Meghan Markle set cameras snapping ahead of her royal wedding when she left a workout class in Kensington, London. Her soon-to-be husband, Prince Harry, was also photographed visiting the posh KX Life gym in Chelsea amid reports he was also working out hard – three times a week, apparently – while following a diet with less meat and no alcohol, in the run-up to his May 19 nuptials.
The pressure for couples to feel confident and look fantastic for their big day is universal, and many resort to pre-wedding workouts for a body transformation. Hong Kong-based personal trainer Angela Hancock says brides in particular find preparing for their big day a high-anxiety affair, and that stress stems mostly from how they will look in that dress.
“It’s a massive day for them, as the bride will be photographed [from every angle], so they want to look amazing,” Hancock says, adding that in this social media age, couples are under greater pressure to look their best for the wedding.
Hancock specialises in a “fat-burn extreme” style of high intensity interval training (HIIT) that is integral to her plan to get brides-to-be in tip-top shape. Common requests she receives from bridal clients are to tone and lose weight in the torso and lower body area. In particular, clients want to target their thighs, butt and also their upper arms.
She advises women to give a minimum of six to eight weeks for such a physical overhaul, although the longer the better. The time frame also depends on the individual’s fitness level and their commitment to a pre-wedding workout plan. She suggests HIIT training three times a week, incorporated with gentle exercises such as yoga, swimming or cardio activities, although the latter exercises are not as essential.
“HIIT training is an all-round exercise that is good for strength, cardio, flexibility, agility and speed,” she says.
This fitness method – bursts of high intensity routines alternated with rest – encourages the body to repair and regenerate cells and stimulate muscle growth. It is one of the best ways to get in shape in a race against the clock, Hancock explains. Her plan includes body-weight exercises that get the heart rate up, release fat stored in the body to be used for energy, and tackle areas targeted for transformation.
HIIT exercises put stress on muscles, tearing them down to be rebuilt stronger. She advises clients to pay attention to what they eat within the 30-minute post-exercise window. A good quality protein meal will help the body replenish itself and recover efficiently.
As a health and wellness coach too, Hancock prescribes a meal-replacement system in which clients swap two meals a day for nutrient-dense, protein-based smoothies. Hancock is a big believer that getting into shape is a result of 80 per cent nutrition and 20 per cent exercise.
“A lot of people, when they want lose weight, make the mistake of cutting calories while increasing their exercise, which is totally the wrong way to do it,” she says. “If you’re doing more exercise, you need more to eat – but you must choose the right things to eat.”
The veteran trainer says a common mistake brides make is banning whole food groups from their diet, notably carbohydrates. “Your body actually needs carbs; your brain needs four grams of sugar an hour to function efficiently,” she says.
Processed or refined carbohydrates often trigger blood-sugar swings, and therefore deep cravings. Hancock suggests eating complex, slow-release types of carbohydrates, such as brown rice, quinoa and sweet potato. The meal-replacement system is part of a strategy to ensure clients get the nutrition they need while keeping their sugar levels in check. Hancock sometimes incorporates intermittent fasting, such as a 36-hour fast each week, into the plan.
Nicole Rivera (her name has been changed to protect the couple’s privacy) married her partner of four years earlier this year in Australia. The bride sought Hancock’s help to tone her arms and butt, helping her fit into her curve-hugging gown. The 30-year-old was already active; as a tour guide, she spends hours on her feet each day, and works out three or four times a week.
“I’m naturally a healthy and a fit person anyway, but because of the wedding, I had double motivation to eat better, and exercise more,” she recalls.
Rivera followed the trainer’s fat-burning extreme HIIT workouts and meal programme, but skipped the intermittent fasting element as she is a diabetic.
In 30 days, her stomach flattened. She also noticed she had better skin, hair and nails. Overall, she shed seven kilograms in six months. The bride particularly appreciated the convenience of having the nutrient-dense shakes.
“It tastes good; you feel great afterwards with all the vitamins [and nutrients] included in it, but on top of that, you’re not having to worry about two meals per day – so that was one less stress,” she says.
Before signing on with Hancock, Rivera’s Paleo diet had featured coconut meal and almond butter among other healthy but calorific fare. “The good thing about the shakes is you know exactly how much to have, and as I wasn’t going overboard on the [health] foods I was making all the time,” she says.
The overhauled diet coupled with regular HIIT training led to the desired results – including Rivera’s newly sculpted abs and booty. “I toned up, especially around my stomach, with abs that you can see now,” she says, adding that the cellulite around her derrière has disappeared.
On the big day, she says everyone noticed her trim and toned physique, and wanted to know her secret. “It was a combination of eating right and exercising,” she says. “That day, I felt really happy with the way I looked, confident, ecstatic and full of energy. ”
Three body weight moves to help shape and tone
1. Lunges to tone the booty
Lunges work on your gluteus maximus and other parts of your core. For beginners, hold on to something for balance while doing lunges. For more intensity, try free-standing or jumping jack lunges. Also try raising your arms above your head and touching your hands as you lunge.
Do as many lunges as you can for 30 seconds on each leg, then rest. Repeat until you’ve done three sets per leg.
2. Planks for flatter stomachs
“It’s not just the stomach you’re working on when you do a plank, it’s your shoulders, back, everything,” explains Hancock.
Start in plank position. Hold for a minute or 90 seconds. For greater intensity, do a moving plank (from low to high-level plank), side plank or a jumping jack version.
For beginners, hold the plank as long as you can. Repeat and build up to a one-minute plank.
3. Press-ups to tone upper arms
Kneel on the floor. Get into push-up position. The standard military-style version works on the upper body and chest but for women seeking toned arms, bring the hands closer together. By touching the tips of opposite thumbs and index fingers together, it turns it into a great triceps-sculpting move.