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Buffed for the big day

A version of this story appeared in some regional editions of the Times.

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, brides are heading to boot camp.

"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."

Shapes Total Fitness recently tapped into the physique-related anxieties of brides by hosting a free one-hour fitness 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.

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

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

"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."

Jamie Straiter, a social worker planning January nuptials, is one success story. She joined Shapes' Seminole club in June after attending a boot camp class in the spring, hoping for camera-ready muscle tone.

"I had been going to the gym a little bit, but I tried to kick it up a notch," said Straiter, 27, who said she works out at least twice a week with another bride-to-be.

"I knew it was going to be to be tough for me because there's football season now, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas. I figured if I started working out ahead of time, then I could still do the things I enjoy."

At Shapes on Swann Avenue in Tampa, trainer Dana A. Tamborello taught a co-ed class with her fiancee, John Hater. The exercises included pushups, weight lifting, stationary bicycling, kick-boxing and stomach crunches. The event's 20 participants were a mix of brides, bridesmaids, married mothers, dating couples and singles.

Sarah Cates, 24, just under 5-foot-3, said she hoped to develop a plan to drop 35 pounds by her big day, May 21. A pear-shaped solitaire gleamed on her ring finger as she struggled to hold her arms aloft and balance 5-pound free weights.

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

Last year, bridal boot camps began popping up 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.

Lifestyle Family Fitness began offering a bridal boot camp at some locations earlier this year. Brides can pump iron at Tampa's Hyde Park location beginning in October. And the Lifestyle in St. Petersburg's Tyrone area plans to start a six-week boot camp in November. So far, 15 brides have signed up.

"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."

At exactly 7 p.m., Tamborello, the svelte personal trainer, and her fiancee called the troops to order. The task would be simple: Get through 45 seconds at each workout station. Then, do it again. And then came basketball-style half court "suicide runs" and 40 pushups and more stomach crunches.

Tamborello and Haterhave their own wedding date to worry about: Jan. 15.

Tamborello, 24, says she, too, will log some extra hours at the gym.

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

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