- 20 October

Welcome to the beginning of a three-segment blog series featuring my 90-day transformation challenge.   I will be putting my goals to the test as I use Undersun Fitness Resistance Bands exclusively as my equipment choice, while living in a van.  As we travel the west coast, I will be putting the bands work as I train anywhere, anytime.

Manifesting Our Dreams

In January of 2019, my husband, Aaron, and I both quit our corporate careers and left Minneapolis as we embarked on our new journey in life combining fitness and travel.  We decided to jump into vanlife and fully enjoy what may be the prime years of our life, together.  We spent 15+ years each climbing the corporate ladder, but felt growing discontent that could only be satisfied by a complete lifestyle and career change.  Life for us is no longer about promotions, annual raises, or keeping up with the Joneses. Not only do we now live hip-to-hip in our tiny Class B RV, but we also work together as we build our newly established online coaching business, Irene Iron Fitness.  

As you can imagine, you have to be selective while downsizing your entire life’s belongings from a 2800 square foot home down to a 90 sq ft Sprinter Van.  As far as filling out our vanlife gym goes, we are extremely limited in our capacity.  We carry with us our trusty set of adjustable dumbbells, plus a single yoga mat that we occasionally use for a dedicated outdoor ab workout.  

We were able to supplement our van life workouts with a membership to a large national chain gym. This combination provided the best travel workout mix for our nontraditional lifestyle.  We had a satisfying balance of effective van-workouts while we camped out in the boonies, supplemented with hitting up the gym while traveling through cities.


Along Came the Coronavirus Pandemic

COVID-19 has affected everyone to some degree, and undoubtedly, some people more than others.  By early April, nearly half of the world’s population (3.9 billion people) was in some form of a lock-down. Luckily for Aaron and I, we are already used to living self-contained in isolation and working remotely.  The biggest impact for us was losing access to our gym and being limited to only our gym in a van.  We haven’t stepped foot in our chain gym since March.  

In our van, we carry Hoist adjustable dumbbells that max out at 75 pounds per dumbbell.  With 150 pounds of equipment, we have no shortage of ability to workout.  But it became…monotonous, and I needed a change.  I had lost my fire, my desire to set goals, and my ambition to excel.

Obstacles of a Nomad

Our tiny van life garage space definitely prevents us from carrying an array of travel workout equipment.  This may seem like the biggest burden, but in reality, our challenges go beyond equipment.  We do all of our workouts outdoors without shelter since our van is too small to workout inside of it.  Weather is the number one dictator of our workout schedule.  As we travel through shifting weather patterns, temperature and rain play a defining role in our daily schedule.

Where we park our home is always different as we typically relocate every 3-7 days.  We may stay in National Forests, BLM land, parking lots, RV Parks, National Parks, or occasionally a friend’s driveway.  Some of these locations are complete with level ground and sometimes even a concrete slab or a picnic table.  This ideal setting provides a great location for an outdoor bodyweight workout or strength training while traveling.  Other locations may be great for open field workouts or outside workouts boot camp style.  However, some areas are downright difficult to work with as they are uneven, messy, and even heavily adorned with cow manure and pesky biting flies.  Not fun to carry 150- pounds of dumbbells through! And you can only imagine what it’s like to be at Wal-Mart and set up there for a parking lot workout.

Van Life fitness is not always what Instagram makes it out to be.  This is why many nomads rely simply on a sporadic hiking workout to stay in shape.  Some of them ask me, “is hiking strength training” or “is hiking good exercise for weight loss”? Well, of course, hiking is an effective form of cardio exercise, but on its own, it’s not a resistance program.   And a single hike once a month certainly isn’t enough frequency.

The Breakthrough Podcast

With all of these external challenges and my newly onset “dumbbell burnout” from COVID, I was on a mission to find resistance equipment that truly is complimentary to vanlife.  We needed some new equipment in our travel gym to shake up our outdoor exercise activities and provide fun outdoor fitness challenges.  The new addition needs to be lightweight, effective, and compact for storage.

One day in August I listened to a podcast featuring James Grage (#79 – “From Broken to Ripped…”).  I unexpectedly connected with it instantly.  This podcast lit a fire under me to turn up the intensity in my training.  I knew I needed to refocus and step up on my intensity, mind-muscle connection, and overall mental toughness.   

I admit that previously I judged bands as an inferior piece of training equipment, suitable only for travel workouts or a hotel room workout.  After listening to James discuss the Undersun resistance bands so passionately, my viewpoint changed.  The biggest selling point for me is that the bands provide time under tension through holding isometrics and controlling eccentric movements.  Other advantages are that they provide resistance throughout the entire range of motion (without using momentum to cheat through sticking points), you can get variable resistance by simply adjusting your grip position, and you can train in any plane.  James also claims these bands provide an effective workout in 40 minutes.  This sounded like a relief as I was putting in 60-75 minutes per session using dumbbells and not getting the results I wanted.  I felt excitement and hope as I purchased a bundle to add to our van life gym.

Love at First Lift

The very first time I used our new band set was while we were boondocking in Montana.  I used the bands for an outdoor back workout exclusively without any other equipment and I was hooked immediately.   It has been years since I have had such an intense connection with my resistance training and really pushed myself, rather than just going the motions of counting sets.  After just one session I was already excited for the next workout.

The next day, Aaron joined me and we both used only the resistance bands for our training session.  It was great to be using these bands together and to see him experience the same excitement that I felt.  We continued to work out with only these bands, while the dumbbells stayed stored in our garage.  It was liberating to ditch the weights.  Plus, we were saving a considerable amount of time by not having to unload and pack them back up each day.

As far as storage goes, it was easy to find the space for this 5-piece band kit.  The bands come in at roughly 2.5 pounds and tuck away easily in its 11” x 14” bag.  It is such a relief to be able to just grab the bag and go.  They are so much easier to set up than our dumbbells, and we can carry them further into unique and desirable training areas.  

It’s Time to Up the Ante

By the middle of September, I knew we were onto something special.  These bands filled the equipment void that I was desperate to satisfy.  While my momentum was high, I didn’t stop there as I was ready to commit to more.  It was time to get serious and set some urgency and deadlines for my new training program.

I have pledged to complete this 90-day transformation challenge as we continue this amazing lifestyle. During the challenge, I am using the bands exclusively as I follow the structure of the TA2 “Build” program, sprinkled with the TA2 “Bodyshock” program, and a buttoned-up diet.  While the Build program serves as our main training program, the Bodyshock routine is being used for a 30-minute outdoor HIIT workout or an outdoor circuit workout periodically.  Since we will now be able to go hiking with resistance bands, we will without a doubt increase in our hiking mileage as we set out to find the most beautiful outdoor workout backdrops!

Just weeks into month one I am feeling great and loving the change.  Follow along in the months to come as I share my experience using the Build and the Bodyshock programs, and how they work into our lifestyle.  We will be taking our bands to some beautiful locations along the West Coast, as we continue to live our best life and chase our dreams.