Ask Stew: How Can I Lose the 19+ Pounds I Gained During COVID?

Patrons of the Warrior Fitness Center exercise on treadmills June 17, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (Matthew Lancaster/Air Force)
Patrons of the Warrior Fitness Center exercise on treadmills June 17, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (Matthew Lancaster/U.S. Air Force photo)

Most of us did not train as usual during restriction of movement (ROM) orders in the military or civilian stay-at-home orders. Many gyms were closed during most of 2020.

With vaccines moving fast into our population, many businesses are reopening with minimal restrictions, and the options to “go back to normal” may be here sooner than we think.

Here is a question from a reader seeking some advice on getting back to his pre-COVID weight.

Stew, I am a longtime reader of your articles. During this past year, all I did was read about fitness and so I gained 35 pounds after reaching my goal of over 50 pounds lost. I am not back to where I started two years ago, but I’m getting closer. I am finally working again, eating better and moving more, so I am hoping for “normal” soon. Any advice? I am vaccinated and feeling better about setting fitness goals now. Thanks for your time – Dave J.

Dave – Thanks for the note, and I am glad you are starting to feel back to normal with work, finding motivation to train and rebuilding those good habits you built the year before last.

You are not alone. More than 60% of Americans report gaining weight during 2020 from increased stress, lack of movement, eating through the day and lapsed fitness habits. In fact, the average weight gain was 29 pounds in a single year, with 10% reporting gaining more than 50 pounds. The good news for you is that you know what you did two years ago to lose 50 pounds, so my advice is to pull the chapter out of that playbook and do it again.

Here are some things to consider as you accomplish your fitness goals each day.

Back to the gym? I just read in a survey that over 70% gym members are still not back at the gym, and more than 30% likely will not go back even after vaccination. Depending on how you did this last time, you need to decide whether to go back to the gym.

Depending on your family situation, you may wait until all members of the house are vaccinated (another subgroup in the survey) or start going and be one of the few in the gym. I don’t think overcrowded gyms will be the problem in 2021. If you are wanting to get back to the gym, now is the right time.

Outdoor fitness. Many fitness businesses opened the doors and moved equipment outside to let members get fresh air while training. Obviously, seasonal weather will be a factor depending on where you live, but the outdoor option may become a future permanent change to gym businesses. Many fitness entrepreneurs found that outdoor group fitness workouts gained popularity over the last year.

Virtual fitness. You can work out with online fitness businesses from Peloton, The Mirror and Fitbit Premium, or you also can use free YouTube fitness videos. People are finding workouts to do in their living room with minimal equipment. Depending on your choice, there may be an initial investment of equipment and ongoing monthly fees. The ability to train in a challenging way with instructors any time you want, though, is a growing trend, especially as people build the habit of staying at home more often.

Home gym. There are countless options here that are limited only by your budget and imagination. Depending on your movement of choice, you can lose that weight with little to no equipment by simply walking and running more and doing calisthenics. You also can build your own fitness center, depending on the space available inside or outside of your home.

Getting back into these habits will not be too challenging as you start to get back to normal with work and kids back in school. The bad eating habits learned during COVID lockdowns likely will be the biggest challenge to break. If you are away from home more often this year, you have an opportunity to build new good habits by eating meals you prepared at home. While your eating habits are in a state of change, consider doing more meal preparation and really nail down your eating habits so you can ensure a caloric deficit to lose weight each day.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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