WHAT does it take to become a title-winning bodybuilder?
Standing next to James Towley, 33, who runs Tricep Academy, and his protege and current Mr Wales title holder Chris Bailey, 26, was a bit like entering the land of the giants.
The duo, who hail from Borras Park and Ruabon respectively, train at Simply Gym in Wrexham.
Mr Bailey is still bursting with delight after taking home the Mr Wales trophy earlier this month, a win both he and his coach are justifiably proud of.
“It started out as two mates working out and having a bit of a laugh,” said Mr Towley.
“Then we started winning competitions and it became a lot more serious.”
Both men have biceps bigger than my skull, cultivated through a strict training regime and careful dieting.
“We’re going to put you through your paces,” grinned Mr Towley.
I do not like gyms. The machines look like torture devices and I don’t want to be judged for not knowing how to use them.
Nor do I want to tear part of myself by accident.
“Don’t worry,” said Mr Towley. “When I started, aged 20, I weighed 10-and-a-half stone soaking wet.
“I started at a gym used by rugby players, so I know how intimidating it can be. Thing is, anyone who is serious about training, like Chris, they won’t be watching a beginner because they’ll be busy doing what they’re doing. Everyone has to start somewhere.”
Mr Bailey, a support worker at a hospital in Whitchurch, heaved a weight-loaded barbell that was probably heavier than me.
“It was fantastic to pick up the trophy,” he said. “I was a personal trainer when I was 16 and I’ve always been interested in bodybuilding.
“But back then I had no bulk at all. I’d flick through these magazines and see the pictures of the guys in them. I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
It took him a while to pluck up the courage to start competing.
He said: “Eventually I got in touch with James, because he competed. It went from there.
“The first time I went on stage, in 2011, I was shaking with nerves. By the time it ended I wanted to get right back on stage again.”
I was slightly relieved to see Mr Bailey and Mr Towley weren’t distractingly bronze in real life. Spray tan is added before a competition to help delineate the muscles.
Mr Bailey said: “I tend to do the weights on my own. James is there for moral support and to help with the show prep like the spraying, working out a pose routine, that kind of thing.”
I was introduced to an unweighted barbell and invited to try bench pressing. The bar weighed 20 kilos, a tiny fraction of what Mr Bailey routinely lifts.
Mr Towley ‘spotted’ for me, keeping the bar straight. Twenty kilos seemed easy.
Things got a bit trickier when they added another 10, and I found my left arm was weaker than my right.
I imagined bodybuilders spend half their life in the gym, but Mr Bailey fits his regime around the rest of his life. He said: “I train on a five day programme. On the first day I’ll concentrate on my chest and back with four compound exercises (these work several muscle groups).”
On the second day I alternate my chest and shoulders. On the third day I work on my biceps with isolated exercises. On the fourth day I work on my triceps and on the fifth I’ll work on one of two different sets of leg muscles. Then it goes back to the first day again.”
In all, Mr Bailey will spend about eight hours a week on weights, which, when you consider the average person watches 28 hours of TV a week, doesn’t seem all that impossible.
He also mixes in low impact cardio to keep his weight down, and eats a carefully maintained diet.
Mr Towley said: “That’s where Chris does well. He’s very disciplined.
“He weighs out his food when he's training – although he can afford to eat a bit more when he’s bulking up – and he does all the right things.”
Neither men is intimidating, even if they are physically imposing.
Mr Towley said: “Wrexham actually has a really high number of gym users and some of them will be bodybuilders, both men and women.
“As a personal trainer, Chris has had a lot of experience training women, too.”
Mr Towley said: “There’s this idea bodybuilding is all full of macho men, that it’s aggressive and confrontational. We don’t like to work like that.
“We try to be a bit more friendly.”
So friendly, in fact, Mr Towley had a special Tricep Academy top commissioned for me – a ladies' medium to contrast with his extra-extra large. To earn it, he had the new Mr Wales coach me through the use of several machines, including a leg press, which simulates a squat.
My legs are obviously more developed than my arms. I was soon squatting 80kg without much sweat.
The chest press was a bit more of an effort, but it no longer posed much of a challenge to Mr Bailey.
“It allows you to lift about 100kg,” he said. “Basically, it’s a safe way of working the same muscles as when you’re bench-pressing, because you don’t need anyone to spot you.
“But I’m lifting quite a lot more than 100kg now, so I’ve outgrown the machine.”
I couldn’t say the same.
However you look at it, Mr Bailey’s capturing the Mr Wales title, both in his class and overall, is an achievement.
“He smashed it,” grinned Mr Towley. “Now we’re looking to the future, and we’re seriously considering Chris going professional as a bodybuilder.
"He dominated at the competition and he's put Wrexham on the map. And hey, you can tell people you worked out with Mr Wales.”