Know this always
This is a contentious world we live in. The 24-hour news cycle and social media have added to our already argumentative natures as people; everything is up for debate. Often those debates get quite heated. In the fitness/wellness world, crunch and situp proponents are at odds; keto vs. paleo is a hot argument, and so on. I would venture to say, though, that there is one safe call – burpees. I’m not aware of anyone who actually likes burpees. Some develop a grudging respect for their benefits, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Why is that? I mean, burpees are damn close to the perfect exercise – combining a squat, a sprawl, a pushup, a jump into one exercise. Personal trainer Mike Finlay says, “Burpees engage your entire body in a force movement that requires a total body cardio exercise that uses power movements.” (H/T ventfitness.com) Despite it being a terrific way to get fit, the exercise has inspired shirts, slogans, memes… Or maybe it’s because it’s a terrific way to get fit. It’s hard work doing a set of burpees, and hard work is, well, hard. Most people don’t enjoy hard work – at least not while they are doing it. Afterwards, you realize what you’ve accomplished while you are catching your breath, and yeah – it’s a good feeling. But during, or worse yet leading up to it? Not so much.
Hey, I Don’t Even Like Talking About Burpees
I get it. Again, they are hard. There are plenty of variations out there, whether easier or tougher. Yes, in answer to your question, you can amp up your burpees. You’re welcome. Don’t believe me? Try burpees with a box jump at the end. Or burpees into pullups! There’s plenty of variations out there; if you’re looking for a bonus challenge on your exercise, Google is your friend. Someone out there has done it (and filmed it), most likely.
The truth is, hard things get easier as you do them more. I’m currently involved in a Spartan burpee/pullup challenge. 50 days total, and we’re through 29. So far, I have completed 4280 burpees (almost 150/day), with my count going up each week. My initial goal was 200/day, or 10,000 total. I set it high intentionally, and it was a little scary. Okay, a lot scary. My daily high so far is 220, and that’s actually pretty workable now. 4 weeks ago, I wasn’t ready for that. I built in no rest days, and no accounting for race days, etc. and that has affected my numbers. Still, it’s a mark to set out there. My target now is to get to 8000 – so 3720 over the next 21 days, or 177/day. I’ve got this!
Don’t Just Do Them, Do Them Correctly
As I’ve increased my count, I have also improved my form. Technique is such a critical part of exercise, and I know as a kid I got absolutely zero coaching in that. Gym class was “grab the bar and do chin-ups” or “do as many pushups/situps as you can”. If you don’t do the exercise properly, you make it harder on yourself and increase the risk of injury. I was reminded again watching my son’s baseball team do strength and conditioning – some of the forms I saw were dangerously awful.
Again, I get it – no one ever taught me to do a pushup. When I started exercising again, I couldn’t do one legit rep; partially that was a strength to weight issue, but it was also partially HOW I was attempting the exercise. Hands about shoulder width, breathe on the exertion, it looks like a bench press. You wouldn’t (I hope) do a bench press with your arms up at your ears or higher; yet I see people trying to do pushups that way.
Burpees are no different – in fact, since they combine several moves it’s even more critical. Your hips, your back, your shoulders – all are involved, and if your technique is off you can hurt any or all of them. Perhaps even more important, though, is your breathing. As mentioned in the article above, the breathing pattern is critical. They recommend before every other position; that’s close to what I’ve worked out. I focus on exhale while squatting, inhale while lowering the pushup, then exhale on the way back up. That pattern keeps me from getting too out of breath and helps me focus on the form of the moves as well. That focus helps prevent injury, and also helps distract me from all the fun I am having… As long as you don’t lose count, any distraction like that is a good thing.
Are They Helping?
The answer to “why do them?” is because they make a difference. Having run a half marathon, completed a half dozen Spartan races, as well as any number of other activities, I thought I was in pretty fair shape. The first test for this challenge was a timed burpee mile: 30 burpees, run 1/4 mile, and repeat 3 times. 120 burpees, 1 mile run. Yeah, not so much. The burpees alone were more than I was prepared to handle. By doing a full pushup as part of the burpee over 4000 times in the last month, I’ve increased strength and stamina. I’ve been asked several times if I’m lifting now; the answer is “only my body weight” – and that is all I really need. What I thought was largely excess skin from weight loss has tightened up even more; I plan on posting a before and after at the end of this.
Am I recommending you go do 8000 burpees in 7 weeks? No – but if you find a number that works for you, do them properly, and follow through every day, you will find it so much easier to run, do your workouts, and just live a functional physical life. You have to run fast in order to run fast; that carries over to strength, conditioning, and every other part of your journey. Face the challenge, and go get it done!