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Here’s how much weight Americans gained during Covid, and here’s how they’re losing it

The economy is reopening at a fast pace. Restaurants, sports arenas and even offices are filling up again as pandemic restrictions lift. And that means many folks who have been sequestered in their homes for the past year are venturing forth, even if they don’t exactly look the same.

The stressful and sedentary nature of life during the coronavirus pandemic caused many to fall out of fitness routines and gain weight. In fact, 42% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight gain due to Covid, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association. Average increase: 29 pounds.

“It was fun to make sourdough bread. It was fun to make banana bread, but the result of that is not great,” said Jim Rowley, CEO of Crunch Worldwide.

On the flip side, 18% reported undesired weight loss, possibly due in part to muscle loss from all that sitting around. It is no wonder, gain or loss, that fitness companies are suddenly seeing a new surge in activity.

“We’re getting a lot of people now that haven’t seen us over the winter that are ready and are realizing this has been a long time coming,” said Lucy Ballentine, a studio manager at Orangetheory Fitness in Washington, D.C. Customers are telling her, “It’s been over a year since I’ve done any type of workout, and I’m really desperate to get back in shape.”

An employee wearing a protective mask disinfects a treadmill between classes at an Orangetheory Fitness gym in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
Elijah Nouvelage | Bloomberg | Getty Images

While home fitness saw a huge surge in demand over the past year, benefitting big names like Peloton, Beachbody and the Mirror, the push to get back in shape is clearly on now, as Americans coming out of hiding.

That was the overwhelming sentiment at an outdoor Orangtheory class in a D.C. parking lot.

“Do you mean I have to get back into the wardrobe that I no longer fit into? Yes,” said Stacey Weinstock, who has been working from home since the pandemic began.

“We’re getting just a little bit closer to when everything’s going to open up and we want to look our best and feel our best,” said Rachel Robins, as she prepped for the class.

Both gyms and streaming fitness companies are suddenly seeing a surge in new demand and overall workouts. Orangetheory memberships nationwide rose 17% in the first quarter of this year, with the biggest jump 9% in March, the company said.

Crunch reports member visits up 30% in March over February. It also saw its strongest new membership sales in a year, despite its huge footprint in major cities that still have heavy gym restrictions like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“We’re forecasting that the big boom is September, when we’ve gotten through the summer, the kids are back to school, there’s some normalcy with businesses opening offices again, especially in urban centers like Manhattan and San Francisco,” said Rowley.

Barry’s Bootcamp said March studio attendance was up 31% over February and 48% over January. Its new streaming workouts are up as well.

In-class attendance is rising thanks to easing restrictions and increased vaccinations.

“I feel more comfortable being closer to people and sharing air with people now that I’m vaccinated,” said Rachel Weiss, another client at Orangetheory.

A person exercises on an elliptical machine at a Crunch Fitness gym location in Burbank, California, U.S., on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

But that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the new boom in streaming and home fitness. Crunch, for example, has had a streaming offering for more than a decade.

“I can tell you we did spend money during the shutdown to improve our lighting, improve our sound, improve our camera, and improve our digital presence,” said Rowley, who argues that those who focus on fitness have always used multiple options. “They were the first to buy the Thighmaster, the Ab Cruncher, so it’s not unique to say, ‘Oh, I have a gym membership, and a Peloton.'”

Peloton, which saw phenomenal growth in its streaming fitness platform and its bike and treadmill sales over the past year, does not appear to be losing any steam now. While the publicly-traded company would not release the latest numbers on streamed workouts, CEO John Foley said recently he was not concerned about a return to the gym.

“I can commit to hypergrowth,” said Foley. “What we’re seeing is a shift where people want to work out in the home…it is the future of fitness, Covid or not.”

Cari Gundee rides her Peloton exercise bike at her home on April 06, 2020 in San Anselmo, California.
Ezra Shaw | Getty Images