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Buffed for the big day

It's a schoolyard rhyme with a twist: First comes love. Then, comes marriage. But not before the bride tries to lose her extra carriage.

In this era of lunchtime Botox appointments and extreme makeovers, an engagement ring and weight loss go hand in hand. As brides-to-be turn their attention to wedding dates, bridesmaid dresses and butter cream frosting, they increasingly pencil in trips to the gym.

"Everyone wants to be beautiful on their wedding day and wants to be the center of attention and knows that all eyes will be on them," said Jennifer Fitzsimmons, a wedding planner. "When they get engaged, the first thing they think about is dieting and getting in shape."

Last week, Shapes Total Fitness tapped into brides' physique-related anxieties by hosting a free one-hour fitness boot camp. Each of the company's 11 Tampa Bay area gyms held the event, a series of military-style calisthenics designed to tone body parts that brides expose in slinky, strapless wedding gowns.

To draw a crowd, Shapes marketing officials sent more than 4,000 invitations to brides registered with The Perfect Wedding Guide, a local services directory.

"We invite a lot of brides to bridal boot camp in hopes that they'll get hooked on the intensity and on the idea of getting a lot accomplished in a short period of time," said Mary Hrvatin-Nash, Shapes' marketing and advertising director. "It's like an appetizer or a teaser to get somebody really excited."

The goal? Get brides to join a gym and hire a personal trainer.

At the Shapes on Swann Avenue in South Tampa, trainer Dana A. Tamborello taught a co-ed class with her fiance, John Hater. The two, who also teach a Valentine's Day exercise class, set up 10 workout stations. The exercises included pushups, weight lifting, stationary bicycling, kick-boxing and stomach crunches. The 20 participants were a mix of brides, bridesmaids, married mothers, dating couples and singles in search of a strenuous aerobic workout.

Sarah Cates, just under 5 foot 3, came to develop a plan to drop 35 pounds by her big day, May 21. She has tried diets and diet pills. But the weight keeps coming back.

"I don't think I'm extremely overweight, but I would be more proud of myself if I lost a few more pounds to look better at the wedding," said Cates, 24, as she struggled to hold her arms aloft and balance 5-pound free weights.

A pear-shaped solitaire gleamed on her ring finger.

"I already bought the dress. It's a halter top, and the back is completely open. I'm just worried about gaining weight."

Cates brought her maid of honor, Kristina Weston, for support. Weston expected her duties to include hours of shopping for wedding dresses. She even welcomed making reception centerpieces. But was time on the treadmill part of the deal?

"Not really," she said before smiling and snapping back into perfect bridesmaid mode. "I'll do whatever she needs me to do to make her wedding the best."

At the moment, Cates needed help with pushups.

Last year, bridal boot camps began popping up across the country at national fitness chains, including Crunch and Gold's gyms. The camps range from free one-hour group classes to nine-week courses that cost as much as $1,000.

Tampa Bay area gyms began latching onto the trend in the spring. Shapes held its first bridal workout in June at each of its gyms. About 500 participants showed up, company officials said. Shapes plans to hold the free program at least once a quarter. Its Carrollwood club offers an extended camp: six sessions with a personal trainer for $72.

Lifestyle Family Fitness began offering a bridal boot camp at some locations this year. Brides can take the class at the Hyde Park gym beginning in October, company officials said. The club in St. Petersburg's Tyrone area plans to start a six-week boot camp in November. Already, the club counts 15 brides on the roster.

"We do a total body weight loss, but we really focus on upper body because that's what's shown with the bridal dress," said Andrea Williams, the operations manager at the Tyrone Lifestyle. "Posture is something we focus on, too. We see a lot of brides that look beautiful, but they slump over as they walk down the aisle. They're nervous, and they hold on to those flowers. We concentrate on really showing them how to walk properly."

Grace, style and rock-hard abs will cost brides (or those who want to look wedding-day perfect) $199 for 12 sessions, Williams said.

Xtreme Fitness in South Tampa does not have a class targeted at brides, but consumer demand may warrant one soon, trainers said.

Wedding consultants say workouts with personal trainers and regular gym sessions have become as much a part of brides' wedding preparations as finding the perfect slippers or hairdo.

At the South Tampa Shapes last week, participants moseyed past vendors hawking photography services and jewelry. (Shapes in Seminole invited a makeup artist. In Brandon, Tupperware representatives and a greeting card company were on hand. The Palm Harbor Shapes had a live DJ spin the boot camp class. He was, of course, available for hire.)

At exactly 7 p.m., Tamborello, the svelte personal trainer, and her fiance called the troops to order. The task would be simple: Get through 45 seconds at each station. Then, do it again. Just when the participants thought their workouts were complete, the trainers prescribed basketball-style half-court "suicide runs," 40 pushups and more stomach crunches.

For Desiree Aremengol and her boyfriend, Omar Delgado, the boot camp was just another date night. Wedding bells are possible, Aremengol said, but the more pressing need last week was to see her boyfriend struggle.

"He thought it was going to be a piece of cake," Aremengol, 23, said as she smiled at Delgado, who grimaced for much of the night.

By the end of the evening, he questioned his decision to tag along.

"They tried to kill me out there," Delgado, 28, said. "If I would have known it would be like this, I would have thought about it."

Heather Brawer, a tall, lanky University of South Florida student, came to the class wearing a U.S. Marine Corps T-shirt and teeny black shorts. The bride-to-be looked the picture of fitness, able to slip easily into her gown, a long, strapless form-fitting number with sequins. Her mission was to wow her fiance, a Marine stationed in Afghanistan.

"He'll be home in 33 days," said Brawer, 21. "The only reason I'm trying to get in shape is for when he comes home. I'm not trying to fit into that dress. It's a little bit big for me."

May Weber, a 32-year-old commercial banker who lives in Palma Ceia, wandered into the wrong class. But she stayed as visions of bouquets and flower girls danced in her head.

"This reminds me of trying to get in shape for my wedding," said Weber, married for three years. "It's nice to get inspired."


Even instructors need it sometimes.

Tamborello and Hater, Tampa natives who met in high school and dated at Florida State University, plan to get married Jan. 15.

As the date approaches, Tamborello says she, too, will log some extra hours at the gym.

"I have a few things to work on," said Tamborello, 24. "We're going on a cruise. Nobody's perfect."

Sherri Day can be reached at (813) 226-3405 or