You’ll look back on the photos and videos from your wedding for the rest of your life. And the last thing you want to see is a version of yourself that you’re not proud of staring back at you.
“Men come to me to get fit for their wedding day just as much as women,” says Christian Pitkin, a certified personal trainer and health coach at Diakadi Fitness Performance in San Francisco. Still, search for “practical tips to get in shape for your wedding,” and the topic seems largely geared toward brides.
Here’s the thing: Men are just as concerned with being the best version of themselves on their big day, although their primary goals often differ from women. “Typically, my male clients’ goals involve the following: lose their spare tire, lower their stress levels, build more upper-body muscle, and get leaner,” Pitkin says. “Ideally, you want to start a year before your wedding day, but six months can be equally effective depending on the person.”
Pitkin offers practical tips to meet your fitness goals in time for your wedding day—whether you’re a year, six months, or just 30 days out.
One year before your wedding: workout and nutrition plan
“It starts with building habits,” Pitkin says. A year out from your wedding, you have the wiggle room to create a sustainable plan, make it your routine, and stick with it.
Start with some basic lifestyle changes. “Try to walk at least 10,000 steps or more each day. You can use a fitness tracker like a Fitbit to track movement,” he adds.
Every week, schedule out time for your workouts and meal prep (because social and work demands fluctuate week-to-week). You’re much more likely to finish tasks when you schedule them into your calendar. Creating a schedule will also ensure you have time for other essential activities—like sleep, which is essential for workout recovery. “I can’t stress enough how important sleep is to your physical and mental health. Often, this is sadly overlooked,” Pitkin adds.
1. Set eating habits for life
Starting early means adopting long-term habits that you can maintain into and beyond your wedding day. Start with practical changes, Pitkin suggests: eating slowly to allow your body to register fullness, tracking your macronutrients through an app, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding processed foods. “Ideally, a great balance is 40% healthy, complex carbohydrates; 30% healthy, lean proteins; and 30% mono- or polyunsaturated fats. Eat at least three servings of leafy green vegetables per day,” he says. “After a month or so of tracking, you’ll get a good idea of your distribution and will no longer need to track.”
2. Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep is essential to meeting your goals. Pitkin suggests improving your sleep quality by avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m., shutting off all electronics 30 minutes before bedtime, making sure your room is as dark as possible (use an eye mask if you need), going to bed by 10 p.m. (or start by going to bed one hour earlier than usual), and tracking your sleep with a fitness tracker. If you have trouble falling asleep because your mind is racing, keep a notebook by your bed to make to-do lists or vent about your stressors.
3. Get an assessment
Knowing where you are and tailoring your program accordingly is important. “With one year, you have time to do a well-rounded workout program,” Pitkin explains. “Start with a functional movement screen, which you can get from a local trainer. This will determine if you have any asymmetries or imbalances or you’re susceptible to certain injuries, and give you an idea of the appropriate corrective exercises to do during warmups.” From there, Pitkin suggests getting a full assessment, including measuring your body fat, testing core strength, checking your blood pressure, and testing your flexibility.
4. First, train for performance (not looks)
Even if aesthetics are your ultimate goal, when you train, focus on strength, cardiovascular health, and flexibility. “For every pound of muscle you gain, you burn roughly an extra 40 calories per day,” Pitkin explains.
He suggests focusing on compound movement exercises that build muscle twice a week, beginning with high reps with a low load (2 sets of 20 reps), then working your way up to 4 sets of 10, or 5 sets of 6, increasing the load as you lower the reps. Target large muscle groups such as the chest, back, arms, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core. After six weeks, start incorporating total-body movements, such as squat-to-cable pulls, Turkish getups, or pushing a Prowler weighted sled. Perform these once per week or tie them in with your compound movement workout.
Round out your regimen with high-intensity interval training twice a week and yoga once a week to ensure you’re maximizing your calorie-burning potential and preventing injury and muscle imbalances. Pitkin also suggests taking up an active hobby such as biking, surfing, snowboarding, or playing a competitive sport like basketball or soccer. “Taking up an activity or sport is fun and potentially competitive, which is a huge motivator.”
Leave one to two days per week to rest your body and recover. Be sure to foam-roll.
5. Buddy up and change it up
Starting a year out, you’ll inevitably hit plateaus in your gains and dips in your motivation. To make sure you’re continuing to progress, change up the type of exercise or the exercise tools you use as you hit milestones. “This will stimulate your body to adapt in new ways,” Pitkin says. “You can also progress to pyramid training to change things up and challenge your muscles even more.”
