In Defense of the Burpee
There is no exercise more polarizing than the burpee. It is all around an unlikable movement and often inappropriately used. If you don’t know what I am talking about, here is the exercise. It absolute is the fastest way to get your heart rate up and slamming in your chest.
The Burpee was invented in 1939 by a physiology PhD candidate, Royal Burpee. He was way ahead of his time. It was lean muscular, fit and studying in the field of sport science - well as close as anyone could get in 1939. At this time, strong men and weightlifting were parts of circus acts and road shows. Royal Burpee believed that fitness standard, testing and strength training had great use outside of the “freakshow.” And much to his merit, he invented a number of ways to test and read the physical fitness of Army recruits. One of them was completing 4 burpees and measuring how quickly the heart rate return to normal.
Since then the Burpee has been used all over the military. There are endless variations of the burpee - the most famous being the 8 count burpee. Burning my short time in the Navy, I can easily say I have done thousands of 8 count burpees, both as punishment and exercise. In one day I clocked well over 500. That was a looooong day and my team was in lots of trouble. Maybe that is why doing burpees doesn’t bother me that much - I’m just so glad they are not 8 counts!
Burpees were made famous in the civilian world by CrossFit. With the spread of the sport across the world, people turned the burpee into the most hated exercise in fitness (Bulgarian split squat I think coming in a close second). Their coaches often use it like bad florists use baby's breath - a useless and busy filler. People with weak cores, bad technique and no endurance end up hurting for days because they did too many burpee without proper instruction or modification to perform it quickly and safely
But the burpee is a useful and important exercise. Essentially it is training the ability to get down on the ground and get back up as quickly as possible. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST USEFUL SKILLS WE HAVE.
It serves three populations extremely well: Military, first responders and those aged 55+. The burpee is tactical. Think about people who need to drop to the ground quickly: someone getting shot at, attacked or ducking for cover. Being able to drop quickly will absolutely save your life in an emergency. Without the burpee, most will first take a knee to get down on the ground, wasting milliseconds they don't have. If you can jump down and catch your self, this will save your life and not break your arm or injure your knee.
Being able to quickly get up is also useful. Going quickly from the ground to sprinting is another movement pattern that can save a life. It is always obvious to anyone watching training drill who practices burpees and who doesn’t. If you rifle and your eyes are on the enemy - or the incoming car, mudslide, shrapnel - you hand can’t be at your knee helping you get up one step at a time. War, emergencies and disasters wait for no one.
And the most important population this exercise benefits is those that are over the age of 55. You can while all you want about how much burpees suck - until your can’t get up from the ground without assistance. Anyone over the age of 30 probably remember the “Help, Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercials. In America, this phrase was a cultural happening. I remember being a kid and yelling these words while playing games with my friends. We were mocking the commercial and the notable tagline. But unfortunately, these is all too common.
Everyone in my gym does burpees - not a lot of them, but we do some. Especially if my client is over the age of 50, I program them into the warm up or work out on a regular basis. Keep in mind that not all burpees look the same. Sometimes they don’t have a push up, sometimes they are slow, sometimes fast. Some of these burpees even require a chair or box so they have some assistance getting up and down. But we all do some variation of the burpee.
The burpees is a movement skill plain and simple: to be able to get up and down from the ground as quickly as possible. To denounce it by calling it stupid, unnecessary or useless is ignorant. It is as vital to a healthy, safe and independent life as the squat or the loaded carry.