You’ve seen the meme “I love burpees… Said no one ever.” Well, part of why people dread the burpee so much is that it is total body taxing. That is, you think it is.
When you take out the burpee push-up, you take out the back (on the descent), pecs and triceps (on the ascent), and tons of core on the full push-up phase. Without the push-up, the burpee is just a core, deltoids, legs and glutes exercise. That’s not so bad, right? Actually, that is the original burpee.
The Burpee Test
The burpee is named after exercise physiologist Dr. Royal Burpee. In the 1930s, Burpee developed the “Burpee Test” to test both muscular and cardiovascular endurance of his clients and create a measure of human performance. The move consisted of standing, squatting (hands to floor), plank, squatting (hands to floor), standing again and reaching up.
Do you see a push-up in there? Nope. Do you see a requirement for the feet to lift off of the ground? Nope. The push-up and the leap are things we have added over time to make the burpee harder, but the bare-bones burpee is just a squat thrust with an overhead reach!
Prior to a fitness conference session with Keli Roberts in New York City in 2006, I had worked in the fitness scene for several years, but never heard of the term “burpee.” Judging by the humdinger looks on fellow fitness professionals’ faces, they hadn’t either. There was something else bubbling up in the fitness industry around that time…
Bigging Up the Burpee
It seems to me, we can track the erroneous belief that the burpee is all of the above, plus a push-up and a leap, to the same place we can track “double-unders,” “WODs,” and “man-makers.” Namely, CrossFit.
CrossFit qualifies burpees to include these things. But, alas, CrossFit was not around when Burpee created his namesake move in the ‘30s as part of his Columbia University PhD dissertation. In other jargon, CrossFit can name it and claim it, but for the burpee, it is what it is– and it ain’t a push-up and vertical leap.
There’s nothing wrong with upping the ante and adding a push-up, which is accurately qualified as a “bastardo.” (I’ll pause here to let that term sink in…) There’s nothing wrong with doing a “CrossFit Burpee,” which tags the push-up plus a jump. But if you’re just getting off the couch and deciding burpees may be fun, no need to rain on your movement parade by tacking on extra feats of strength… The basic burpee is just a plank to stand up! You can do that. And you can do it 20 times in a row in less than a minute! Now get off that sofa and just do it–we double dog, double-under, double-duex-burpee dare you!
5 Steps To Better Burpees
Step 1: Stand up, straight and tall
Step 2: Tuck down into a deep squat and touch your fingertips to the floor.
Step 3: Thrust out to a plank on your hands.
Step 4: Return to deep squat, touching your fingertips to the floor.
Step 5: Stand up and reach your hands high overhead.
Cover photo courtesy Brook Benten Jimenez
Brook Benten Jimenez, M.Ed., is an exercise physiologist in Georgetown, Texas. She is currently in the running for “Ms Health & Fitness 2020” (vote here). Benten Jimenez was named 2012 “Austin’s Fittest Fitness Professional.”