A Case for the Burpee

Oh, the dreaded burpee. We love to complain about this unique booty-kicking exercise, and try to avoid doing them as much as possible. But have you ever stopped to wonder where the burpee came from and why this challenging exercise is a favorite of fitness professionals across the globe?

Burpees: A Short History
Royal H. Burpee was a physiologist in New York City in 1939. He invented the first version of the burpee as a part of a fitness test. The original movement was milder than the burpee we know and love/hate today. Mr. Burpee never intended for his fitness evaluation tool to become the form of exercise that it has become today. The burpee was intended to be performed 4 times in a row, and he would measure the participant’s heart rate before and after in order to assess their heart’s efficiency at pumping blood, thus determining their overall fitness rate.

Burpees: An Evolution
Over time the burpee was modified from its original, fitness evaluation form to the more vigorous modern movement. Here’s how the burpee evolved:

Original Burpee: Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you. Jump feet back into plank position. Jump feet forward. Return to standing. Perform only 4 times in a row, measuring heart rate before and after.

Modern Burpee: Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you. Jump both feet back into plank position. Drop to a pushup — your chest should touch the floor. Push up to return to plank position. Jump feet toward hands. Explosively jump up into the air, reaching arms overhead. Perform as many times in a row as instructed by your trainer!

Burpees: The Most Effective Exercise Ever?!?
When you perform a modern burpee you are essentially doing a vigorous six-count bodyweight movement that requires you to move between six positions as quickly as possible.

Everything burns as you go through a series of burpees: your lungs, your legs, your arms, and most of all…calories. Burpees cultivate agility, strength, coordination and stamina while burning fat.

But what if you can’t or shouldn’t do a burpee?
You can modify it so that it is safe and still effective!

Here are some of my favorite modifications. Use one or more so that you feel safe in your body:
Elevate your hands on a kitchen counter, desk, table or bench.
Walk your feet out instead of jumping out into plank.
Omit or modify the push up.
Omit the jump when you stand up at the end.

So, the next time that you are asked to do 20, 30, or 100 burpees, smile to yourself, think of Royal H. Burpee and be happy that you are doing an exercise that gives your body an amazing workout!