Here’s a great idea. Let’s squat, as though on the toilet, then bend over and place our hands on the floor (while in the squat), then unceremoniously fling our legs into the air behind us, only to land in a push-up/plank position, and then oops – change our minds, fling our legs upwards towards our firmly planted hands, and then lurch back to a standing position. And, if we don’t want to be considered a total dweeb by our trainer, also add a “jump up” at the end and a full push-up during the plank portion.
Who thought of this moronic combination of movements, and why do people agree to do them?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term, “Burpee,” actually originated in the 1930s, by Royal H. Burpee, an American psychologist. It was originally used as a “Burpee test.” This test consisted of a series of “Burpees” (movements) executed in rapid succession. It was designed to measure agility and coordination.
The only time I would voluntarily throw my body to the ground from a standing position would be during an unscheduled airstrike. So, when I first learned about “Burpees” from a trainer many years ago, I thought he had lost his mind. He suggested that we try ten repetitions. I flat out refused.
As a chiropractor, I can identify potentially injurious exercises that others may not. These filters allow me to perceive when something, albeit popular, may be hazardous to your spinal health (Do you remember The Abomatic?). “Burpees” are exercises that promise to yield exceptional returns, but in reality, they can land you with a high chiropractic bill, and a hefty stock of ice-packs stacked in your freezer.
So, here is the problem with the universally despised “Burpee.” The “Burpee” consists of a series of large body movements: Jump, Squat, Sprawl, and Push-up. The intent of the “Burpee” is to go through the series of movements, with some haste.
I frequently watch people, in the gym, as they perform “Burpees” in their boot camp classes, or during personal training sessions. I can confidently tell you that “Burpees,” as a type of exercise, have horrible stats when it comes to form and execution. Put simply; MOST people perform at least one part of the chain of movements (comprising a “Burpee”) inappropriately. Doing this exercise incorrectly can spell disaster.
Here lies the issue – the “Burpee” is an extremely complicated, and challenging movement. If they are performed correctly, the benefits are immense. In other words, the “Burpee” is a full-body, functional movement that challenges flexibility, strength, balance, core, intensity, and coordination. I’m not a total hater. However, at the risk of grossly understating a global problem, a significant portion of the population has a weak core. (Anyone spend more than two hours a day sitting?)
So, “Burpees” should be good for that weak core, right? Wrong. Performing a traditional “Burpee,” with a crappy core can result in an undue force on your spine and nervous system, and recruitment of muscles that are not adequately prepared to carry such a load. So, as you propel “your load” through the facets of the exercise, your spinal disks scream profanities at you through their little “disk-mouths.” That is if you perform the “Burpee” correctly! Heaven forbid you squat with your back too far forward because of inflexibility in your hips, or if you have a saggy spine, during the plank. Poor form, combined with a weak core, is a police escort to the emergency room.
So, are you off the hook for “Burpees?” Absolutely. Tell your trainer “Hells No!” There are many other ways to challenge your fitness, without performing advanced movements like the “Burpee.”
BUT, if you like the idea of a challenge, and the “impress factor” for the hotties watching you from the cardio equipment, let’s talk through the steps that you will need to take to become a “Burpee Master.”
- Practice a “perfect” squat. Bend at the hips, not the back.
- After you have “perfected” your squat, practice slowly by placing your hands on the ground and then return to the squat position.
- From the “hands on the ground” position, deeply engage your core, and gently step back into a plank position, one leg at a time. Watch yourself in the mirror to ensure that your butt is not sagging, and you are perpendicular to the ground.
- Once you have held the plank for a few seconds, gently step back toward your hands, one leg at a time. Check your gut to make sure it is tight!
- Slowly, and with control, return to the squat position and stand up.
- Practice this modified “Burpee” for a couple of weeks. Slowly perform 10 to 15 repetitions. Increase your speed slightly, a little at a time. If your form is being sacrificed (i.e. speed or fatigue), slow down or stop!
- Always watch yourself in a mirror to make sure your form is stellar.
- When you feel ready, try 1 of these three modifications. Implement only one at a time:
- The Jump (jump at the beginning)
- The Sprawl (instead of the “step back”, throw your legs backward into the plank position)
- The Full Push-Up (instead of just the plank).
- Immediately eliminate the modifications, if you start to feel pain. If pain occurs, return to the basics.
- Start these modifications slowly, and once you are confident that your form is superb – accelerate your pace.
How do you know if your core is engaged effectively and correctly?
Have you ever had to “shhhh” someone from a distance? Try it. Say “shhhhh” as loud and hard as you can for at least 10 seconds. Now, put your hand on your abdomen, and feel what happens when you say “shhhh” vigorously. It tightens, right? Right – your abdominal muscles don’t stick out, or suck in – they just tighten. This is the proper way to tighten your core. Practice tightening your core in this manner, before beginning the “Burpee.” Practice the “shhhh” tightening by standing, sitting, lying down, and resuming a plank and squat position, to make sure that you can engage effectively.
This video is an excellent tutorial for the modified “Burpee.”
Now watch this video. This second video is “touted” as a “How-To” instructional video on performing the “Burpee,” but is loaded with bad form and poor execution!
Now that you know what the “perfect” Burpee form looks like point out the “improper techniques” in this video, and list them in WELLFITandFED’s comments section.
This weeks FIRST STEPS are to tell your trainer. “No, come up with something else.” Okay, more seriously during your workout this week eliminate the burpees and do a combination of, ten squat jumps and then ten push-ups. Repeat the cycle three times. Perform the push us very slowly with excellent control and make sure your squat jumps are explosive but safe.
I HAVE A WONDERFUL FREE PDF ON HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN STAIRS CIRCUIT WORKOUT. AND GUESS WHAT? THERE ARE NO BURPEES!!!!
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