Source: The metaphor here being that living in the truck is like riding a mechanical bull, which is especially apt in the sense that cars (and trucks) are basically just mechanical bulls/horses. Okay, I'll stop now.

To be honest, it's been kinda weird trying to maintain a blog about living in a truck when I haven't, you know, been living in a truck.

It's sure a good thing I'm back in the truck then.

Yup, you heard read that right. After a long, long year (and some change), I've sloughed off the normalcy of a one-bedroom apartment and slithered back into my truckly digs of yesteryear. And while the amenities and convenience of things like "electricity" and a "bathroom" and "not living in a legal grey area" were nice additions to my life, I've got to say that I'm glad to be back.

But Brandon, you were this close to being a well-adjusted member of society, what happened?

For starters, offices opened back up, which was really the main thing holding me back. As a rampant pragmatist, living in a vehicle has usually been about making good use of the resources available to me. And it turns out that tech offices are pretty great resources. But more directly, I think the truck still makes sense in the larger context of my life and goals, at least for the time being. Plus, I think I'd regret not giving the truck one last hurrah. How long will this last hurrah last? Who knows. Probably somewhere between a month and a year, I see a couple things on the horizon that might change the whole "does this still make sense?" equation. In any case, I'll let future Brandon take stock of the situation and make a call on that one.

The Situation

A lot has changed since the last time I was truckin' it, the main thing being that I traded the comforts of my cushy big-company job for a comparatively scrappy, single-digit-number-of-people startup. I'm not walking distance from a dozen different buildings I can go into, I don't have cafes making me my every meal, yada yada. The new office is a unit in a larger business park, which changes the rules of engagement a bit. All in all, it's definitely required a bit of adaptation.

Because I'm consistently tardy with my posts, I've actually already been living my new truck life for like two months, and I think I've settled into a decent rhythm. I wake up around 5:30ish, bike ~15 minutes over to the office, hit the gym, shower, cook myself breakfast, and start my day.


Breakfast, indeed. The office has got a microwave and a fridge, and that's enough to make some microwave egg sandwiches,* and oatmeal with peanut butter. For the uninitiated, I know the phrase "microwave egg sandwiches" might sound a bit odd, but they're legitimately fine, and a useful tool in anyone's van life cookbook. One can find any number of recipes online, so I won't do you the disservice of trying to explain my probably mediocre variant. Not much needs to be said about oatmeal with peanut butter, it's delicious and nutritious and probably the closest thing I have these days to a religion.


I've previously detailed what I'd been doing for "exercise" within the confines of the pandemic. It amounted to aggressively deforming rubber bands and biking like I actually had a place to be. Prior to that, I'd been doing basically the same routine with slight variations for over a decade.

When I first saw the gym at the new office, I almost wept tears of joy. I didn't know if there was a gym at all, and if there was one, I was expecting the kind of gyms you see in hotels, which have a few decrepit treadmills, dumbbells between 2 and 17 pounds, and maybe a Smith machine. What I actually found was a fully loaded fitness center with not one, but two (!!) power racks, which is really all I need for my daily ritual of picking things up and putting them down. It took some MacGyver-ing to get the safety pins at the right height for every exercise so I can do them safely without a spotter, but with that squared away, I haven't had any problems. I'm very happy, and, after a year+ of not lifting, very sore.

Everything Else

The other main thing that has changed for me is what I do outside of work. In the Before Times, I had access to a vast campus where I could amble around and do whatever away from my team, and I spent most of my free time in an unrelated-to-my-day-job building in a cozy and quiet corner, reading a book or working on any number of esoteric projects. But now, there's not really anywhere obvious for me to go after I've put in my eight-or-so hours. I could go back to the truck, but at ~4pm it's still like 120 degrees, which isn't great. Plus, the whole point of the truck is that I don't spend time in the truck, so if I'm spending time in the truck, that seems…wrong? Instead of that, I could hang out in the business park courtyard, but my co-workers would be able to see me from the window, which would blow my cover, or at least encourage all sorts of questions that I don't have great answers bold-faced lies for.

My solution has been to rediscover libraries. This happens to me probably once every five years or so, when I remember that libraries exist and am completely blown away at what an incredible resource they are. So after work most days, I'll bike ~15 minutes to a nearby library (which I picked up a library card for), and do my usual shenanigans there. Sometime around 8pm, I'll bike back to the office, get myself ready for bed, and head back to the truck.

