To Burpee Or Not To Burpee…
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the all too well-known exercise: the burpee. Some coaches/trainers hate them. Some love them. One thing is true: no one actually likes to do them, right? RIGHT? Okay, maybe there are some out there. Nevertheless, the burpee has certainly received a lot of attention over the years; both positive and negative. Here’s what some of the industry leading experts had to say about burpees…
The Great Burpee Debate
Ben Bruno – Bruno Strong
Ben Bruno is a highly sought after personal trainer and fitness educator in Los Angeles. He works with a wide range of clients from professional athletes, to musicians, to some distinguished and recognizable actors, to his mom. Ben has been published and/or featured in over 200 articles including publications such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN. He also consults with several sports organizations regarding strength and conditioning, gives lectures to trainers internationally, and is regularly featured on the ‘The Today Show’. Ben Bruno is extremely well respected in the fitness industry. Here’s what Ben had to say about burpees…
Why I Don’t Like Burpees…
- High-impact exercise that puts undue stress on the wrists, shoulders, knees, and lower back. You can achieve a similar training effect in safer ways, so the risk isn’t worth the reward.
- Advanced exercise masquerading as a beginner exercise. Most people lack the requisite strength and mobility to do them properly at all, let alone for high reps, which is how they’re programmed since the goal is metabolic conditioning. Fatigue exacerbates form faults.
- High reps + poor form = Recipe for injury
- They’re often used in group settings and bootcamps, but most people suck at them, making it a bad choice. Show me a video of a group of general population clients doing burpees well. I’ll wait.
- Strong athletes and advanced trainees with good mobility can probably get away with doing them, but have you ever seen a pro strength coach prescribe burpees? Me neither. Success leaves clues.
Good Alternatives to Burpees
- Break the movement down into its constituent parts; so do pushups and squats separately in a circuit. Or even squat jumps, but limit the reps of jumps to fewer than 10 per set. High rep plyos are bad news.
- Pretty much any “cardio” machine: the bike, ski erg, elliptical, Versa Climber, rower, sleds, Stairmaster, etc. Also sprints.
- Literally anything else besides burpees.
Apparently my opinion on burpees has caused a real stir. What a time to be alive. Here are my thoughts:
1. The main argument I’ve seen for doing burpees is that it’s a ‘functional’ movement because in life you’re going to fall down, and burpees teach you how to fall down and get back up. This rationale is really almost too stupid to argue.
- That would be like me repeatedly tackling my football athletes during the workouts because they’re going to get hit on the field. Why voluntarily choose to fall down repeatedly, as fast as possible? People have also argued that burpees are safe if you do them slowly in lower rep ranges. Perhaps, but have you ever seen anyone do burpees slowly in lower rep ranges? Me neither. That’s a theoretical argument and I live in the real world: people do burpees to get their heart rate up, and trainers give burpees to their clients to tire them out so they feel like they got a good workout. And for that, I’d say there are much better, safer choices.
- They don’t teach you how to fall down. If you do fall in life, you ain’t falling into a perfect pushup position. I’d rather establish a strong base of lower-body and core strength via safer training methods to help with balance and reduce the chance of falling, and also to make the body more resilient to injury if you do fall.
2. All of the people arguing with me about burpees are strong, athletic people who personally enjoy doing them. If you like them and can do them well, do you, and who cares what I think? Seriously. But realize I’m not talking about you, and you’re in the minority. Most people suck at burpees and lack the requisite strength and mobility to do them correctly. Just go watch any boot camp or group class; your eyes will bleed. And when I see burpees haphazardly thrown into beginner home workout routines, I cringe because I’ve trained enough average people to know that most people will butcher the hell out of them.
PS – Most people hate burpees. If you’re a trainer, I promise you won’t lose clients if you took them out of your programs. Your clients will be happier and healthier.
Nick Tumminello – NickTumminello.com
Next up we have a proponent of burpees. Another well-respected trainer in the fitness industry is Nick Tumminello. Known colloquially as ‘the trainer of trainers’, Nick has received a number of accolades from top fitness professional organizations including the 2015 Personal Trainer Hall of Fame, and 2016 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year. He’s also been published in over 30 major health and fitness magazines, and has contributed to peer reviewed publications. Nick is known to provide practical solutions to real world issues that trainers face and therefore has a results driven approach to training and fitness. Here’s what Nick had to say about burpees…
Here’s why I’m not so concerned about the burpee. I hear a lot of trainers say ‘the burpee is bad for a, b, c, and d reasons. Here’s some of the common reasons I hear:
1. “You’re slamming down on your wrists.” That’s a matter of how you do it, not a matter of the exercise itself.
