INTRO: The Burpee the 'sugar additive' of the exercise profession. The Burpee is used prolifically as a starter, a finisher or hell as the whole session. How many burpees can you do in 30 minutes? GO!
What is the fascination with the burpee? Did you know it was created to be a fitness test? Dr. Royal H. Burpee, Ph.D., designed the original 4-count burpee to see if it could accurately assess the heart’s efficiency at pumping blood. His doctoral thesis investigated the validity of an easy and efficient method for evaluating fitness using the calisthenic movement we know to be the 4-count burpee. He found that collecting five heart rate results before and after four 4-count burpees and extrapolating the results he could accurately predict a person fitness level. Who knew?
Imagine prescribing four burpees to assess someone's fitness, perish the thought, although according to Dr. Burpee any more than four was too intense! How far have we come? If you are asked to do any less than 400 burpees, the session is considered too easy. Whether you are doing one or 1000 of the 4, 6, or 8-count burpee, what should be appreciated is that the burpee is a complex movement task. Given the fact that burpees are used like 'duck tape' in training programs around the world I think it is important to understand how to do a burpee correctly and how to modify a burpee based on a person's bend and push pattern movement competency.
HOW TO: Regardless of the variation of the burpee you perform, here are movement cues to consider to ensure one contributes to enhancing your physical prowess and not the mechanisms of injury.
The primary movement patterns involved in the Burpee are the bend and push patterns. When performing a movement task that requires bending the first coaching cue is to 'bend' through the hips. Another way to think of this is to push the hips back as the trunk comes forward. Allowing for a slight bend in the knees as the hips move back is encouraged. To perform Burpees on the ground one needs good hip mobility otherwise, the bend required to reach for the ground will occur through the lumbar back. Flexing through the lumbar back is an important injury mechanism and is not recommended. If a person does not have the hip mobility necessary for a ground burpee evident by their inability to resist lumbar flexion when they reach the ground then consider attenuating the depth required of the Burpee. An example of how to mitigate the intensity of a Burpee first in the video below.
When making contact with the ground or a box, the body should be stable and strong. A person should be prepared for the impact rather than reacting to the impact. The hands should be positioned shoulder width directly under the shoulders, the fingers strong and ready for the contact gripping the ground or box to stabilize the shoulders. The feet should be pushed back shoulder width. The plank position should look strong and stable for a split second before any other part of the burpee movement is initiated.
Doing the burpee correctly is critical regardless whether you LOVE or HATE the movement. It is a complex bodyweight movement and whether you do 'four' as a fitness assessment or 104 in your training session. Subtle breakdowns in technique over time combined with high repetitions will ultimately make your burpee doing days limited.
I understand the appeal of using the burpee in a training program from a coaching perspective. I also know the satisfaction of completing a lot of burpees with strength and confidence. Whether you are a coach or athlete respect the burpee and strive to coach or do the burpee correctly for it advanced expression of athleticism if done properly and it will expose how unathletic you are if not done properly.
This video demonstrates the original 4-point burpee as well as a 6 and 8-point versions. Also shown is how to reduce the depth and intensity of a burpee.
Special Note: Notice the technique of the athlete in the video. His method may appear almost perfect. However, if you look closely, there is slight lumbar flexion or bending through his lower back when he reaches the ground. He could fix this if he pushed his hips back with more purpose. However, he may have tight hamstrings or hips. Or he may just need more practice pushing his hips back and getting the timing right for the movement. I would recommend he elevate his hand contact to mid-shin height if he were going to do these in a training session. That would allow him to practice the right technique safely without sacrificing his training session or well-being.