The Most Loved and Hated Exercise: The Burpee

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Part of the reason why “the burpee” is dreaded so much is because it taxes the total body, or at least you think it does. When you remove the push-up; the back (on the descent), pecs and triceps (on the ascent), and core on the full push-up phase, you are left with a core, deltoids, legs, and glutes exercise. That’s not so bad, right? Actually, that is the original burpee.

This underappreciated move is named after exercise physiologist, Dr. Royal Burpee as part of his Columbia University PhD dissertation. He developed, in the 1930s, “the burpee test” to assess both muscular and cardiovascular endurance of his clients and create a mode of human performance. The move consisted of standing, squatting (hands to floor), plank, squatting (hands to floor), standing up again.

Do you see a push-up in there? NO! Do you see a requirement for the feet to lift off of the ground? NO! Those two moves were added over time to make the burpee harder, but the bare-bones burpee is just a squat thrust with an overhead reach!

My first experience with the burpee was at an SCW MANIA® conference session with Keli Roberts in 2006. I had already been in the fitness scene for seven years, but had never heard of the term “burpee.” Judging by the hum-dinger looks on fellow fitness professionals’ faces, they hadn’t either. At the same time as my first burpee taste, this personally new found exercise had already been altered by CrossFit pros. It seems we can track the erroneous belief that the burpee is all of the above, plus a push-up and a jump, to the same place we can track “double-unders,” “WODs,” and “man-makers.” CrossFit qualifies burpees to include these extras.

There’s nothing wrong with upping the ante and adding a push-up and a jump, which accurately qualifies it as a “bastardo” exercise. But, if you’re getting off the couch and decide burpees may be fun, there is no need to tack on extra feats of strength, the basic burpee is just a plank to stand up and you can do that.

Now get off that sofa and just do it- we double dog, double-under, double-duex-burpee dare you!

Step 1: Stand up, straight and tall, then tuck down into a deep squat and touch your fingertips to the floor.

Step 2: Thrust out to a plank on your hands.

Step 5: Return to deep squat, touching your fingertips to the floor.

Step 4: Stand up and reach your hands high overhead.

So, the next time the instructor says it’s “Burpee time”, embrace it. Show the move some love. Don’t feel like you have to add the push-up and the jump. Take yourself back to the beginning and make the most of it. The most important thing to remember is to do it correctly and with proper posture.

This concludes the multi-article series, “Exercises You Never Knew You Were Doing Wrong.” I hope you enjoyed learning about your faves found it incredibly helpful and worth sharing. We covered every area of the body with basic exercises like renegade row, shoulder press, forward lunge, dead lift, abdominal crunch and burpee. If you missed an article, they can all be found on the SCW Fitness Education website under resources.