Here Comes The Buff Bride

It's never too early to get in shape.

Damon Dukes, a local trainer most recently at the Merritt Athletic Club in Canton, has become a local favorite among Baltimore brides wanting to get fit for the big day. The Dundalk-native grew up with a love of athletics and played sports throughout school, but didn’t start thinking seriously about personal training until he studied health and fitness at the Community College of Baltimore County. As an advocate of the Les Mills program, a group-fitness and team-training program, Dukes teaches workouts such as body pump, an hour-long resistance weight-training class choreographed to music. “It’s great that you can come in, get your workout, and be done in 60 minutes,” he says. The same philosophy applies to the increasingly popular bridal boot camps offered at most gyms. Dukes enjoys the class dynamic, but prefers to work personally with clients who are determined to reach a specific goal. “Personal training is an investment,” says Dukes, “and there is so much more than a one-hour session per week.” Dukes takes his job as a trainer to the next level by remaining available to his clients outside of the gym via today’s technology. “Whether on social media or by phone, my mentality is to be with a client 24/7 if she has questions or needs consultation,” he says. During the seven years he worked construction after CCBC, Dukes yearned for a career that gave him a sense of purpose. Now, he says, “I wake up knowing I’ll be meeting people who are depending on me, and every time they see results, their self-confidence increases, boosting my own, in turn.”

Q: How early should a bride begin getting in shape for the big day? A: It’s never too early to start to get into shape. I will say this: The earlier you start, the less stressed you will be when it gets down to crunch time. Give yourself at least a good three months to carry out a program.

Q: Most brides want to lose weight and tone. Is there a particular fitness regimen you recommend for brides-to-be? A: This all depends on your current fitness level. I do a lot of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) with my clients, which is great for increasing total body lean muscle, which, in turn, boosts your metabolism and melts body fat. But if you can’t walk on a treadmill or around the neighborhood for 30 minutes at a moderate pace without stopping to rest, we may have to build up your aerobic efficiency first.

Q: What are the advantages of a bridal boot camp? A: No guess work. Your instructor does all of that for you. Based on information gathered in the first meeting, I’ll design a plan for you to follow—both with me and when you’re on your own. Now, if it’s a group, I’ll go with a pre-designed group workout that has options for various fitness levels wherever they are needed.

Q: What type of nutrition plan do you suggest pre-wedding? A: No diets—you’ve all heard it before. Diets don’t work because you don’t stay on them. Instead, make better choices with food and portion sizes. Well-balanced meals that are high in protein help build muscle, and good carbs help proper energy storage and release. If it’s body-fat reduction that we are going for, we want to stay away from certain foods that otherwise may be thought of as healthy, like fruits, dairy, grains, and high-glycemic carbs.

Q: What should a bride avoid when getting in shape for the wedding? A: Chocolate! I should be the only chocolate she thinks of on a daily basis.

Q: What would you recommend for a bride with a shorter time frame, a month, for example, to slim down? A: The Les Mills 21-Day Challenge covers the nutritional side of it. As far as exercise goes, the HIIT training is the best way to get fit fast. A lot of group exercise classes are headed in this direction, so get yourself into some classes.

Q: How do you recommend a bride stay motivated up until the big day? A: Hire a trainer who’s not afraid to get in your ear and tell you that you can do one more when you think you can’t. If I feel one of my clients isn’t on her A-game, it is time to sit down for a minute and get to the root of the problem. Stay positive. Self-deprecation will get you 10 pushups in my sessions. Hang pictures and motivational quotes wherever you are going to see them every day.

Q: Do you find that couples achieve better results if they work out together?A: Yes and no: It depends on the couple. Obviously, brides love their hubbies to be near, but they may want them around during a workout about as much as they would on girls’ night out. That being said, some couples are so competitive that it gives them the extra push needed to get those results.

Q: Do you advocate completing a fitness goal, such as a half-marathon, prior to a wedding? A: Only if it is a goal that is important to you. If you’re not passionate about it, it’s really hard to work for it. Along with your trainer, come up with SMART goals: Specific, such as a pant size; Measurable, such as distances; Attainable, a doable fitness schedule; Realistic, a healthy weight-loss goal based on your height and weight; and Trackable, goals of which you can keep track.

Q: In terms of fitness and nutrition, what are your suggestions for the week of the wedding? A: Get in what you can, but don’t stress. Your body isn’t going back to where you started in a week. I’m not saying completely take the week off, but if you have to miss a work out, it’s not going to destroy all of your results. The most important thing is to keep eating right, and you should be in great shape.

Q: Post-wedding, how do you recommend that brides maintain their wedding-worthy physique? A: Whatever it is that got you there, continue to do it. Make it a part of your lifestyle. If we trained together twice a week, let’s try once a week now and see how that works for you. We’ll reassess and take it from there.

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