All in All

I'm glad to be back. I appreciate the regimentation the truck provides for my schedule, and the bike ride to/from work and the library ensures that I'm vastly more active than I have been for the past year and a half. I know that it's not something I'll be doing forever, but I'll be damned if I don't enjoy it while I'm here.

*I learned about the concept of microwaving eggs from an on-again off-again van-dwelling friend of mine. I was incredulous at the idea such a thing could be good, but Srini made me a believer. So thanks Srini!

I can be a completely insufferable person to be around. Part of this is because it took me a long time to learn the difference between someone seeking advice, and just wanting to vent. If I think I see a problem, I tend to look for solutions. Couple that with a bit of obnoxious optimism and an inclination towards simplicity, and the outcome is that I trivialize problems and offer deeply unnuanced "solutions".

Case in point: whenever someone complains about rain, I mechanically regurgitate some devastatingly cliché remark about how, without the rain, we wouldn't appreciate the sunshine.

Now, if they were just trying make conversation or kvetch, this is normally the point in the conversation where their eyes would roll back in their head so hard they'd be doing an impressive impression of a slot machine.

Even still, I think it's a valid point (fully acknowledging that I overdo it a bit). After all, us human beans spent the past four billion years* getting really good at handling whatever the universe threw at us, and the net result is that our experiences don't exist in absolute terms of "good" and "bad", but are instead relative to some ever-shifting baseline. If every single day was a perfect 73° F and sunny (or substitute your own particular perfect weather), we'd learn to complain on the rare day where it was an absolutely abysmal 72° F and partly cloudy (but still mostly sunny).

If you think I'm being dramatic, you've likely never lived in the Bay Area — that example was plucked from something I witnessed on many a mostly-sunny-day.

Anyway, all I'm saying is that rain helps set a baseline and add perspective. An "oh, so it could be worse". A poor man's negative visualization, if you will. And if you won't, that's fine too.

Anyway anyway, that's what this post aspires to be about: the wonderful world of less-than-ideal things.

The Best Medicine

I've dedicated a decent chunk of this blog to the times when things have gone suboptimally, awry, or just downright wrong. This is partly because writing about things going right would be significantly less interesting, we're all suckers for a good tragedy. But more than that, things frequently just don't go the way we expect them to go, which is doubly true when trying to live out of things not explicitly designed for living in, like box trucks. As such, I think it's useful to have some kind of framework for reasoning about undesirable outcomes. I never explicitly sat down and thought about how to handle things going wrong (until now, I guess), but I find myself coming back to the same few thoughts:

  • Bad Things™ are rarely existential. Take an objective look at the Bad Thing you're currently dealing with. Will it matter in 10 seconds? 10 minutes? 10 days?** Usually, the answer to at least one of those questions is no, in which case you can just mentally fast-forward to the point at which it no longer matters, and save the energy you would have spent stressing over it. For the occasionally cataclysmic Big Bad Thing where it really does matter, even in the long run, your energy is likely better spent on figuring out how to deal with this life-altering incident than feeling bad about it.
  • Adversity provides opportunities for growth. We grow when we step outside our comfort zone. Bad things are perhaps necessarily uncomfortable, or they probably wouldn't be considered bad. Therefore, dealing with Bad Things makes us more capable human beings, which seems like a Good Thing. Every time my bike or car or truck has broken down, I learn something new about how to fix them. Same for software things at work. Minor inconveniences build character and patience, etc, etc.
  • Things going according to plan is straight up boring. You ever read a book or watch a movie about someone having a great day and then living happily ever after? Probably not, because that would be a pretty uninteresting book/movie. On some level, it's because we like complications. Why not take it one step further and apply it to our own lives? Getting your car towed isn't a problem, it's a plot point. Enjoy the adventure.

The upshot is that I've Stockholm Syndrome'd (or Pavlov'd? I'm not a psychologist) myself to laugh reflexively when things go wrong. Bonus points if I'm the reason they went wrong. The worse things go (up to a point, naturally), the more hilarious it is. Some examples:

  • Stubbed a toe? Gentle snicker.
  • Car won't start? Light chuckle.
  • Ripped my pants in public? Hearty laugh.
  • Dropped an entire pot of baked beans? Roaring cackle.
  • Biking uphill in a freak rainstorm? Abject hysterics.

