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Here Comes the (Buff) Bride

Jennifer McCarthy* peeked through the doorway of the church to assess how much time she had left. To the background hum of whispering voices and strains of organ music, she quickly dropped to the ground and did ten military-style push-ups. Then she stood up, straightened her train, and gathered her bouquet, which was secretly weighted with five pounds of fishing sinkers to showcase her sculpted biceps as she walked down the aisle.

As absurd as it may seem, a bouquet that doubles as a barbell isn't at all unusual for the new breed of fitness-obsessed brides, says Sue Fleming, the personal trainer who helped McCarthy, a 27-year-old publicist, shed eighteen pounds and two dress sizes in the months leading up to her wedding. (For those not hip to the benefit of McCarthy's last-minute maneuver, these weight-bearing moves create an increase in blood flow that temporarily makes muscles look more defined.) "I've even had brides book me on the morning of the wedding so they can be as pumped up as possible on their big day," says Fleming, who - as the author of Buff Brides - literally wrote the book on prenuptial workout programs.

Such overzealous primping isn't surprising when you consider the commitment some brides make in order to sculpt a body that's worthy of a day of nonstop stares - and, in photographs, a lifetime of viewing. Many women across the country use do-it-yourself bridal-workout programs gleaned from the Internet and a small avalanche of books to put themselves through their pre-marital paces. But many New Yorkers fork over big bucks to personal trainers (one-hour sessions can cost as much as $125), who can help them reshape their silhouettes. According to Fleming, most brides-to-be catch fitness fever from three to twelve months before their wedding date and work out - as McCarthy did - until the last possible moment. "The majority of brides see their wedding as a wake-up call and come in saying that they want to change their look for life," says John Praino, a trainer who specializes in working out the affianced. (Praino is so committed to this calling that he anointed himself "The Wedding Trainer" and copyrighted the term.)

The range of women interested in wedding workouts varies from one extreme to another. Some have never exercised before, while others are gym rats that want to further finesse their physiques - a goal that one trainer refers to as "putting the icing on the cake." Many attend one of the growing number of specialized programs that gyms have created for those in the throes of planning a wedding. Though they're often referred to as "bridal boot camps," these programs aren't so much about pushing a woman till she drops, but more about following a disciplined, well-planned regimen. "Even regular exercisers benefit from trainers because they tend to have one-sided routines that need tuning up," says Praino. "They might be cardio junkies who hate to lift weights, or they might be yogaphiles who need cardio and strength training to become slimmer and more sculpted."

At a time when you might expect these women to be up to their eyeballs in tasting menus and floral arrangements, what is it that's driving them to the gym? The changing role of fashion can't be denied. Traditionally, it was always the gown that took center stage at a wedding; whatever shape it was in, the bride's body was at least partially hidden under layers of taffeta and tulle. Today, however, the opposite is true. Ever since Carolyn Bessette married John Kennedy Jr. wearing the sleekest and barest of wedding sheaths, the trend toward dresses that exhibit more flesh and less flash has put the body at the forefront. "About 85 percent of our brides now wear strapless or spaghetti-strap gowns," says Mara Urshel, the owner of Kleinfeld, the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn–based bridal salon. "Most of their upper bodies are on display, and bodices are tight in the torso. Some dresses dip all the way down the back." With so much (in some cases, too much) skin on show, it’s no wonder that brides are scampering to personal trainers faster than they can say "I do."

The most recent survey by the Fairchild Bridal Group, the publisher of Brides, Modern Bride, and Elegant Bride, found that nearly 60 percent of brides-to-be want to lose at least ten pounds - a goal that would allow them to drop one dress size. That jibes with the end result that many trainers are asked to help attain. "Whether they're overweight or not, the majority of our engaged clients want to fit into a dress that's a size smaller," says Dereck Steffe, a trainer at the Gym, a club in Madison Square Park that recently began offering a $5,000, 50-session Bridal Package that includes nutritional counseling. Wise to the demands of wedding fashion, prenuptial programs often gear workouts to tone those muscle groups - usually the deltoids (shoulders), biceps and triceps (upper arms), and rhomboids and upper trapezius (upper back) - that are left most exposed by dresses.

If these women have wild fantasies of total transformation, it's the trainer's job to bring them down to Earth by setting realistic targets. Alex Greenberg, who developed the Marry Me Fit program at Plus One Fitness, a corporate health-club company with a personal-training facility in Soho, advises slow and steady progress. "A bride-to-be should aim to lose one or two pounds a week. If she wants to drop two sizes, she’ll need three months to reach her goal." While diet and exercise go hand in hand, when it comes to reshaping your body, it's the combination of strength-training and cardiovascular exercise that truly trims and tones.
*Name has been changed.

From the Spring 2005 New York Wedding Guide

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