"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.
"When I worked out by myself, I used only five-pound weights to do biceps and triceps," explains Karen Muldoon, who hired New York trainer Sue Fleming, author of Buff Brides, to help her get ready for her October 2005 wedding. "So I was spending the time, but not seeing results." Once she switched to eight-to-ten-pound weights at Fleming's suggestion, Karen began to look buff. "For the client who's new to exercise, sometimes I don't use any weight at all, depending on their injuries or past experience, says Kim Riegel-Dore, trainer at the Sports Club/LA in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles. "I may just use their body weight [for example, when doing squats or lunges] or light resistance toning for the upper body."
If the bride was previously active, Riegel-Dore starts out with eight- or ten-pound weights for the upper body; 20-pound weights for lunges; 60 pounds on the squat machine; and 90 for leg presses. Adding more weight over time varies for every client, Riegel-Dore notes. It depends on each client's personal goals and how often she works out, though she does recommend an increase of two to five pounds every few months. Combined with cardiovascular training, incorporating those increasingly heavy weights is the most effective way to get lean muscles.
Brides who stick with the program are often thrilled with the results: Six weeks before her wedding, Sara Stein began strength training with Brian Bennett at the Houstonian Club, working out three times a week instead of her usual once-a-week. In addition, she did cardio on her own three days a week. In that short time, the 5'1" bride dropped seven pounds (going from 122 to 115) and six percent of her body fat. "I even surprised myself," she says.
In working with newbie exercisers like Jenn Humphrey of Seattle, trainers have to be careful not to frighten them off. "I had never been athletic in any way, shape, or form," says Jenn. "So Christi Masi, a trainer at The Healthy Bride in Seattle, started me off with really easy stuff: five-pound weights for my upper body, lots of squats, lunges, and steps." At her trainer's urging, Jenn recorded the number of steps she took every day with a pedometer, trying to reach a goal of 6,000, and eventually 10,000, steps. Throughout the day, Jenn would try to get in short periods of walking, so that she gradually increased her activity throughout her training. When the number was low, Jenn would take her dog for an extra-long romp at the end of the day. Masi kept her on track when the going got rough: "At one point, I got really frustrated because I hadn't yet seen any results," says Jenn, who nevertheless wound up her four-month shape-up plan 15 pounds thinner and committed to working out for life.
The ultimate challenge for many trainers is the gym-phobic bride who hates machines and weights. Bennett takes such clients to the local Memorial Park Golf Course to go running on an outdoor three-mile track and also to work out on adjacent cross-training equipment such as pull-up bars, push-up bars, and an incline sit-up. He sometimes has clients run on hilly trails and on different surfaces such as sand, mud, and beds of pine needles, which add variety to the workout. Bennett may also incorporate agility training, using hurdles, a speed ladder, or a jump rope to mix things up.
Many brides with significant weight to lose or who want to learn about healthy eating go to a dietitian like Robyn Flipse, R.D., of Bradley Beach, NJ, author of The Wedding Dress Diet. Registered dietitians are healthcare professionals who have passed a rigorous exam, as opposed to nutritionists, for whom there are no established credentials. During an initial assessment, Flipse asks the bride about her likes and dislikes, and her lifestyle and food habits (for example, if she goes to the grocery store regularly or even knows how to cook). She'll then develop a customized eating plan that includes the widest possible variety of foods (a key to good nutrition), with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and even pasta and bread. Generally, Flipse then meets with the bride once a week to monitor her progress. (All of those pre-wedding parties turn healthy eating into an even bigger challenge, so Flipse suggests selecting a diet-friendly venue, like a Japanese restaurant; at buffets, the bride should make her own healthy plate and not let others bring food to her.) Depending on the region, registered dietitians may charge $100 to $200 per hour, which can add up to $5,200 for a six-month consultation.
Most brides agree, though, that all the expense and hard work that goes into fitness and nutrition help is worth it. "Overall, I felt so much better on my wedding day…and on my honeymoon," says Sara Stein of Houston. "Even my hair and skin felt healthier."
"I was so proud at my wedding," adds Kelly Hall of San Francisco, who trained with Susan Woolley for her wedding. "I was in the best shape ever. And when I feel good inside, and I feel good about how I look, I'm a completely different person."