Laughter is chicken soup for the soul. Or vegetable soup, if that's more your thing. In either case, there are few problems so existential in nature that they're worth not-laughing about, and I'd prefer to laugh than be stressed, given the option. And that option is pretty much always on the table, especially if we know we'll get over whatever it is we're dealing with. I think folks frequently underestimate how much of a choice it really is to be stressed out or overwhelmed. "Just don't be stressed" is definitely one of those un-nuanced oversimplifications I'm oh-so-fond of, but at the end of the day, we're really the only ones responsible for how we feel.

Aside from uncontrollable laughter, my other favorite antidote for adversity is apathy. Over the past few years, I've found that I have less and less energy that I'm willing to dedicate to feeling bad about things. In the grand scheme of things, life is pretty short, mustering up the energy to be petty or upset or stressed or down on myself just doesn't seem as gratifying as it did when I was an angsty teenager. As a result, I consider fewer things problems than I otherwise might have in the past. Things that were problems are now just exciting detours that will make great stories later.

Making Misteaks

A special subset of "things going wrong" is "things going wrong because of you". I don't mean to brag, but I'm really good at messing things up and finding myself in that latter category, which folks usually call "mistakes". At one point or another, I've messed up pretty much anything I've ever done in some way. Whether its crashing cars, falling off bikes, making bad investments, ruining important relationships, breaking software systems, or any manner of truck-related tragedies, I've had my fair share of personal failures.

If you've been reading my ramblings for a while, it might not come as a surprise to to hear that I'm pretty proud of (most of) my blunders, and more than happy to document them in an unnecessarily public forum. That's because, in my mind, mistakes are a Good Thing™. Being bad at something is usually the first step to being good at something — it's a lot easier to learn from failure than from success. Through that lens, getting things wrong usually means I'm doing something right.

The only failures I truly regret are ones where I'm not the only person I hurt, or where I've made the exact same mistake more than once. The former one doesn't require any more elaboration***, and the latter means that I didn't learn anything from my mistake the first time. And publicly documenting my mistakes has the added benefit of making me (slightly) more accountable for those mistakes, and less likely to repeat them, at least in theory.

Wrapping it up

Recently, I've been reading this book**** about "antifragility", a way of describing systems that benefit from volatility (usually to some finite extent). The human immune system is a prime example — not only can it handle stressors (viruses, bacteria, etc), which would merely indicate robustness, but it actually benefits from such stressors, mounting a more effective response the next time around.

I only mention this because I think the same way about bad things more generally: anything that forces us outside our comfort zone is naturally an opportunity for future resilience, which is just a convoluted way of saying it makes us better people. I find the prospect worth smiling about.

*I recognize that human beans have only been around for about three hundred thousand years in their current bean form, but I imagine that we were also picking up useful adaptations as monkeys and mice and amoebas in our prior incarnations.

**I use a different number (e.g. 7) and different units (e.g. jiffies? microfortnights? dog years?) every time, because 1) I can't remember what it was when I originally heard it, and 2) the actual amounts of time are mostly irrelevant, it's the underlying idea that this thing doesn't matter long-term that's important.

***For all you sociopaths who need an explanation: it's because hurting people is bad.

****The author's got some pretty strong opinions on a wide range of topics. It probably goes without saying, but I don't necessarily agree with him on all of them.

Source: I stole it from this post, which in turn cobbled it together from random (but appropriately licensed) internet images.

It seems like just yesterday I was switching subsidiary companies at my resident multinational conglomerate, trading in my gig in enterprise business software for something more acutely interesting to me: surgical robotics.

And the three+ intervening years have been not only a grand ole time, but also marked a clear shift in what I actually do at work. The last time I wrote a post like this, my main job was building the things other people told me to build. Over time, I became the person who decides what to build and how to build it,* and I've learned quite a bit in that process: how to build big (and hopefully useful) systems, how to lead teams and (again, hopefully) not have them hate you, and a whole bunch of more specific things (working with a variety of cloud platforms, building protocols for embedded devices, working with teams across timezones, etc).

I wouldn't consider myself a particularly career-oriented person,** but if you spend 40+ hours a week — 35% of your waking hours — doing anything, you kind of have a vested interest in doing it well. Or at least in a way that doesn't make you hate doing it. And from that perspective I'm happy with the way my role has changed over time.

Anyway, by now you can probably see where this post is going: I've thrown all of that away and I'm joining a small startup.

But Why?

