revolutionary techniques; in 1986, he opened Westside Barbell in Grove City and began training powerlifters with his Westside Method, including Chuck Vogelpohl, now a multiple world-record holder.

By 2000, Westside was attracting lifters from outside Ohio. Eventually, some of them formed offshoot gyms like Matt Wenning's Ludus Magnus in Franklinton, which is helping the Army redesign its strength training protocol, and Dan Dague's Lexen Xtreme in Grove City, where Vogelpohl now trains.

"(Simmons) had a big influence on all of us," Dague said.

Though USA Powerlifting hosts an event at the Arnold, the Columbus-based extreme powerlifting clique hasn't participated since 2007 because of conflicts over drug testing (the Arnold demands it), multi-ply shirts used for better leverage (the Arnold forbids them, for now) and other insider politics. Dague's Xtreme Powerlifting Coalition is bringing this wild element back to the Arnold next year; in the meantime, XPC hosts its own powerlifting meet at the Ultimate Sports Center this weekend.

Fitness and figure

Worthington's Metro Fitness North has become "Venice Beach Midwest," co-owner Mike Davies said. Athletes from as far as Australia and South Africa travel to train with Davies for bodybuilding, figure, bikini and more.

Davies, originally a cheerleading coach, got into training when he realized his athletes had nowhere to compete after high school. One example: Lexi Kaufman, 20, who competed at the Arnold in gymnastics at age 5 and cheerleading as a teen. This weekend she makes her pro bikini debut and launches her first fashion line for Davies' company, Rockstar Bikini.

"I started lifting to gain weight and be healthier," Kaufman said. "Then they told me, 'You're going to be on stage in nine weeks.' It was kind of addicting."


At North Side YMCA, Mark Cannella trains Olympic hopefuls with Columbus Weightlifting Club. Despite weightlifting's niche status stateside, Cannella notes: "We are the mother of all sports."

Though the club is open to amateurs of all levels, Cannella's client Holley Mangold has a strong chance to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team at Sunday's trials. Drew Dillon, another CWC lifter, placed third at nationals in 2010; with the right breaks this weekend, he could qualify for an international meet and go pro.

"I've shaped my life around it," said Dillon, who does marketing work on the side.


After almost a decade at Rickenbacker Air Force Base, Bill Henniger was contemplating more military work in 2006 when he heard about CrossFit, a new cross-disciplinary training system designed to prepare athletes for any challenge.

"Pretty much anything is game, but it needs to be measurable," Henniger said.

When Henniger opened Rogue Fitness, he recognized a market for CrossFit gear, so he teamed with product designer Ian Maclean to sell gymnastics rings. Maclean now oversees a full line of Rogue products.

Among Henniger's first clients was his future wife, Caity Matter, who won the Reebok CrossFit Games in 2008. In 2009, Henniger moved Rogue to a Grandview industrial park and sold his Gahanna facility to Graham Holmberg, who made Columbus the only city to produce two world CrossFit champions by winning in 2010.

"Routine is the enemy," Holmberg said. "The only way you can really wrap your mind around it is trying it."

Looking to take Holmberg up on it? The Arnold hosts open CrossFit sectionals Saturday.