Burpees: Sure they’re tough, but you’re tougher

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

If you spend enough time at a gym, especially one that offers boot-camp-style classes, you are eventually going to encounter at least one individual wearing a shirt that proclaims, “Burpees Hate You, Too!”  There is a simple explanation for this phrase: everyone hates burpees. A combination exercise requiring the body to move smoothly from a push-up position to a reach-jump and back down to the starting position, this seems to be the single most dreaded aspect of any intense workout. 

However, before you are too quick to dismiss the burpee from your training regimen, consider this: a research study published recently by the American College of Sports Medicine revealed that executing 10 burpees rapidly in succession can confer the same metabolic boost as performing a 30-second all-out sprint on a stationary bike.

The study was conducted by Nicholas H. Gist, Ph.D., from the Department of Physical Education at the United States Military Academy.  His explanation for these results is very straightforward: “Pedaling on a stationary bike is a relatively simple motor pattern, whereas the burpee involves some degree of agility, balance, coordination, and total body strength.”  Since there are multiple aspects to the exercise, the body experiences so much more activity than it might during sprint cycling.

If you have ever attempted this move, you will attest to the accuracy of Dr. Gist’s statement. Burpees rapidly make their power requirements evident from the first one or two, eliciting muscles from the legs, shoulders, and core.  The lungs promptly get a significant workout as well, adding to the cardiovascular benefit.

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When introducing this powerhouse move to your New Year’s workout program, it is prudent to start with three or four burpees at a time, performed at a fairly comfortable speed (if one can even use the words burpee and comfortable in the same sentence!). Once the fluidity of the move has been established, you may choose either to add more repetitions, or try to step up the pace of execution.  Whatever method you decide to try, be sure to place burpees at the beginning of your training time, when your muscles are freshest. If you wait until the end of your gym time, you may be tempted to abandon them altogether, since burpees require a considerable amount of mental as well as physical stamina.

Tough? You bet!  Are you tougher? After a few weeks of burpees, the answer is yes — you are guaranteed to be victorious!