Who hasn't had to struggle through a workout that included burpees?? Practically NO ONE! They're the quintessential body weight exercise that claims to burn fat, transform you into a lean mean workout machine, and you can do them practically anywhere!
Why are they so popular?
Let's go back into history for a moment. The original Burpee was actually called a "Squat Thrust", invented by Royal H. Burpee in 1939. He was a physiologist working for the YMCA and wanted to design a simple test to evaluate the fitness level of everyday folks. This version has only 4 moves:
1. Squat down
2. Jump back into a plank
3. Hop back into the squat
4. And stand up again
It was to be performed consecutively for 4 reps (JUST 4!) and then the heart rate was measured before and after. Sounds pretty great right?
So how did this basic fitness assessment turn into a borderline cruel fitness punishment?? It remains a mystery! But apparently someone out there loves to torture average fitness enthusiasts and make them feel like this version is the better version. From 4 somewhat basic moves, to 6 much more difficult ones:
1. Squat down
2. Jump back into a plank
3. Perform a push up (chest to floor)
4. Return to plank position
5. Hop back up into the squat
6. And finish by explosively jumping up in the air
But that's not the only thing. This harder, more complex version is also expected to be done for MORE reps, and for a LONGER period of time. It's not uncommon to see 100 Burpee workouts, or 5 min AMRAPs (as many reps as possible). WHO can do that?!! Not only that...but who can do that WITH GOOD FORM???!!!
Burpee, the original founder of the squat thrust, never intended for his version to be used in such rigorous ways. In fact he warned against it claiming that for those who were not already very fit, the exercise could potentially cause more harm than good. But unfortunately the new 'burpee' had already taken hold and is pretty much here to stay. So the questions remains, should YOU do burpees?
First off, I'm not here to say that burpees are necessarily a BAD thing, I'm just questioning the validity and functionality of them. Because let's face it, most people (women in particular) that are doing burpees are your average moms, office workers, and stressed out individuals just looking for ways to stay fit, healthy, and happy. Is the burpee going to help them reach those goals? My vote is NO.
In my opinion, the original squat thrust is an amazing functional exercise and can be done using various modifications to suit most fitness levels. In fact, I often add this into my online classes and I have clients ranging from their early 30s to mid 70s. They ALL find a version that works well for them.
The burpee however, is much more complex and is not so easily accessible to everyone. How many of us can perform push ups on the toes - chest to floor?
Add that to an already complex move, with the addition of jumping at the top?? The end result is most likely a mishmash of poor form, collapsing shoulders, weakened core, and stressed out joints. Who wants to deal with all that?!
I'd wager that most of us want to be able to move well and workout for the long term right? Not just perform a one-off burpee session that has us sore, tired, injured, and quitting the next day! So what do we do? We educate and inform ourselves!
The first part of the squat thrust and burpee are great - you squat down and place your hands on the floor. This has great functional transfer as we often need to bend down and come back up to standing thousands of times throughout our lives. Next comes the jumping back to plank. This has great benefit as well because it works our core and shoulder strength and also benefits our hip flexibility. But is it necessary to jump back? No. And I'd guess that most of us can't properly land in a plank while jumping back without collapsing in our joints somewhere. Stepping back is the perfect solution until you properly build that skill!
From here, this is where the 2 versions go sideways. In the burpee you are expected to lower all the way down into a full push up, spring back up to plank and then begin to jump forward again. In the squat thrust you skip all that and just jump forward. Now I'm a big fan of pushups, but as we already established, push ups are HARD. Why make them even more hard and awkward by putting them smack in the middle of a complex and dynamic movement?? (eye roll) How about we keep the push up separate and just practice that skill on it's own?! You'll have much better results, I promise!
Next, we jump forward into our squat (or stepping forward is also acceptable in my books), which once again is great for our hip flexibility! And from there we simply stand up if you're performing the squat thrust. But the burpee however, requires you to jump. I mean, who's got energy for that after you just finished ALL those other moves??! And how many of us have joints that are prepared to accept that type of load? Have you done much jumping in the past? Did you progressively build your tendon and ligament strength to allow for that jump to happen in a safe and healthy manner? Probably not, considering again that most people doing these burpees are your average folk who do too much sitting and not a lot of jumping, like EVER. Again, I think jumping has great functional benefits, and plyometric moves can keep our bodies healthy and supple as we age. BUT, we need to progressively work our tissues in order to have them adapt to the challenge of jumping.
So, where does that leave us? Burning calories and getting a great sweat is awesome. Moving our bodies in fun, unique, and challenging ways is also awesome. But, ask yourself, are traditional Burpees really going to help you achieve your long term goals? Or is there another smarter way to do it?
My Membership doors are closed right now, but I'm currently in the process of building a Foundations program that will help you build the skills and strength you need before jumping straight into my classes. Building our Foundation FIRST is a big missing piece in most online fitness memberships and programs. We can't expect to build a sturdy home on a weak foundation right? It's the same with our bodies! We need to learn the basics before we can effectively move forward and increase our strength. Building a strong foundation will allow you to have a better workout, burn more calories, and see greater results. PLUS, you'll most likely stick with it longer because you won't drive yourself into the ground from Day 1!
In Wellness, Krista