A great question, with a decidedly less good answer: I have no idea. I've found a bunch of different ways to rationalize why the change makes sense, but at the end of the day, I left a job that I really enjoyed, with a great team and clear growth opportunities, for something a bit more nebulous (and took a significant pay cut in the process). And it's not even like the new job is "building automated prosthetic limbs for orphans" or "systems for cheaply purifying water in low-income nations" or something similarly altruistic sounding to throw around at cocktail parties: it's more or less your standard Silicon Valley (or Silicon Valley) fare.

An Array of Rationalizations

Here's the current list of ways I've attempted to justify why I joined a new company, in literally no order whatsoever.

Risk vs Reward

Pretty much every decision we make is about trade-offs, and how we weigh the different pros and cons is fundamental to who we are as people. One parameter I'm constantly tweaking is how much risk I'm willing to take in different areas of my own life. Naturally, finance is a big one, and I've traditionally played that one fairly safe - investing almost exclusively in low-cost index funds, with the occasional real estate purchase just to showcase how little of a plan I actually have. But as time goes on and I've built up a bit of a financial safety net, I'm more willing to take on more risk (e.g. by joining a startup), theoretically with a corresponding increase in reward, which leads us to my next rationalization.

An Alignment of Incentives

One thing that I find attractive about the new opportunity is that I have a not-insignificant stake in the company. Further, the work that I do (or don't do) has a real effect on the success or failure of the company as a whole, which dictates if that equity ends up actually being worth anything.

Now, as always, money isn't particularly motivating to me (beyond what I need to Not Die™), since I'm not eager to buy anything except my own financial independence. But (also as always), money confers flexibility, and even if I don't personally want to do anything with money, I can always give it to organizations that can use it to generate some happiness in the world.

"Market Research"

I think the worst time to start looking for a job is when you're unhappy with your current one, or worse, when you've just lost it. Similar to not going grocery shopping when you're hungry, I think it's much easier to objectively evaluate an opportunity when you have a happy baseline to compare it to. As such, over the 5+ years I spent at my last company, I interviewed with 10-15 different places: doing interviews, getting offers, negotiating, and ultimately, rejecting those offers. I always explained to companies upfront that I was happy with my current role, but also that I was open to exploring (and perhaps taking) a new opportunity if I thought it was a good fit.

While I advocate this practice to everyone, I think it's especially useful in software engineering, where interviews frequently bear little resemblance to what you're actually doing on a day-to-day basis. Skills like "whiteboard coding" and "answering contrived and artificially constrained new grad Computer Science questions" just aren't things one will be good at without a bit of exposure beforehand. Similarly, negotiating is a tricky and fraught endeavor with uneven power dynamics, so it helps to train that muscle as well.

Anyway, this is all to say that of all the companies I interviewed with, this latest one was the first where the full picture of the opportunity was enough to make me consider leaving my previous team. I mean that's a given now, since I did leave my previous team, but you get the idea.

Worst Case Scenario

Whenever I'm trying to evaluate a tough choice, I pretend I'm trying to help someone else evaluate the choice, and then I walk myself through the advice I'd give to them (read: me). In this case, I came up with something along the lines of:

In the worst case scenario: the company is unsuccessful and folds, perhaps in a dramatic fashion featuring (metaphorical) explosions. To really underscore this worst case scenario, let's even assume that the company folded as a direct result of your own personal and/or professional incompetence. In this scenario, you just go grovelling back to your previous team (who has already said they'd happily take you back), or some other well-established company. You have the safety net to handle a bout of unemployment with fairly little fuss.

From that perspective, why not give it a go?


Aside from an income (and thus, to belabor the point here, Not Dying™), the thing I'm probably looking for most out of a job is the ability to learn and grow. And while there was still plenty to learn in my previous job, I'd kind of settled into a rhythm with each new project, so while the number of projects was increasing, the actual shape of them was substantially similar.

Aside from working in a new domain (video compression), I'm also working with new requirements, new sets of trade-offs, and new cloud providers. At my previous company, I'd often heard that the process of joining and ramping up was like "drinking from a firehose" because of the sheer amount of stuff you take in over the course of the first few weeks. I've definitely had that sensation all over again at the new job, which I consider a success.


As I took on more organizational responsibilities on my previous team (leading meetings, answering emails, ramping up other engineers, etc), I had correspondingly less time to actually build stuff myself. For a while, it was easy for me to rationalize this as "but I'm helping other people be productive, so the net result is far larger than anything I could produce on my own", but after a point, I just (perhaps selfishly) wanted to build the darn thing myself.

