• Meaghan Doherty of Denver Fitness Boot Camp.
  • A boxing class at TruFusion in Denver.
  • Yoga in the Park in Denver's City Park.

If you’ve put on a few pounds during the pandemic, you’re not alone. And if you’ve only put on a few — consider yourself lucky.

A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted at the end of February found that 61% of American adults experienced undesired weight gain or loss since the pandemic began. More than 40% of those responding to the poll experienced weight gain they never intended. That 40% gained an average of 29 pounds. Median weight gain was 15 pounds. And 10% of respondents said they gained more than 50 pounds — a staggering number in one year’s time.

So, here we are. Spring is springing, vaccinations are happening, the weather is warming up and you want to lose some of those pandemic pounds. But where do you begin?

In Colorado there’s no shortage of ways to keep fit, but even in a state consistently ranking near the top in physical well-being of its residents, taking that first step along the path to fitness can be daunting.

Allison Westfahl has been a fitness pro for almost 20 years. Currently, she’s the general manager for Tru Fusion, a fitness studio that brings all the boutique disciplines — yoga, cycling, barre, pilates, boot camp, boxing, TRX, meditation and more — together under one roof, and all in classes — no independent fitness floor. They started up last fall, a rough time to open a business, Westfahl said, but a time when it was much needed.

“It became clear to us that it was more important than ever, during a pandemic, for people to have a place where they can take care of themselves physically, emotionally and mentally,” she said. “So, we opened in September to 25% restrictions, and our classes were full with a waitlist by the end of the first month.”

She said they’re still under size restrictions to keep everyone distanced and safe. A class that in a pre-pandemic world would have 75 participants, right now only accommodates around 23.

Group dynamic helps

Westfahl thinks the group dynamic that attendees get in a class, along with instructors who are involved in their clients’ success, can help people stay accountable in their fitness quest. But for people just getting back into the groove, she thinks being kind to your body and moving forward slowly is key.

“I’m hearing and seeing a lot of people just beating themselves up over putting on weight or not working out for the past year like they usually do — I see a lot of people scolding themselves for that — so, my biggest piece of advice would be to approach whatever happened over the past year with your fitness routine with grace and forgiveness,” she said. “None of us probably reached any fitness records over the past year, so just let that be in the rear-view mirror and continue to move forward.”

Just getting started is a common refrain among those in the know. Westfahl also offers up this bit of wisdom, no matter the activity you start with.

“Make sure it’s something that you love,” she says. “When it comes to fitness and wellness, there’s so many options out there — don’t do something that you hate. Find something that you love and you’re going to be much more likely to stick with it.”

Meaghan Doherty has been doing fitness for 25 years, and teaching boot camps for the last six. She’s been able to ride the pandemic wave by moving her classes outdoors when necessary, doing online instruction when she had to, and being fortunate enough to teach in a facility she describes as the size of four warehouses.

She’s hoping that as COVID numbers get better, people will begin to feel better about getting back into the gym. She typically teaches early mornings, with class times that start between 5-8 a.m. plus a noon class for those late risers. Her clients, she says, run the gamut in age from 22 to 71, and she modifies routines for everyone.

Her advice for people is to get a set of weights — nothing heavy, just something that will activate your muscles. A daily walk is also something she thinks will benefit those trying to get back in the swing of things — even 10 minutes per day.

“Just start — is my advice,” she says. “I don’t care if you go for a walk, ride a spin bike or go to the park to play Frisbee — just get yourself moving and start. Get those endorphins going and I guarantee you will do more and more every day.”

Frustration with weight

Doherty said in her experience, weight gain can give people a sense of frustration and that can lead to procrastination. 

She also wants people to be realistic with their expectations about dropping those pounds, because they typically go on a lot faster than they come off. And in her opinion, adding some weights to your cardio routine will help your body burn fat more quickly than cardio alone.

Doherty, also an M.D., is happy to offer nutrition information to her clients if they ask. She thinks every diet works — the question is, which diet works for you? 

“There are so many (diet) options out there. You just have to figure out what works for your daily lifestyle, and what you can actually stick with,” she says.

If the thought of weights and cardio seems a bit much as you restart your fitness journey, fear not. This article is equal opportunity.

Leslie Conzemius is a registered nurse and integrative health coach who co-organized the popular Yoga in the Park at Denver’s City Park.

She says Yoga in the Park began to promote yoga in nature, build community and have yoga be accessible to all. Before COVID, it was always held outside. But with the pandemic, it detoured into an online Zoom model.

Conzemius, a former professional dancer and choreographer, said her hobbies and passions have always focused on dance and movement, so yoga was a natural progression. She’s been teaching yoga since 2016.

“I love spreading the benefits of yoga,” she says. “Not only what it gives you in that hour (of practicing) but also what it brings to the rest of your daily life.”

Stress reduction, how to breathe and even just being kinder to yourself and bringing gratitude to daily life are some of the benefits she thinks yoga can offer.

Return to park possible

Conzemius says this spring, Yoga in the Park is looking into the permitting process to bring yoga back to the park, while making sure it’s done safely. But she’s happy to pass along tips for anyone who’s struggled during the pandemic and wants to make a fresh fitness start.

“I really love the science of behavior change, and that’s what I focus on with my clients,” she says. “Because we can know that we need to exercise, and have all of the knowledge, but it doesn’t mean we’re doing it.”

She has three pieces of advice for people looking to make a change for the better in their health. She agrees with Westfahl that finding something you love doing is paramount.

“There are so many different things you can do, and so many ways to move your body — with people, alone, in classes, over Zoom, hopefully soon in person, sports, walking — and all of them are good,” she says. “And for any length of time is good.”

Conzemius’ second piece of advice is: “Everything counts.”

She says 150 minutes of exercise per week is the standard, but she would put those rules aside for people just starting out or starting over.

“Five minutes of stretching or a 20-minute walk — it (getting started) doesn’t have to mean an hour in the gym,” she says. “A lot of little moments can add up. Even things like playing with your kids, mopping the floor or gardening can be really beneficial for our bodies.”

Her third piece of advice is to celebrate.

“Celebrate your successes. People often focus on what they didn’t do, as opposed to what they did do,” she says. “Be very intentional about celebrating your wins, however small. Pat yourself on the back. Wink at yourself in the mirror. Tell somebody what you did, because then your brain will remember it and get that signal and want to do it again, and it builds motivation.”

She said it’s important to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend — with encouragement and support — not unhealthy criticism.

It’s clear from chatting with these three local fitness pros that being kind to yourself and starting slow, but starting soon, will help you ease back into pre-pandemic shape, or maybe even better.