The Burpee – Torture or Treasure

With the fitness industry focusing more and more on fast total body exercises that utilize and strengthen your core, it’s no wonder the Burpee has become the go-to exercise. The burpee consists of a series of exercises performed in rapid succession, ideally as a quick way to measure agility, coordination and strength. Yet, the burpee is one of the most dreaded exercise by many of my clients.

Most people hadn’t even heard of a burpee 15 years ago, unless they had military experience. The exercise was created in the 1930’s by American physiologist Royal H. Burpee as a quick and simple way to assess fitness. During World War II, the United States Armed Services adopted it as a way to assess the fitness level of recruits.


The benefits of this exercise are obvious: it’s a quick total body workout which engages your cardio-vascular system and core (the transverse abdominous muscles that circle around from your lower belly to your delicate lower back) thereby enhancing endurance and strength. All large muscle groups are engaged (arms, chest, back, legs, glutes and abs), balance and stamina are created, and you need no equipment and very little space.


The negative issues of this exercise are the same as the positive – IF you are out of shape. If your core is weak and/or you have a significant amount of belly fat, and if your cardio system taxes easily this exercise will be torture.  The biggest risk to a beginner is that they will not engage their core muscles and could spasm their lower back, irritate their sciatic nerve, or just simply face plant into the floor.


So let’s review the proper form and execution of a burpee:

1.  Start in a standing position. Quickly squat down placing your palms on the floor directly under your shoulders.

2.  Pull your abs in tight and with a bit of a hop, throw your legs out behind you so that they land, feet together, on your toes as if you are about to perform a push up. Elbows are locked in place.

3.  Now perform a slow and precise push up, keeping in mind that it’s not about how low you go, but that what’s important is that you don’t sag your body downward while barely bending your arms.  This is where many clients hurt their back and/or shoulder blades.

4.  In one smooth motion, bring your legs back into the squat position, and then explode upwards reaching for the ceiling.

5.  Upon landing from your huge hop up, move right back into step 1 by squatting down. Repeat for the requisite amount of burpees or use a time limit to work by (i.e., as many as you can do in 1 minute).

For even more advance version, use a bozu ball. Lift the bozu ball overhead to start, then place it on the ground (inflated side down), as you perform steps 2 through 4.


Once again, burpees are a great way to get in a quick total body energizing work out with limited space and time. If you can change your mind set to see these as a welcome challenge and not a dreaded torture created by us personal trainers, you will reap huge benefits while moving on with your day! Please feel free to let me know how it goes for you.


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