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How to pass a natural bodybuilding polygraph exam

Preparing for a polygraph is always a good policy
Preparing for a polygraph is always a good policy
Photo by Dima Korotayev/Getty Images

Most natural competitors are nervous about taking a polygraph exam – especially the first time – because they are afraid the examiner will make a mistake, and they will fail the test. However, nervousness, per se, is not a factor that will usually determine whether or not someone passes or fails a polygraph. After all, everyone is nervous before any kind of a test – not just a polygraph test. However, there are certain things that competitors can do to prepare for a polygraph to facilitate their polygraph exam.

  • Don’t “assume” that you know what is on the banned substance list

It is mind-boggling how many athletes competing in natural bodybuilding contests (including bikini, figure, physique, etc.) have never read the banned substance lists for the sanctioning organizations – and they are different for each organization. They naively assume that none of the supplements they might have used in preparation for an event could possibly be banned. After all, their trainer said they were safe, their buddies at the gym said there was no problem with them, and they bought their supplements from a reputable nutritional rep. They casually approach their polygraph exam with the attitude that they are as pure as the driven snow and answer questions about their drug use history with the attitude that they could not possibly be anything but natural, so why look at the list?

Why are they so surprised, then, when they trigger a negative reaction on the polygraph when asked about their use of anything on the banned substance list? They have deceived themselves into thinking they have answered truthfully to something that they could not know for certain, and their body’s physiological responses showed them as being deceptive. The result? They fail the test. But, it’s the polygraph’s fault, right? Wrong. The polygraph only records their physiological responses to the questions – not their opinions.

Worse, they might actually look at the banned substance list just before a contest and find that they have been using something that was banned all along. What a terrible time to find out that everything and everybody they believed was wrong. All that training, all that dieting, and all that preparation could be for naught with the very real possibility of being banned from future competition.

Athletes are solely responsible for what they put into their bodies, and ignorance of what is on a banned substance list is no excuse. If they are not sure of whether or not something is banned, they should ask the sanctioning organization BEFORE they take something that might jeopardize their eligibility. Above all, they should read the banned substance list thoroughly and understand what everything on it means.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule your polygraph

Many athletes seem to typically wait until the last minute to schedule their polygraph, often making it a last priority, usually right before their “tanning” session. Consequently, everyone is rushing to make an appointment at the same time when there are limited time slots available. It may also leave virtually no time for the examiner to schedule a retest for someone who might fail an initial test for an issue that might be resolved with further testing. Contestants should remember that while tanning and last-minute nutritional prep are critical to their appearance on stage, they won’t even be on stage if they do not satisfactorily pass their polygraph exam. Testing earlier in the day can help contestants to be more relaxed for their exam and get a good night’s sleep before the competition.

  • Don’t be late for your polygraph appointment

Contestants are usually very tightly scheduled for their polygraph exams so that the examiner can accommodate everyone. The bigger the contest, the tighter the schedule. If even one contestant shows up late, it can create a backlog of people waiting in a domino effect. Consequently, unless there is a cancellation, those contestants who show up late for their appointment are usually rescheduled until after all the other testing has been completed. Be on time.

  • Don’t do anything to try to “help” the polygraph examiner

All contestants want to pass their polygraph, and sometimes people get it in their mind to “help” the examiner by controlling their breathing or even their heart rate (both are easier said than done) to make it easier to pass. Don’t. Any attempt to “help” the examiner by either of these methods might manifest itself as an attempt to beat the test. Just relax and be yourself.

  • Don’t be unprepared about your drug history - make a list of any banned substances you may have taken in the past and bring it with you to your polygraph exam

One of the questions that might be asked during a polygraph exam is whether or not contestants have ever used any substances on the banned substance list. While this particular question is general in nature and is sometimes used as a “fishing” expedition” when contestants are not forthcoming about their drug history, it can help the examiner to narrow the focus and determine whether or not contestants are in compliance with the disallowed duration period for certain substances. At a recent contest, some contestants showed deception on the first polygraph chart for this question which immediately raised suspicions by the examiner. Once it was determined what they might have taken – and when - subsequent tests were able to focus on the duration since their last use, and they ultimately passed. But in each case the athletes had to leave and come back for retesting to clarify what banned substances they had previously used ,and when, because they couldn’t remember – which only raises the question that if they couldn’t remember which particular banned substances they used before, how could they be sure with any certainty about when they stopped using them? The fact is that they couldn’t while sitting in the polygraph examination chair. They needed to take some quiet time to sit down without any distractions and write down what they may have used and when they stopped using the same. Having such a list prepared in advance – together with an accurate timetable - can greatly expedite the polygraph exam. Without accurately knowing their drug history, athletes face the strong probability of unnecessarily failing their polygraph or the examiner not having time to retest them once the information is known.

  • Don’t argue with the polygraph examiner – we don’t make the rules

Athletes who fail their polygraph inevitably want to argue with the examiner. I recently failed an athlete who insisted that he was “clean” even though he had admitted to using several substances banned for the competition 2 ½ years prior to the competition. He argued that being 7 years clean was too long and that there was nothing left in his system anyway after 2 ½ years. Besides, there were probably other athletes competing who were not clean, so why should he be not allowed to compete? Enough said. Polygraph examiners do not make the rules, but they will do everything possible to ensure that the competition is played on a level playing field in compliance with the drug testing rules for banned substances.

As a rule, polygraph examiners for natural bodybuilding competition will make every effort to ensure that the polygraph exam is a positive experience for contestants. They genuinely want people to pass and will try to retest contestants whenever there is ample time between other examinations and will sometimes stay over for retesting even after all of the other examinations have been completed.

The bottom line? Just follow these procedures and…well, tell the truth.

For a comprehensive overview of how polygraph works, every natural competitor should read Matt Shepley’s excellent article on the Natural Muscle Network, The Role of Polygraph Testing in Physique Competition .

NOTE: A failed polygraph can result in a lengthy ban from competition – as much as 7 years, depending on the substance – and, unlike a failed urine test which allows for an appeal (at the athlete’s expense based on a testing of the B sample), THERE IS CURRENTLY NO APPEAL FOR A FAILED POLYGRAPH.


Jim Evans is President of California Forensic Psychophysiology, Inc., providing polygraph services for drugs, fidelity, law enforcement and government pre-employment, “Broken(abused) Babies,” sex offenders, criminal investigations, and other specific issues. He is a graduate of the Backster School of Lie Detection, the oldest and most famous polygraph school in the world. Evans is also a 47-year veteran of the health and fitness industry, founder of the North American Natural Bodybuilding Association (now NANBF), and member of the ABCC and U.S. Natural Bodybuilding Halls of Fame.

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