- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Allison Travis already was in good shape when she became engaged in July 2008. Mrs. Travis, 36, was a cyclist and runner, but when she started envisioning walking down the aisle in a strapless wedding dress, she added another task to her wedding to-do list: Gain some muscle definition.

The desire to look one’s best has been a wedding goal probably as long as there have been weddings. What has changed is the variety of training methods devoted to brides. Whether it’s Pilates, weight training or a specialized “bridal boot camp,” the thought of all eyes on you — and on flabby arms or a thick waist — is spurring brides-to-be to step up their training.

Mrs. Travis, who lives in Alexandria, enrolled in Thrive Pilates’ Bridal Fitness program. She worked out at the Shirlington studio three times a week and says that on her wedding day this spring, she had noticeable definition.

“I wanted good arms,” Mrs. Travis says. “I even had back muscles. Pilates really tones. Now I am addicted to it.”

The number of specialized bridal fitness programs seems to have risen as wedding-gown styles have changed, says Thrive Pilates’ owner, Melissa Goodballet. Strapless and form-fitting are in style, so if that’s what you are wearing, you had better have the physique to pull it off.

Also, it doesn’t matter if a bride is already at her goal weight. A 2008 study at Cornell University reported that more than 70 percent of brides-to-be want to lose weight for their wedding day. The study, published in the nutrition journal Appetite, surveyed 272 engaged women, ages 18 to 51 (although most were younger than 30). More than half the women were of normal weight; 24 percent were overweight, and 20 percent were obese. Two percent were underweight.

More than one-third of the subjects said they would use extreme dieting tactics such as taking diet pills or fasting to lose weight for their weddings. The study also reported that about one in seven brides-to-be buys a wedding gown that is a size or two smaller than she normally wears.

“Most women engaged to be married idealize a wedding weight much lighter than her current weight,” wrote Lori Neighbors, the study’s co-author.

Ms. Neighbors found that 91 percent of the women surveyed were worried about their weight, saying they wanted to lose weight or were trying to prevent weight gain. By comparison, national data shows that about 62 percent of women in the same age groups have the same concerns.

However, Cynthia Conde, a New York personal trainer and founder of the workout program Bridal Bootcamp, says that for most of her clients, it is not just about looking thin.

“Years ago, people said they wanted to look thin,” Ms. Conde says. “Now they want to look buff.”

Ms. Conde started her program in 2001, when a client wanted to lose 100 pounds in the eight months leading up to her wedding. Ms. Conde came from a military family and knew that serious discipline was the key to getting fit in a short amount of time. She adapted boot-camp principles to train brides. The bride reached her goal, Ms. Conde says.

From there, a trend was born. Ms. Conde and her assistants train about 100 women a day in Central Park and other New York locations. Their busiest time, of course, is the spring and summer wedding season.

“Brides are supercompliant clients,” says Ms. Conde, whose training program also is available in online format at www.bridalbootcamponline.com. “The wedding is all about her and her day. They really want to look stunning.”

Apparently, watching brides work out is suspenseful and motivating entertainment, too. On Discovery’s program “Buff Brides,” cameras follow brides-to-be for a few months as they set out to lose an average of 20 pounds, working with trainer Sue Fleming, author of “Buff Brides: The Complete Guide to Getting in Shape and Looking Great for Your Wedding Day.”

” ‘Buff Brides’ follows them every step of the way, tracking their progress while getting buff and sharing their emotional highs and lows as they rush to get gowns fitted, invitations mailed and flowers ordered,” Discovery promotional material says. “Not every bride will reach her goal, but every episode will end with each featured bride’s dream wedding.”

On WeTV, “Bulging Brides” follows a similar story arc. Brides have two months to fit properly into their wedding gowns. Take this episode preview: “Tomboy Tanya loves being one of the guys, but too much bonding over beer and pizza while watching sports has left this bride-to-be unable to zip up her dress. Can Tanya avoid temptation, lose the inches and get into a dress that’s two sizes too small?”

Back in the real world, brides can relate.

Sarah Weise of Alexandria spent four months working out at Thrive in preparation for her July 2008 wedding.

“I ended up losing a full three inches around my waist,” she says. “I wanted bride arms, arms that show a little cut to them.”

She happily had her dress altered to fit her narrower waist. Nearly a year later, the dress is in storage, but Mrs. Weise still can be found in Pilates class.

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