Getting in Shape for the Wedding

Personal trainers share their top secrets

"I wanted to look like a movie star." That's what motivated Houston bride Laurie Collmer to sign up for three or more one-on-one sessions each week with personal trainer Connie Stetler at the Houstonian Club, crowding her to-do list, which was already packed with college courses, wedding planning, dress fittings, and parties.

In essence, brides are on stage in front of their family and friends, so they feel extra pressure to look their best, says trainer and dietitian Cindy Sherwin, M.S., R.D., of New York City's The Gym, who's worked with dozens of brides. The popularity of strapless, backless, and form-fitting gowns has meant that brides can no longer hide figure flaws behind yards of ivory satin. Besides, being thin isn't enough anymore; brides want to appear as toned as any celeb on the red carpet.

For many women, that means not only excavating the treadmill from under a pile of clothes, but also hiring personal trainers and nutritionists who can transform and perfect their bodies for the big day. It's not cheap: Trainers can charge from about $50 to $90 an hour; a bride who trains four times a week for six months may end up spending upwards of $9,000. And if you're training at a private club, you'll have to pay membership fees as well. (At the Houstonian, a 125,000-square-foot, over-the-top-luxe club with an indoor jogging track, 200-plus exercise machines, three swimming pools, and 30 personal trainers, membership initiation fees range from $5,000 to $22,000, plus monthly dues of $200.)

For brides on a smaller budget, many health clubs around the country offer wedding-day shape-up regimens such as the 12-week Wedding Ready program at Sports Clubs in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. And some trainers will work with small groups such as the bride and her bridesmaids.

Weight loss is the top priority for most brides, but many fitness pros caution clients to take it slowly. "I promote a weight loss of one to two pounds a week," says Sherwin. Experts warn brides to beware of a trainer or nutritionist who promises faster results, which could lead to quick rebound weight gain and possibly even an eating disorder.

The other major goal for most brides is to achieve toned arms, shoulders, and back for the wedding day, and lean abs, hips, and thighs for the honeymoon. For optimal results, most trainers prescribe a similar program: 30 to 60 minutes of cardio such as running, walking, biking, or using the elliptical machine or stair climber four to six times a week to burn calories and lose weight (brides often do this on their own as homework), plus two to three personal strength-training sessions each week to increase muscle definition.

Although some brides may already be thin or aerobically fit, many of them have been skimping on weight training, which is what gives that toned, buff look. Others, afraid of bulking up, have shied away from heavier weights. Trainers often find themselves trying to convince brides they won't end up looking like bodybuilders if they pick up a weight heavier than three pounds. The ideal free weight should tire out muscles after 12 to 15 repetitions, depending on a client's strength level.

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