In my first month at the new gig, I wrote vastly more code than I had in the previous year at my last job. The small size of the company means everyone has their own well-defined niche, which means there's far less coordination overhead, which means I more or less spend 8 hours a day heads down in a world of my own. This will (theoretically) change over time as the company (hopefully) grows and scales things up, at which point I'll start to take on more of my old duties, but I'm quite enjoying the current state of things.

But More Realistically...

Like I said before, I think all of the above is just me conveniently retrofitting reasons onto a decision I don't fully understand. Realistically, I might have just gotten bored of staring at the same four walls every day, which provides far less dynamism than I'm used to. Through that lens, switching jobs might just have been a subconscious way to rebel against that and shake things up a bit. Who knows?

What about the Truck?

One thing that I've tiptoed around for years is where I actually worked, going so far as to scrub the name from my earlier posts. That said, I never did a particularly good job of this, and it's pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that I worked at Google.

My main motivation for not advertising it so loudly was to avoid the impression that I was profiting off the name of my employer, and to avoid (erhm, further) conversations with HR. I've mentioned before that I actually lose money running this blog,*** since I haven't monetized it at all. But still, appearances and whatnot.

Anyway, this is all to say: a lot of my initial truckliness was predicated on access to the resources I had at Google: food, gyms, bathrooms, etc. Hell, I was even keeping the truck "discreetly" tucked away in the back of an unused Google parking lot since the pandemic began.

But now I've gone and messed that up by quitting, which opens up a whole host of messy questions and logistics for me to figure out. Things like "where do I keep the truck?", or even more existential, "do I keep the truck at all?"

My current plan, which I reserve the right to toss out and start from scratch, is:

  1. Store the truck somewhere for the remaining, interminable duration of the pandemic, then
  2. Attempt an even more stripped-down truck life than before.

In fact, I've already gone ahead and done #1, though I expect it'll be some number of months before I can start to actuate on #2, working remotely from a truck being a bit difficult and all that.

Everything Else

Naturally, leaving the safety and comfort of Google has broader implications for my life and plans. Things like financial independence/early retirement, longer-term truckin' stuff, and my ideas on what I'm looking for in different parts of my life are all subject to change. I've got half-baked thoughts on all those things that I'll probably turn into 65%-baked thoughts before I plop them onto my little corner of the internet.

*More of a focus on the "how to build it" part. Choosing which products to build was always outside of my realm (as it should be), but I had a lot more discretion to choose what got built in terms of systems to power a given product.

**Plus, with any luck, my 'career' will be shorter than usual. Early retirement/financial independence ambitions and whatnot.

***An extremely modest amount of money, like "avocado toast and a latte once a month" kind of money. An ongoing blog rewrite will (at least in theory) make it even cheaper to run.

Source: The album cover of Happiness, by Dance Gavin Dance.

An Obnoxiously Long-Winded Intro

I'm a firm believer that human consciousness is a huge cosmic accident. Kinda like Matthew McConaughey's monologue from that one scene in True Detective. Except far, far less cynical, and maybe without the part about humans choosing to voluntarily go extinct. Great scene though, great scene.

More to the point: not only do people exist, but we're painfully aware of our own existence as somewhat autonomous entities. We aren't particularly amenable to going through mechanical, preprogrammed motions as effectively as say, an ant. We get bored easily. To keep ourselves entertained, we ascribe higher meaning to things and give ourselves purpose.

A lot of times, this purpose isn't something that we call out explicitly, it's just something that happens. Things like "be good at my job" or "provide for my family". When our purpose isn't clear or we don't think we can carry it out, sometimes we'll just straight up die. Fragile things, we are.

All of this in mind, my personal feeling is that it's a good idea to take a more active interest in the Purpose Picking Process™, as it's a key part of Not Dying™. I'm talking about taking the time, doing the soul-searching, and really figuring out what you think it is that makes you tick.

I know, I know, that's an obnoxiously long-winded intro, but I swear I'm going somewhere with this. This post is about what makes me tick, the idea being that I can use that to structure my life and evaluate my actions and all that jazz.

Tick, tock

One day, you opened up your eyes
Inside of you
Inside a world
Inside a universe
You didn't get to choose

You didn't get to pick the rules
Or pick the past
Or set the pace
Or cast the cast and crew
You didn't get to pick your starting place

And though it was a race
You didn't understand
You simply lined up on the blocks
And when the pistol popped
You ran.

