I have been asked by many at the beginning of their fitness journey, what is a burpee? If you ask me while I am in the middle of doing them, I would tell you they are a method of torture some ex-military fitness nut made up to make regular people, just trying to get some exercise, feel pain. But that would be the exhaustion talking and not reality. The Burpee is named after physiologist Royal Huddleston Burpee. For his Ph.D. thesis at Columbia University in 1940, he invented the exercise as a way to assess the fitness of non-active adults. Burpee made participants perform only four Burpees at a time. Believe it or not, he actually detailed the movement should not be performed for a high number of repetitions. He was testing people who were generally unfit, and he warned that Burpees could be harmful to the knees and back and harmful to those without proper core strength.
According to most fitness publications, the exercise was originally called a “Squat Thrust.” Some still call it that. It had four parts—the Squat, the Plank, the jump back and the return to standing. The push-up and the jump were added later. During World War II, the U.S. military picked up the exercise as part of its required fitness test. Those entering the armed forces had to do Burpees for 20 seconds. A few years later, they upped the requirement to 60 seconds. Now, if you are late to our CrossFit classes, they are used as a penalty and its not just a basic push-up. Your chest must hit the floor before you come back up. Woowee!
As much as I hate burpees while I am doing them and cringe to see them listed in our WOD (workout of the day), I love what they do and cannot deny the fitness benefit they provide. They are truly a full body exercise. The complete motion—dropping to the ground from a standing position, kicking your feet out behind you, doing a Push-Up, pulling your legs back in and then jumping as high as possible—builds muscle and cardiovascular endurance.
If you are just starting out, take your time. You have nothing to prove to anyone and only a healthy & fit life to gain. Just start with one, executing it slowly, easy, and with good form. Set a goal for 5 by the end of the week. As you get stronger, set a time limit and try to get as many as possible within that time. Stay with that time for a month with a goal to do more and more within that time period. After a month, or as your fitness level increases, increase your time limit no further than a 1-minute intervals. Check out the video for proper technique. and enjoy your burpees.
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