Burpees … the thing we all love to hate. There’s no shortage of memes out there that speak to the misery that burpees inflict upon us. Like this one…
Or this one …
Oh wait, or this one …
But for real though, I could go on and on.
I recently listened to a close friend go on a rant about how difficult and pointless the burpee is. He argued that this movement was clearly designed by trainers and coaches for the purpose of torturing their clients. I listened to my friend argue his point, waxing poetic about how there’s simply no reason why this should be considered a functional movement pattern since it’s not something that’s replicated in life.
While I can certainly understand why he might hate the burpee — I mean he’s a rather large and inflexible dude who’s more chummy with the big weights than with the floor — he lost me with the argument that it wasn’t a helpful exercise for anything other than torture.
The ability to get up off the floor on your own is one of the most underrated movement patterns of all. As we age, this is a task where your ability to complete it can literally mean the difference between life and death. It’s one of those life skills that we take for granted and never really practice because at some point we just stop getting down on the floor voluntarily. Then, one day, we get knocked down or lose our balance and we’re all like “oh crap, I can’t get up.” So think of the burpee as a means to maintain the ability to get up and down from the floor well … like an insurance policy.
Now, unlike my friend, I myself have no issue with burpees. Perhaps it’s because I’m smaller, more spry, and quite a bit lower to the ground than he is. Or it could be that I’ve just learned how to do them better. It’s really not as simple as throwing yourself onto the floor and then popping back up — and you definitely shouldn’t approach it that way, especially if you like your lower back and knees (and you really should).
How to Burpee Better
So the first thing we should settle up front is what version of the burpee we’re talking about. Look, I get that there are many different schools of thought on what does/does not constitute a burpee. For simplicity, I’m specifically talking about the “no-pushup” variation here. I could spend a whole other post on the push-up component alone so let’s deal with one thing at a time, shall we? (Check out these push-up tips in the meantime.)
Additionally, when I program workouts for myself and my clients, I’m primarily using burpees to increase cardio endurance and build coordinated muscular endurance throughout the entire body. To do that, I have my clients skip the push-up in the burpee and move as quickly as possible to cycle through those reps. Trust me, they’re fine with it because they get PLENTY of push-ups otherwise. Also, my preference when doing push-ups is to have people focus on form over speed (to keep the shoulders happy and healthy) — that’s not always possible when you’re trying to bang out 20 burpees.
If you’re like my friend and feel like the burpee is just plain torturous, check out this demo video where I cover the method I use to teach my clients to do a burpee.
Keep in mind that in order to keep your lower back safe in this movement, you need to have a strong core and strong (and active) glutes. If you’re experiencing lower back pain during or after doing burpees, it would be wise to revisit your form and modify when your form start to break down as you fatigue.
Trust me, no good will come from repeating a bad movement over and over just because you’re tired to engage your muscles properly to protect your lower back.
How to Modify It
As I point out in the video above, burpees are an intermediate/advanced-level exercise. So it’s worth noting that when you first start out, you may need to modify them and there’s no shame in that at all. Here are some of my favorite modifications:
- Rather than hopping back, you can step back one leg at a time step forward one leg at a time.
- Rather than jumping back, you can walk your hands forward (aka a walk-out) then walk them back to come up to stand.
- Rather than going all the way to the floor, you can place your hands on a bench/box/chair and step back to plank from there.
Also, if you came to party, check out all these fun ways to change it up.
So tell me, what are your feelings on the burpee? —Alison