—Watsky, Talking to Myself

Aside from just being an all-around solid piece of prose poetry, I think this lyric nicely sums up the overarching sense of purpose I've picked for myself.

Because the fact of the matter is that we don't get to choose where we're born, or even that we're born at all. We pop into existence entirely of someone else's accord. We take whatever hand the universe has dealt for us. And we do our darnedest.

And statistically speaking, a lot of people are dealt truly terrible hands. Which isn't to say life is a cakewalk for everyone else. Even if you were dealt a halfway decent hand, by being born relatively healthy in a relatively wealthy nation for instance, life still has its fair share of hardships. And they have a curious habit of all piling on at the least convenient times.

The Thesis

So, in summary: nobody chose to be here, and everyone is doing what they can and working with what they've got. When we interact with people, we have quite a bit of control over how we affect their happiness. The least we can do is to not take some away. My goal is to maybe sometimes even add some more, using the relative autonomy granted to me. That's my sincere belief: happiness is not a zero-sum game, you can add happiness without taking it from somewhere else.

Why Happiness

I don't think happiness is the be-all, end-all of human emotion. Our brains are capable of a bewildering range of complex and nuanced emotion, and I think it's up to everyone to figure out the combination and balance of brain-chemicals that works for them, and to figure out how to get their brain to produce them. Having said that, happiness still has some universal appeal, and it's usually one of the easier-to-invoke emotions in other people, even in fairly fleeting interactions.

Why People

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm very much an introvert. In a pre-COVID world, I'd regularly go weeks at a time without actively seeking any social engagement outside of work. And from that frame of reference, it seems strange even to myself that I should make my overarching purpose related to other people at all. Why not make it about building the best blog? Or being wickedly strong?

I'm not sure if I have a great answer for this, but if I had to pick one, it'd go something like this: Nobody is an island. No one exists in a vacuum, even though some of us might wish that we did from time to time. Doing literally anything of sufficient scale will always require working with other people, because no matter how good you are at something, a big group of people will always be able to get more done. You're 10x better than the average person? Cool, a group of 11 people can do it better. That's just math.

So I think it makes sense to structure my core beliefs around how I deal with people.

A Decently Succinct Outro

So that's that. I've hitched my identity to "hopefully not making others more miserable". Future Truck Tenets posts will ostensibly talk about what that means. Hopefully in less abstract, more tangible ways.

Source: I'm aware this is an image of a person hula hooping, but abstract illustrations of rubber bands are apparently hard to come by.

A Cry for Help

Several eons ago, when quarantine started, a younger and slightly more naive Brandon entered quarantine with a bike, a yoga mat, and a well-intentioned (but ultimately wrong) hope that this wouldn't last more than a few weeks.

And the biking/yoga combo (boga? yiking?) served its purpose well, but as the days and weeks wore on, it became increasingly clear that it wouldn't be enough. I was still shedding weight, and while my lower body was in fine shape, my upper body had become soft and sad from a clear lack of stimulation. Not quite "Christian Bale in The Machinist" bad, but bad enough that multiple people independently pointed out that I looked much smaller, in an "I'm worried about you, is this a cry for help?" kind of way. Worse, I could feel that I was physically weaker.*

Me a few weeks ago.
I was originally going to put an image of Christian Bale from The Machinist here, but all the images I found were slightly too grotesque for my taste. If you're unfamiliar with the film and curious of what I'm talking about, you can search for the film at your own risk.
From what I remember, it's a weird one.


Like most people, I didn't enjoy the prospect of being a deflated shell of my former self, but it didn't seem like there were a lot of options. An at-home power rack would have been ideal, but not particularly practical when I was house-hopping. Even now that I've settled into a place (for the time being), Bay Area apartments aren't known for being overly spacious. A gym would also work, but they've been about as consistent as federal guidance on mask wearing. That is to say: I can't really rely on gyms to be open just yet.

And just when I thought all hope was lost, something happened — a reader (thanks Christoph!) reached out and suggested I try resistance bands, noting that they had started using them as an alternative to traditional in-gym strength training when quarantine started.

To say I was skeptical would be an understatement. In my mind, resistance bands were for the injured, the elderly, and apparently also my mother, who doesn't really fit into either of those categories. From my perspective, they certainly weren't for folks serious about strength training. Strength training required Large Metal Structures™ and Plates™ and Grunting™ and Angry Faces™ and Toxic Masculinity™, not GiAnT StReTcHy BaNdS.

