It used to be that getting ready to walk down the aisle meant finding the perfect dress, the best hair stylist, and the right makeup. But today's brides -- and their bridesmaids -- have added another "must do" before the "I dos": Getting in the best shape of their lives!
And it can have an effect that lasts long past the honeymoon bikini. For many women, becoming a buff bride (or bridesmaid) kick-starts a fitness lifestyle they've been putting off for years, experts say.
"The wedding is the trigger that motivates many women to get in shape, and the best part is that many women continue long after that march down the aisle," says personal trainer Sue Fleming, creator of the original Buff Brides book and workout videos as well as the Buff Brides show on the Discovery Channel.
In fact, says Fleming, getting married is an ideal time for a woman to get motivated to lead a healthier lifestyle overall.
"You're beginning a new chapter in your life, it's a fresh start, it's a new experience, so why not go into this new time of your life looking and feeling as good as you can?" says Fleming.
Buff Brides: Get With the Program
But whether you're the bride, bridesmaid, or mother of the bride how much can you really change before the big event?
Experts say that depends on how much time you have, and how much you want to accomplish.
"Obviously, the more time you have, the more you can change. But also, the more time you have, the less stressful it will be to accomplish those changes, simply because you don't have to work at such a high intensity level," says personal trainer Keith Wrightington, whose FitWright studio in Dedham, Mass., offers a "Blushing Bride Fitness Mini Intensive Makeover" package.
As such, both Fleming and Wrightington say the ideal time to begin is about six months before the wedding.
"In this time frame, you can literally look like an entirely different person. It can be a complete transformation," says Wrightington.
But what if your wedding is sooner? Not to worry. In her Buff Bride program, Fleming offers both six-month and three-month regimens. She says that starting even six weeks before the wedding can net results.
"You just have to realize that you're not going to lose more than a couple of pounds. But you can strengthen and tone some key muscles so that even if you don't lose a significant amount of weight, you will stand taller, you'll have more energy and feel better, and your gown will definitely fit and look better," she says.
While everyone who starts an exercise program can benefit from some guidance, experts say that when it comes to bridal fitness, it's imperative to get the extra help, whether via a personal trainer or a DVD program. Why?
"First, you're working with a time element, so you want to make sure you get the most out of your workouts, and that means making sure you're doing them right," says Wrightington.
Equally important, Fleming says, is that you want to make sure you're selecting the right workouts for what you want to accomplish. And you want to minimize the risk of injury by not overtraining.
"The biggest mistakes brides and bridesmaids make is overtraining, trying to do too much, too soon, and continuing to do too much too close to the wedding day," says Fleming. "Bumping up your activity levels the week before your wedding isn't going to make that much difference, and you could get injured."
Also important: Don't try to lose more than a pound a week. So, if it's a six-week count down, Fleming says, don't look for more than a 5-pound loss.
Instead, she says, use those six weeks to improve your shape and muscle tone – not to try to change your dress size.
Fitness expert Marie Forleo agrees: "Now is not the time to try to lose half your body weight – but much can be done to add shape to the areas your dress will highlight," says Forleo, star of the Women’s Health: The Wedding Workout DVD.
To this end, experts remind brides notto buy the dress they hope will look good, but to shop for one that looks good now.
"You can't change your basic body type -- you are who you are. So shop for the dress that looks good on you the way you look before you start your workout program, and then enhance that look with the workouts," says Fleming.
Fix What You Don't Like
Once you have the dress, Fleming says, put it on, stand in front of a full-length mirror, and look at the parts that will be exposed.
"This is particularly true if you have less time to make the changes. You want to concentrate on the areas that will be seen first," says Fleming.
So, for example, if thighs and arms are both jiggly, but the dress has a long, full skirt and a strapless top, go for the upper-body workout first.
"You can always help a midriff with a tummy-control undergarment, but there’s no faking exposed arm muscles, " says Forleo.
Fleming agrees. "For most women, it actually is the upper arms, upper back, and shoulders that command the most immediate attention," she says, with most concerned about getting rid of the "waddle wave."
"They don't want to lift their arms to toss their bouquet and see jiggle!" says Fleming.
Fortunately, both Forleo and Fleming agree that working with free weights brings about a quick shape-up for the upper arms.
"The arms do respond quickly to weighted exercises," says Forleo.
Getting the Look That Lasts
Regardless of what areas you want to "fix," experts tell WebMD that the one area every bride and bridesmaid should pay attention to is her posture. It's the quickest way to enhance your overall look.
Where do you start? Forleo says it's with exercises to strengthen the quadriceps -- those upper thigh muscles that will help you to "stand tall in new shoes for an extended period of time," she says.
Wrightington advocates exercises to build back and shoulder muscles as well. " You want to strengthen the core so that you stand taller and straighter and you get that nice lean, long look to your neck and shoulders," he says.
But how exactly do you firm and tone these muscles? Fleming says that for the quickest overall wedding workouts you need just two things – dumbbells and a stability ball.
"These two pieces of equipment can give you a really effective workout for your core, and tone all your basic muscle groups, including your shoulders and upper back," she says.
For example, she says, by sitting on a stability ball and lifting dumbbells above your head, you're not just working out your arms and upper back, but engaging your core muscles – the area in your midsection.
"Essentially, sitting on the ball forces you to work more muscle groups. You improve your posture, you pull in your abs, and you burn more calories as well," she says.
Fleming also advocates the use of free weights over resistance machines because, she says, "you can't cheat."
"With free weights, both sides of your body have to work equally hard, whereas with a machine the stronger side of your body will do the work for the weaker side -- so your weaker side remains weaker," she says. If you have a limited time to get in shape, building both sides of the body together gives you a more balanced appearance.
Finally, Forleo says, don't forget to include cardio in your wedding workout.
"Not only can it help you burn fat, sweating will improve blood flow, remove toxins from the body and help the bride-to-be sleep better at night -- all factors that will lead to that glow being captured in the photos that will last a lifetime," she says.
Regardless of what activity you choose, the experts tell WebMD that 30-45 minutes a day, three to four days a week, is the maximum for pre-wedding workouts. And all say you should spend the day or two before the wedding concentrating on relaxation, not fitness.
Says Wrightington: "If a light workout helps you to relax, then that's what you should do. Otherwise, realize that whatever you're going to accomplish, fitness-wise, it's already done."
The final piece of advice: Fleming says to take a day or two to relax and reflect on the upcoming event, and the healthy new life you're about to begin!
Published June 6, 2007.