Exercise Series 9: The Burpee

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  • Exercise Series 9: The Burpee


The exercise series so far has focused on weighted movements such as the bench presssquat, and kettlebell swing. We’ve highlighted these movements because they are some of the most effective exercises that a person can do to build strength and overall functional fitness.

However, it is completely possible to get a great, effective workout without any equipment at all. In fact, for some people with certain injuries or range of motion limitations, bodyweight exercises offer a safe and simple alternative to heavy resistance exercises. For this reason, this article will highlight the burpee as one of the “best of the best” bodyweight exercises when it comes to maximizing results. 

As a gym owner, you can encourage your trainers to use burpees in their routines for clients. You can also spot your gym members doing this exercise in your gym and identify ways you can improve your patrons’ experiences (for example, by designating an open-floor area for explosive, dynamic exercises such as burpees). 

Benefits

Burpees provide an intense cardiovascular workout. In fact, the massive cardio benefits alone are worth toughing it through a difficult burpee routine. You’ll be challenging your heart and lungs to keep up with the quick change in position from plank to upright and back, with the extra difficulty of adding an optional jump or pushup into the movement. Burpees take a lot of energy, too, so you’ll be torching calories the whole time. 

While the muscle-building capability of burpees does lag behind weighted resistance exercises, that’s not to say you can’t add plenty of strength with a rigorous burpee routine. Adding a squat, an explosive jump, or a pushup into the movement strengthens the corresponding muscle groups, while the sheer intensity of the exercise pushes you above the anaerobic threshold into a range perfect for building muscle. 

Form

Start by standing comfortably. When you’re ready, squat down and place your hands flat on the floor, just outside of your feet. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump your feet back and contract your abs so you land in a plank position. • Optional: Once you’re in plank position, you can add a pushup for extra difficulty. Simply bend your arms and lower your chest to the floor, as you would in a standard pushup, before raising back up to a plank and continuing the rest of the burpee movement.

Next, jump your feet back to their starting position between your hands. Ideally, from this squatting position you want to explode upward into a high jump and then land on your feet in an upright standing position. Beginners, however, might want to simply stand upright and add the jump later on. You’d be surprised how much a simple jump taxes your muscles and cardiovascular system!• 

Optional: If you’re really fit (or a glutton for punishment) you can add a squat to the end of the burpee movement. Bend your knees and push your hips back until your thighs are parallel to the floor or lower. Then, stand back up straight. 

Once you have returned to a standing position (whether you choose to squat or not), that’s one rep! Rinse and repeat until you’re breathing hard and your legs are burning.

Equipment

The standard burpee can be modified any number of different ways. As you’ve seen, many of these modifications (like the pushup and squat additions above) still require no equipment to complete. 

However, you can add in almost any exercise equipment your imagination can dream up. Some popular modifications to the standard burpee include:• Pullup burpees: Do one burpee rep, then jump up to a pullup bar. Do one pullup rep before dropping back down and doing another burpee. Alternating these two intense movements adds a huge layer of difficulty and a ton of muscle-building potential. • Bar-over burpees: Place a barbell on the floor. Do one burpee rep, but instead of a regular vertical jump, jump either forward or to the side, over top of the barbell, and then land and do a burpee rep on the other side of the bar. These are great for challenging your balance and coordination. 

You probably already offer pullup bars and barbells for patrons to use in your gym. You may also want to include floor mats with good non-slip grips for safety. It never hurts to promote the safest workout environment possible in your facility. 

For most people, the above equipment should be more than enough to get a fantastic burpee workout. Some extremely advanced people, however, will always want an extra challenge. You may see some folks doing burpees with a dumbbell in each hand, adding renegade rows or other movements into each rep. Others may do standard burpees with the addition of a weighted vest to add extra resistance. 

As long as your gym offers a wide variety of resistance equipment, your patrons likely have more than enough options to make their burpee routines extra punishing. 

What kinds of workout routines can you do using primarily (or only) burpees?

Due to the difficulty level, most people can only do burpees for short durations. Thankfully, you still reap amazing rewards even if you only complete a 15 minute burpee interval workout.

Try one of these highly effective workout formats:• Tabata: Do as many burpees as you can in 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 8 times. Tabata is a great way to pack an intense interval workout into brief, 4-minute sets. • Traditional intervals: You don’t have to stick to the Tabata time frames in order to get a great interval workout. Try doing 10 sets of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds resting, or any other variation that fits your fitness level. • Endurance: Instead of planning out work and rest intervals, try to do burpees continuously. You can see how many burpees you can manage to do within 15 minutes, for example. Or, you can do as many burpees as possible in one set and then try to beat that record over time. • EMOM: Every 60 seconds, do a set of burpees, and then use the remainder of that minute to rest before the next set begins. For some people, 5 burpees every minute is plenty, while others will find 20 burpees per minute to be more of a challenge. • Filler: Use burpees as a way to keep your heart rate up between sets of other exercises. 

How can you make your gym suitable for members to do burpees safely?

Because burpees don’t require much in the way of equipment, the most important thing you can do is make sure exercisers have plenty of open floor space to do explosive, dynamic floor routines. Burpees consist of quick movements that take up a fair amount of floor space, so try to keep designated areas clear of trip hazards and traffic. 

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