2. “People just like it because it’s hard.” Isn’t that what we say for a lot of training, like “squat heavy” or “deadlift heavy”? You’ve got to challenge your body. What’s wrong with an exercise just because it’s difficult?
3. “There are better options.” That’s purely subjective. Better option compared to what?
4. “The burpee is trying to be several things at once. It’s trying to be a pushup, a plank, and a squat, so why not do all three?” With that logic I can therefore say an Olympic lift is trying to be an upright row, a cheat curl, and a shoulder press. The burpee is its own exercise. To me this is just a silly argument.
5. “It puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders.” But dumbbell presses, pushups, kettlebell presses; different pressing movements don’t? It’s logically inconsistent.
I’m not saying everybody should do burpees. Nor am I trying to argue that burpees are the best exercise. I’m simply highlighting the way I prefer to do them and also sharing why I’m not convinced by some of the arguments that I hear from other trainers.
Mike Boyle – Mike Boyle’s StrengthCoach.com
Finally, we have Mike Boyle. Mike is certainly not shy about saying how much he dislikes burpees, going as far as saying the burpee is the world’s dumbest exercise. He is known internationally for his pioneering work in the field of Strength & Conditioning. He is also regarded as one of the top experts in the area for Sports Performance Training. Mike has made his mark on the industry over the past 30 years with an impressive following of professional athletes, from the US Women’s Olympic teams in Soccer and Ice Hockey to the Boston Bruins, Boston Breakers, New England Revolution, and most recently the Boston Red Sox. He has also been a featured speaker at numerous strength and conditioning and athletic training clinics across the world. Let’s see what Mike has to say about burpees…
Excerpt From Mike Boyle’s StrengthCoach.com:
The burpee, or squat thrust, is a full body exercise used in strength training and also as anaerobic exercise. The basic movement is performed in four steps and known as a “four-count burpee”.
Every time I see a burpee, I just ask myself “why?”. When we think about the idea of “Start With Why”, don’t you just look at a burpee and think “why?”. Don’t you just watch people do burpees and ask why?
I know I do. Wrist impact, shoulder impact, lumbar flexion. A million opportunities for bad mechanics with what upside? It’s hard? Is that an upside?
When you do them or program them, ask yourself a simple question. Why? Why is this exercise in my program? Then try to find me a really good reason. I’m going to bet you can’t.
Then ask, what are we getting from the burpee? Back to tired again?
It’s our job to choose exercises that are effective. It’s also our job to keep our athletes and clients healthy. If you look at an exercise and see injury risk and then can’t really explain why you do it, that makes it a really bad choice.
Also from Mike:
I cannot think of one good reason to do a burpee. That idea that it’s a functional movement; it happens… not true. If you’re falling down and have to get back up multiple times, then there’s a lot of things wrong and you really should probably get that checked out. People say ‘it happens in sports.’ No it doesn’t. Nobody ever willingly throws themselves on the ground and bounces themselves back up again.
Quick follow up: So… we’ve established that maybe someone does something that looks like a burpee: wrestling, or in MMA, or maybe it happens in rugby, someone said surfing. The point is, it doesn’t happen enough to do hundreds of them.
Someone asked ‘well what do you do for bodyweight HIIT cardio’? Why do we need bodyweight HIIT cardio? I’m not really sure if there’s actually a necessity for bodyweight HIIT cardio.
And then people said it’s a really good combination of a squat, a plank, and a pushup. If I invented a tool and I said it’s a really good combination of a saw, a hammer, and a screwdriver and it doesn’t really work good at any of those things but it’s a really good combination, that would be my analysis of burpees. A combination of 3 exercises, not really good at any of them.
Then the big one: ‘What’s bad about them?’ What’s bad about them? Beating up your wrists, and your shoulders with tons of reps: that’s what’s bad about them.
So, there you have it! To burpee or not to burpee? Expert advice from some of the leading experts in our industry.
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