The humble burpee has been touted by some as ‘the best exercise in the world’. We’d like to add the title of the ‘world’s most hellish exercise’ to that, if we may. Not that we take either moniker lightly. But, as it turns out, the burpee has what it takes to make a decent claim on the first title, at least. A full-body exercise, you’ll rope in your legs, core, chest, back, and arms, as well as firing up your cardio capabilities. All of which makes for a guaranteed, calorie-combusting fat-blaster.
“The burpee is one of the most challenging exercises out there,” says health and wellness coach Kemo Marriott. “It’s a combination of strength and power that requires you to move the whole body. Given its relative complexity, it’s also a great move for stimulating the brain too, as you really have to focus on what you’re doing. In terms of muscle groups, you’ll find that every single one has to be stimulated, which is why this is such a great exercise to perform.”
Like most unpleasant things, the burpee workout was originally conceived as a test. Back in 1930, apparent sadist Royal H. Burpee (a physiologist based in the Bronx borough of New York City by trade) developed the burpee as a test of a patient’s overall fitness. He then used it as part of his thesis at Colombia University. Due to the burpee’s growing popularity, the US army then got in on the act, adopting it as its way of testing a soldier’s fitness during World War II. All of which is some fantastic trivia to run over in your mind as you cry through your next set.
In essence, burpees make for a fantastic HIIT (high-intensity interval training) move. You can do them anywhere, don’t need any kit, and the benefits are widespread from strength improvement to building cardio endurance you’ll notice next time you slip into a pair of running shoes. Not only that, but researchers have estimated that HIIT burns 50 per cent more calories than moderate exercise, such as that steady state jog you make yourself do twice a week. On average, a minute’s worth of burpees will burn anywhere between 10 and 20 calories – which is not to be sniffed at. By comparison, 10 minutes of press-ups is thought to burn just 57 calories.
“Burpees are a fantastic full body exercise, incorporating most of the larger muscle groups in the body within a single rep,” explains Leo Savage, a personal trainer at Third Space gyms. “This makes the burpee a great ‘bang for your buck’ exercise when you are short on time and want to make the most of a workout. They are great for conditioning and muscle endurance, you can add them into most workouts as there is no need for equipment.”
If that’s not enough to sell you on the benefits of a burpee workout, it’s worth pointing out that a Brazilian study found lifespan was directly comparable to how easy test subjects were able to get up off the floor. In short, the easier you can get up, the longer you’ll live. Burpees, of course, require you to get up, and then some.
Today (according to Dr Axe) the ability to perform 41 burpees in one minute is deemed ‘excellent’, while ‘only’ managing 27 constitutes a ’poor’ fitness level. Which likely means that you’ve got work to do.
The Perfect Burpee
The unicorn of the fitness world, the perfect burpee is a near-mythical thing. The problem is that there are so many parts to it that the potential to get even a bit of it slightly wrong is high. To help you nail it, Savage suggests following a few guiding principles.
- As soon as you land, return to the first position with your chest on the ground and your legs straight. And repeat.
To iron out any niggles in your form at this stage that could otherwise have a terrible effect on your posture, health, and overall mobility, Marriott has a few additional tips that focus on two main things: ‘ascent’ and ‘descent’.
“Starting on your stomach, perform a push-up. While doing so, simultaneously thrust your hips up and bring your feet to your hands. When you aren’t fatigued, don’t push your chest up while your hips remain on the floor. Although, if you’re shooting for numbers of 50+ in a row, you’ll likely do so as your chest gets tired. Once your feet are at your hands, you should jump up like a rocket with your fingertips meeting at the crown of your head.”
“As you land, use gravity… don’t fight it. Land with your knees slightly bent, then quickly shoot your legs behind you as your hands touch the floor. If you land with your legs straight, you’ll use more energy in falling to the floor and fatigue quickly.”
Got the technique down? Good. Now let’s put it to use.
Practice makes perfect, and variety is the spice of life, right? With that in mind, Savage’s burpee workout will not only help you improve your burpee ability, but break up the torturous monotony of forcing yourself through one rep after another until you collapse. Although we can’t promise you won’t still collapse. Enjoy.
Start Your Engine
“In your next full body workout, make sure you leave time for four sets of 10 reps of the below,” says Savage. “Rest for a minute between each set. No more.”
Following the EMOM (every minute, on the minute) protocol, complete 10 burpees per round for 10 minutes. Sound easy? It isn’t. In fact, you’ll barely catch your breath before you’re moving again, which is great for building cardio endurance and torching through calories.
To really get your heart pumping, you’re going to sprint for 100m, before going straight into five burpees. Sprints are known as one of the best fat burners, and by doing them back to back with the explosive movement of the burpee, you’ll force your body to switch gears throughout constantly. Give yourself a minute’s rest, then get back to your feet and bash out four more reps.
If you really want a challenge, go back to the start and run through the workout twice more. Your legs won’t thank you, but your man boobs will.
“As you start to progress, you should increase the intensity with dumbbell exercises,” says Savage. “Hold a dumbbell in each hand for the whole set. Instead of jumping up when you stand, lift the dumbbells to your shoulders and do a shoulder press, before returning to the press up position for the next rep.”
The Final Hurdle
If you’ve got this far, it’s likely that you’ve learned to love burpees. They’re quick, force maximum energy expenditure, and are the best bodyweight exercise for searing through belly fat. To help you really burn out, though, Savage suggests finishing with an additional two-minute challenge, pushing out as many reps as you can.
Lay in the press up starting position facing a box. Perform a burpee as usual, but as you come to standing at the end of the rep, jump onto the box and hop over onto the other side. Turn around, and repeat. The explosive action of the burpee combined with a box jump will sap the last of your energy, but there’s nothing quite like it for boosting endurance, building all-over strength, and unveiling those abs.