Only a select few “lucky” clients get to do burpees with me…
This made me question – is the burpee a good exercise?
Origin of Burpees
Burpees were created in 1939 by a man named Royal H. Burpee and used in military training to determine a person’s physical fitness.
How to do a Burpee
To do a burpee, start from a standing position, then squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Quickly kick both feet out behind you so you are in a plank position. You can add in a press up here for extra work! Next, bring your legs forward to go into a squatting position again, and jump up.
The Burpee Is a Good Exercise
Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, a New York-based sports medicine physician believes burpees can cure almost anything. He said
“Burpees target every muscle in your body and train your cardiopulmonary fitness by repeatedly bring your heart rate up and down”
He suggested that such extreme exertion i.e. burpees, release endorphins which give us the boost we need to get through our day. In fact endorphins that remain in your system can leave you feeling good even hours after your workout.
The Burpee is a Pointless Exercise
However there is another camp that suggests that burpees are not at all a good exercise, and may actually be totally pointless
Michael Boyle, a certified functional strength coach, claimed that the burpee is not just pointless but bad for you. In doing a burpee, you’re jamming your wrist into extension, then you’re putting a huge amount of stress on the anterior shoulder, which is the weakest part of the shoulder. Neither of those things is good in a singular sense, and they’re clearly not good in high repetitions
He said it is “idiotic” to do as a regular workout and that repeatedly “throwing yourself to the ground and immediately getting back up again” is, simply put, “a really stupid idea.”
So Why do Burpees?
When it comes to doing burpees you need to ask yourself WHY are you doing them?
Is it for cardio? For upper-body strength? For the squats?
It has to be said that there are plenty of other exercises such as chest press, shoulder press and squat jumps, that target the same muscles as a burpee, but perhaps in a much safer and more effective and controlled way.
If burpees are used as a metabolic exercise, they should not be performed past where the form breaks down.
The Perfect Burpee
Get off the ground as efficiently as possible. If you focus only on speed but you’re not hitting efficient positions, you’re going to waste energy and you won’t get up as quickly as you want to.
The straight-body position which you hit once when you put your hands and feet on the ground is meant to be a plank. That means your abs are fired up and your glutes are contracted. You’ll be much faster through both phases if you keep your core fired up, and you’ll be protecting your lower back too.
Always keep a wide base when doing burpees, as in, at least shoulder-width apart. You want your feet constantly at a width from which you can jump. So when you lower your torso to the ground, and you’re in that plank, they’re wide. When you leap your feet back towards your hands, they’re wide, too. Do this, and when it’s time to jump, you won’t have to waste any time getting into optimal position to jump because you’re already there.
Do a proper jump on the burpee. That doesn’t necessarily mean jumping sky-high, but it does mean really jumping as opposed to doing a bunny hop. Explode from your ankles, knees, and hips on every jump.
Other Ways of Doing a Burpee
A safer way of performing a burpee is using a small box or bench, even a up turned BOSU. This may be a more appropriate choice for some people.
The metabolic function is still there, but the chances of a misstep or hyper extending the lower back are less. If anything, the pace of the exercise can increase as you are not so low to the floor.
I suggest to some clients to step back but jump back in which also reduces the work on the lower back.
You can add variety to the burpee in a variety of ways
- Add a slam ball throw
- Add the battle rope slam
- Add a dumbbell renegade row at the plank position
- Use a Bulgarian bag for a shoulder press at the top instead of the jump
I do not think burpees are either a bad exercise or one which can achieve almost any fitness goal. They can add variety to a workout within a well planned program.
My ‘lucky’ clients who get to do burpees as part of their workouts are the ones who are able to maintain a strong core position, have no lower back or shoulder issues and have a properly functioning pelvic floor.
Burpees are not a suitable exercise for newly postnatal mums or anyone else with a weak core, diastasis recti or a weak pelvic floor as they put too much pressure through the abdominal wall and pelvic floor muscles.
There are other exercises such as interval training that can be as metabolically effective as burpees. But if you can do a burpee why not
Rachel Law is a personal fitness trainer based in New Malden, Surrey. Qualifications: ActivIQ Level 3 Personal Training; Burrell Education Pregnancy Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education Advanced Pregnancy Wellness Practitioner; Burrell Education Advanced Post Natal Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education 3rd Age Women Optimal Health and Nutrition; Burrell Education Peri Natal Athlete; Burrell Education Pelvic Flow and Freedom; Olympic Weight Lifting; Premier Global Kettlebells; FIE Level Assessment and Mentoring