Burpees: The Full-Body Workout

Ah, the burpee. Our friends and coaches push us to do them, but does anyone really like them? Probably not. Here’s the thing: Burpees are one of—if not—the best exercises you can possibly do.

We are going to break this exercise down step by step, from the history of burpees, to how you should be adding them into your daily routine. Now, drop and give me 10!

Just kidding.

Please, continue reading.

Why “Burpee”?

I may be the only one; but, each time I hear the term “burpee” my inner child starts to laugh. I always assumed the name was linked back to some child’s punishment for once burping at the dinner table. Boy, was I wrong.

The burpee is named after physiologist Royal Huddleston Burpee. As a Ph.D. student at Columbia University, he created this exercise as a way to test the fitness levels of inactive adults.

Dr. Burpee would have the subjects complete four “burpees” in a row and stop. His magic number was four because he was testing generally inactive adults and knew that the burpee could potentially cause injury due to its design.

Now, it seems like there is no end to the torment from this workout. Not only has it evolved from the 4-step burpee: Squat, Plank, Jump Back, Stand

to the 6-step burpee: Squat, Plank, Pushup, Jump Back, Squat, Jump

But some people are performing 100 at a time! Wow, I am sore just from thinking about it.

Shouldn’t I Lift Weights Instead?

You may be wondering why in the world you would want to perform a burpee rather than doing a bit of cardio and lifting weights. Well, the answer is, a burpee does it all!

You often see this workout in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to get gym-goers into their optimal heart rate zones. It’s because this movement is perfect for people who want to shed fat and gain muscle.

It literally works your entire body. So, while it may hurt like hell and have you feeling like you want to quit after just one round, you should know that you are doing this hard work for a major payoff.

How Do I Add Burpees into My Workout?

Since this workout was created in the mid 1900s, there have been hundreds of variations. If you are a workout aficionado, you may have already done the 100 burpee challenge. This challenge gets gym-goers to perform 100 burpees as quickly as possible.

However, if you are starting from square one and you’re not quite ready for 100 burpees, here is a great way to add them into your regular workout routine:

Week 1:
5 burpees, 4 times; 30 second rest in between sets
Week 2:
8 burpees, 4 times; 30 second rest in between sets
Week 3:
12 burpees, 4 times; 30 second rest in between sets
Week 4:
15 burpees, 4 times; 30 second rest in between sets
Week 5:
20 burpees, 4 times; 1 minute rest in between sets
Week 6:
30 burpees, 4 times; 1 minute rest in between sets

Add this burpee circuit to your workout 3 to 5 times a week and you are going to become a burpee pro in no time! It is going to be hard. But, like anything, don’t give up because you will get there.

What About Form?

When talking about any workout, most people think quantity over quality, “If I can do 100 push-ups, I am the strongest person ever!” When in reality, if you do 100 push-ups with an arched back, you will be subject to injury. So, here is how you should complete each movement in a burpee with proper form:

Squat:

  1. Lean back as if you are sitting on an imaginary stool.
  2. Keep your back flat and try not to lean forward.
  3. Keep your knees in line with your toes

Chuze Fitness member in squat position

Plank:

  1. Keep your shoulders over your wrists
  2. Engage your abs
  3. Keep your neck and spine in a straight line
  4. Squeeze your glutes and quads
  5. Keep your butt down (do not arch your back)

Chuze Fitness member in high plank

Push-up:

  1. Start in plank position (above)
  2. Maintain the perfect, flat position as you descend
  3. Stop when your elbows are at 90 degrees and begin pushing back up
  4. Keep your back straight through the entire movement

Chuze Fitness member in pushup position

Squat to Jump:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Start in above squat position
  3. Jump up in an explosive movement

Should I Stop if I’m Tired?

Always listen to your body. If you feel like you cannot go any longer, you know yourself better than anyone else, and you should stop.

However, if you just need a rest before you take on another burpee, consider slowing down instead of stopping altogether. It takes much more work to get back into the swing of a workout after a complete stop than it does to gain some breath while doing slower movements, then speeding back up again.

So, here’s what you can do: If you are doing the 6-step burpee mentioned above, try switching to a few rounds of the 4-step burpee. If this still is not enough, instead of jumping your legs back and forward, walk them, and then stand up instead of jumping. Once you are feeling a bit better, you can go back into the 6-step burpee full force!

What if I Hold My Breath?

One of the biggest mistakes in any exercise—and the reason most of us tire out quicker than we want to—is because we stop breathing. Never do this! Your breathing can either impact your workout in a positive or negative way depending on if you stop breathing or if you breathe incorrectly. So, let’s make it positive!

A great way to positively impact your workout with proper breathing is to find a pattern. For me, I like to breathe in when I jump my legs back, breathe out when I do the push-up, breathe in when I jump into the squat, and then breathe out again when I jump up. The general rule is to exhale on exertion. Find your pattern and keep it up. If your breathing gets out of whack, slow your workout down, and get back on track.

Remember, just like they say in real estate: “Location, location, location!”, you should be echoing the mantra, “Form, form, form!” when doing burpees. Practice makes perfect. Have someone critique you to make sure that you are getting everything right. Soon, we will be asking you for burpee advice!

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