A bodybuilding competition being held in North Vancouver this weekend will showcase bulging biceps, ripped abs and other sights spectators have come to expect from the event, according to organizers.
One element that is all too common in the sport will be missing, however: drugs.
International Natural Bodybuilding Federation Canada's Vancouver Cup, slated to take place at Capilano University July 28, is billing itself as a steroid-free competition. The federation is going to great lengths to ensure that's the case.
"We polygraph all of our athletes before they're allowed to compete," said Christen Kwan, a personal trainer who is organizing the competition.
Kwan and others in the INBF are motivated by what they see in other events.
"It almost becomes a bit of a freak show," said Kwan. "The bigger the better, the more veins, the leaner, and it just doesn't look . . . natural. It's just about being big and being freaky. In the eye of the public, that's what bodybuilding has become."
Kwan joined the organization after becoming tired of competing against other contestants who had clearly been using more than weights to grow their muscles.
"When you have a trained eye, you can almost immediately see the natural versus the non-natural," said Kwan.
In addition to the polygraph test, which participants complete a few days before the competition, winners must pass a unrinalysis test shortly after the event.
First-time competitor Rachel Lunn has always kept fit by running, snowboarding and mountain biking. The 25-year-old Lynn Valley resident was attracted to bodybuilding when she met up with an old friend who "had transformed herself" by training for the sport.
Although bodybuilders are judged on how they look, Lunn said the effects of training for the competition have been more than skin deep.
"Sometimes bodybuilding competitions, you look really great, but I actually feel really good," said Lunn. "I feel strong, my cardio's better and it's definitely a very positive self-image."
Lunn plans to compete in the fitness model category, a less extreme version of bodybuilding where participants can have a "softer" look; however, it still requires a regimen of weight-and cardio training, and following a strict diet towards the end of the process to reduce body fat as much as possible.
The drug-free competition appeals to Lunn.
"I've put all the work into it, and I want to make sure the person standing next to me is natural too," said Lunn.
Drugs like steroids don't only create an unfair advantage. They can have serious, long-lasting effects on bodybuilders' health, especially for women, said Kwan.