But after a few emails back and forth, Christoph had convinced me otherwise. He showed me some videos showcasing resistance band variants of all the usual strength training staples: military press, bench press, squat, and deadlift. So I bit the bullet, and ordered a set of resistance bands.

An Adjustment Period

I've said it before and I'll surely say it again: I am a creature of habit. I've been doing more or less the same workout routine for nearly a decade at this point. And from that perspective, switching things up naturally required a bit of adjustment.

For starters, I'm used to calculating out the weight for each set down to 5 pound increments, meaning I'm shuffling comically small 2.5 pound plates on and off the bar. Resistance bands don't operate that way. There's not really the concept of weight. Instead, there's a similar (but much fuzzier) concept, resistance. You choose resistance by selecting a band (Extra Light, Light, Medium, Heavy, Extra Heavy), and sometimes by where you grip the band (closer to the anchor point == more resistance). Instead of moving the weight, the focus is on getting a peak contraction, i.e. doing the exercise through the full range of motion with proper form and focusing on muscle engagement.

And that's all well and fine, but it doesn't appeal to the more mathematically inclined part of me, the part that wants to empirically measure my progress. Spit-balling the resistance per set means I can vary things as I go, which is nice, but it also means the quality of my workout is subject to how willing I am to grab the bands in a way to maximize resistance. I'm a person who firmly believes that human motivation and willpower are flaky and fleeting constructs that shouldn't be relied on, and instead, one's environment should be set up to make achieving the desired outcome easier. As such, putting the onus of a hard workout on myself instead of baking it into the pre-calculated weights didn't sit well with me.

My strategy has been to institute rough guidelines for myself ahead of time, like "for the second set, grab lower on the band than on the first set", or "use the Medium band for the first set, then use the Heavy band for the next set". These get written down in a shorthand notation in my workout log in the same way I used to write down weights per set in a pre-COVID world. It's not quite the same as my old barbell routine, but it adds a nice set of guardrails to keep me honest.

This past week's band workouts.

In a Routine

At this point, I've been doing resistance band workouts five days per week for about six weeks, each workout being about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how much I'm dilly dallying. The bands I purchased came with a seven day trial of a three month, strength-training-focused fitness program. I used this trial period to take diligent notes on the whole three month training program, which I've saved on my phone and refer to for each workout.

As for the routine itself, I've actually been pretty happy with it. I try to minimize the rest time between sets to make it a little more cardiovascular-ly stimulating, and I end each workout feeling appropriately tired/pumped. I'm sore in all the right ways and places again, and I'm even sore in some new places. There's more volume (e.g. repetitions) than I'm used to, which makes sense since you can't really match the weight of traditional strength training without putting a dangerous amount of energy into the band, which could snap back and really do some damage.

Speaking of damage, the bands also have this fun quality where they will rip the skin clean off your hands. This also makes sense. Unlike barbell/dumbbell exercises where the weight is distributed evenly across your hands, with resistance bands, most the resistance is applied at the sides of your hands. On my second or third day of using the bands, I accidentally tore small chunks out of each hand between my thumb and index finger. I ordered gloves that day, and wrapped my hands in band-aids and ACE bandages for the few intervening days. It took weeks to heal properly and I'm in no hurry to make that mistake again.

Other Benefits

Aside from guiding me back to my old size and shape, the bands have given me one other much appreciated benefit: an easy way of exercising on the go. This is a tool that has been notably and painfully absent from my exercise arsenal in the past, and was especially apparent to me when I was traveling a lot for work/play/my ongoing real estate adventures. On work trips, I'd usually go to the hotel gym, get in a light jog, and do dumbbell-toting free-form jazz. This rarely felt fulfilling, but was the best I could figure out how to do. When I returned from a trip, my first few workouts always left me much, much more sore than usual, indicating that those hotel workouts hadn't really done much for me.

The bands are small and light enough that I can take the whole kit and caboodle with me when I'm out and about, meaning no more hotel free-form dumbell jazz, and more consistent adherence to my routine.

At first, the idea of resistance bands really seemed like a stretch, but now that I've snapped into a routine, I can honestly say that I'm elastic ecstatic about having found a viable at-home alternative to barbell strength training.**

*Pickle jars loomed menacingly in the shadowy corners of my nightmares.

**All puns absolutely intended.


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