Metabolic Coaches Corner

In Defense of Burpees

By September 22, 2020 October 15th, 2020 No Comments

"We are training for life. 'Perfect is the enemy of good.'"

Matt PhelpsMetabolic Fitness

The Burpee. A squat. A pushup. A jump. Seems pretty simple, right? This classic movement provides the Metabolic Trifecta of heart pounding, lactic acid producing, lung burning euphoria that no single human being on the planet is immune to, and yet it is often bastardized…a Metabolic whipping boy for poor exercise selection for most people. 

In the fitness world, some coaches love to prescribe them, as they are unparalleled in intensity. While I will concede that sprinting and running up hills are always great options, these aren’t always viable choices for people, depending on living situation and time availability. With these options you also have the “luxury” of scaling back intensity, while with burpees it is pretty damn hard to do that, given the dynamic nature of the movement. 

Other coaches swear that by doing them, you will destroy your knees, hurt your back, and have wrists so damaged that you won’t be able to turn a door knob for the rest of your life. 

Is this true? 

Well, I am here to tell you that it isn’t, and any coach that has spent any time doing burpees will tell you the same. I have coached THOUSANDS of clients, and I have NEVER seen someone hurt themselves doing a burpee….like EVER. 

Also, when did we just throw out form when discussing the burpee? Isn’t safety an inherent concern when discussing ANY exercise? 

The Proper Burpee

Done properly, the Burpee is a potent movement that combines lower body power, upper body strength, and emphasizes hip mobility. In the following video, you will notice the following points of emphasis:

  • -Hands are flat on the floor, fingers facing “North”.
  • -The initial descent is NOT a hinge, but rather, a squat.
  • -The chest is “proud” but does not need to be “vertical.” Some forward lean is acceptable.
  • -The feet shoot back, do not allow them to be “loud” as they
    hit the floor. Soft landings are far kinder to the joints.
  • -Proper pushup mechanics come into play here, the upper arm should be at 45 degrees, head slightly in front. Drop to the knees when necessary to obtain proper ROM.
  • -Pushup FORCEFULLY, so that you can bring your feet along with you if possible. If upper body strength is an issue, simply break the pushup and the feet coming back up into two distinct movements.
  • -As the feet come back up, land softly, with the feet as wide as possible to prepare for positioning yourself to drop your hips, and keep a neutral spine. This position should closely mirror the position you were in on the descent.
  • -EXPLODE back to the top, using your arms, and raising them all the way to the ceiling, as though you are taking a vertical jump test.
  • -Fluidly land softly, evenly distributing your weight across the entire foot, while descending into the next repetition if possible.

An Exercise like None Other

I think what makes the Burpee so unique is that it literally is the ultimate full body cardiovascular conditioning tool, which inherently places a HUGE demand on the body. Whenever you combine an exercise that emphasizes power, requires strength, and is limited by mobility, you are going to have one hell of a cocktail. I like to think of it like “jungle juice” at a college party. It has a little bit of everything, somehow it all works together, and it can be very easy to “overdo it”, so watch it.

For this reason, for those coaches out there that emphasize breaking apart the burpee into “pushups and squats” or suggest “riding the assault bike” or “pushing a sled”, I think they are really missing the point. With Burpees, we have an exercise that taxed the ENTIRE body, and does not require ANY equipment. There are thousands of “case studies‘ on any inner city playground of men and women that have gotten into GREAT shape utilizing calisthenics only training, and nearly all of them perform Burpees.

If you go slower on Burpee, you are “punished’ because the movement will not be as fluid, and will take longer to perform. On the other side of the sword, your heart rate will likely be more elevated, because of the emphasis on rate of force development that you had to display. This is what I love about the Burpee as a conditioning tool…you cannot “outsmart” it.

When it comes to your training, the “fountain of youth” is keeping your strength, prioritizing your power development, and enhancing mobility. Anytime we can get all 3 of those at the same time, this is like finding the Holy Grail. The older we get, the more training efficiency becomes a priority, and movements like the Burpee certainly provide an excellent amount of “bang for your buck.”

For those of you out there who claim that the power development is not as “optimal” as hooking yourself up to a fancy piece of equipment that tells you how high you are jumping, how fast you are moving, and how much rest you need before you can go again, well, we are not training for the Olympics here. 

We are training for life. “Perfect is the enemy of good”. 

Many folks do not have access to any such equipment, but simply training with PURPOSE and INTENT on the concentrics of their pushups and jumps can make a significant difference. Remember, when performing burpees, we are sampling the buffett, we are not ordering the filet, and sometimes a little bit of everything leads to more satisfaction than an over assessment on one physical attribute that, in the great scheme of things, does not need to be optimal for an increase in the quality of life for most of you reading this.

Who should NOT do burpees?

While I hate bastardizing an entire movement becauseI think everyone can do some form of a Burpee, I do think precaution needs to be taken by those who have severe mobility restrictions, are new to working out, lack the strength to do a pushup from the knees, or are pregnant. In these instances, a very quick remedy is to simply do them off a box or raised surface that is 6”-24” in height, depending on the ability level of the person.

Burpees are an extraordinary tool to add to the toolbox of Gainz, and while there are some populations that should adjust the Burpee to best suit their needs, for the most part the fear mongering and trepidation that exists in the fitness community is not warranted, and if Burpees get you moving, then by all means, have at it!

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