To stay motivated, Pitkin suggests partnering with your fiancee or your groomsmen to meet your fitness goals. “Get a competition going with your training partners to see who can lose the most body fat,” he says. Partnering with friends or hiring a personal trainer will also force you to stick to your scheduled workouts.
Six months before a wedding: workout and nutrition plan
Although Pitkin suggests starting a year before your big day for optimal results, he recognizes that not everyone starts so early. “Most clients who have wedding-specific goals come to see me six months from their wedding rather than a year or 30 days out. The most common timeframe is four to six months out,” he explains.
With six months to your wedding, you have less time to form lasting habits. However, you can try more specific lifestyles of eating. It’s all about experimenting with what works for your body.
1. Get disciplined with your diet
“One method that I’ve had many clients get success from is intermittent fasting,” Pitkin says. “When you fast, your human growth hormone levels go up and your insulin levels go down. This enables your body to burn through fat quickly.” For people new to intermittent fasting, the 8/16 method is a good way to start. Sixteen-hour fasting periods (usually during the night when you’re sleeping) are alternated with eight-hour eating periods every day (or just on the weekdays). An alternative suggestion is adopting a Paleo diet, which allows you to eat fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafood, nuts, and seeds, and cuts out most dairy, grains, processed foods, and sugar.
2. Pace your workouts
With a six-month timeframe, Pitkin says the workout plan for the one-year timeframe is just as effective. “I suggest speeding things up in a six-month timeframe, but you risk improper exercise form due to fast progressions, which can lead to potential injury,” he says. This is when it’s even more important to work with a trainer to make sure you’re ramping up the intensity without overtraining.
3. Limit your focus
Your schedule will become more hectic as the big day approaches, so be prepared to sustain a balancing act. Make sure you set reasonable expectations and choose a program that will fit with your schedule. “Pick the top fitness programs that you feel comfortable doing on a consistent basis, and that you enjoy. Ditch the ones you feel are taking away from your focus,” Pitkin says. “For example, maybe all you have time for is strength training—stick with that. But if you choose to focus on strength, make sure you’re resting every other day.”
4. Don’t give up
“It’s normal to fall off the wagon, but don’t give up,” Pitkin stresses. Even if you fall off and lose a week or month of training, don’t assume all is lost. “Four months is still better than one month. It’s not about each individual battle, it’s about the war and the big picture.” Pick up where you left off and push on.
30 days before
This is where you get into “crash” diet and exercise territory, but it’s still possible to hit basic fitness goals. “At this point, manage and set realistic expectations,” Pitkin advises. “True, you will gain little muscle, but there is a way to lower your body fat by a decent amount and lower stress levels.”
At this phase, you’re dealing with several external challenges as well. “With the logistics of planning a wedding 30 days out, trying to plan and execute a diet and exercise plan will be more difficult,” he says. “You have to gauge what type of plan will work best for you.”
1. Set a strict diet
Diet is even more important with only 30 days to go. It won’t be easy, but you’ll need to set a strict diet and stick with it. “I recommend trying the Whole30 diet. Simply put, this is an elimination diet focused on a 30-day time frame,” Pitkin explains. It’s similar to paleo in that you’re allowed to eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, and some fruit and healthy fats. You can expect to lose up to 2-3% of your body fat in the 30 days. (If you’re overweight, you can lose more, faster.) Pitkin also recommends eating smaller portions: “Try to only eat until you’re 80% full.”
2. Focus your training
With just one month remaining, you’ll need to laser-focus your workouts. Significant muscle gains are out of the picture at this point, but you can aim to get leaner with HIIT and yoga. These workouts come with the added bonus of relieving the stress leading up to the big day.
Pitkin recommends taking spin classes. “They’re a fast, effective way to burn calories in a short time frame. Plus, spin focuses mainly on the lower body, which will target your larger muscle groups.” Avoid any advanced, dynamic workouts such as CrossFit or plyometrics to make sure you don’t injure yourself. (Most CrossFit gyms won’t even let you start training in earnest until you’ve completed a multi-week on-ramp course.)
3. Cut out all the bad stuff
Eliminate one or two vices for 30 days that you know are holding you back from being in your ideal shape. Alcohol is a big one for many, but maybe you’re addicted to sugar or carbs. Your vice could be something other than food, like playing video games or watching TV. Cut out activities that keep you couch-bound and spend that time on foam-rolling, stretching, or meal-prepping instead. (Or, y’know, planning that wedding.)
“There’s no one-size-fits-all, but my approach is very balanced, and I believe many will relate to it,” Pitkin says. “It’s important to keep in mind that whatever approach you choose, the goal is to continue it past your wedding and throughout your life.”