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MICHELE MOULTON: Burpee a challenge, but effective

HEALTH AND FITNESS: Also called the squat thrust, the burpee is a full-body exercise

Michele Moulton

Michele Moulton

I’ve been teaching fitness classes for 24 years and I can easily name the one exercise that has been and remains the most hated of all my classes … the burpee. According to Wikipedia, “The burpee, also known as the squat thrust, is a full body exercise used in strength training and as an aerobic exercise. It is performed in four steps, and was originally known as a four-count burpee.”

My husband retired from the Marines several years ago, and he had never heard of burpees when I first mentioned them. I got down on the floor and showed him what I was talking about. He immediately said, “Oh, the military calls those squat thrusts!”

Burpees are tough. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these wonderful little exercises, here is a simple explanation with no added variations.

  1. Begin in a standing position.

  2. Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground.

  3. Kick your feet back, while keeping your arms extended.

  4. Immediately return your feet to the squat position.

  5. Stand up from the squat position.

Good stuff.

I did some research on them and discovered that they were named in the 1930s after an American physiologist, Royal H. Burpee, who developed the burpee test. He earned a PhD in applied physiology from Columbia University in 1940 and created the “burpee” exercise as part of his Ph.D. thesis as a quick and simple way to assess fitness. The exercise became popular when the United States armed services adopted it as a way to assess the fitness level of recruits when the United States entered World War II. Participants were required to perform a series of burpees as fast as they could, and the test was meant to be a quick measure of agility, coordination and strength.

I will be the first to admit that burpees aren’t my favorite exercise either. They wear me out. But they are a great conditioning exercise. Burpees will condition your entire body and will help develop strength, explosive power and anaerobic endurance.

I often use burpees in my Boot Camp classes. A few minutes of burpee conditioning using your own bodyweight provides plenty of resistance for a butt kicking that will get your heart rate up and help shed some fat.

There are several popular variations of the traditional burpee that can help push you to new limits. Burpee push-ups have become such a popular variation that most people think the push-up is part of the original burpee exercise. The burpee push-up requires the athlete to perform a push-up after assuming the plank position. Adding a jump at the end of the movement has also become a popular variation.

Many instructors and trainers have combined burpees with other movements to challenge athletes with more advanced exercises. Long-jump burpees, pull-up burpees and box-jump burpees are just a few of these advanced movements. Yep, just add a long jump, pull-up or box jump to that burpee and there you go!

I hear you now … Michele, you said that they aren’t your favorite exercise. You said they are tough and that nobody likes them. So, why would I want to do them? Here are a few simple reasons.

  1. They burn calories. Burpees are intense, full-body exercises. High-intensity exercises increase your metabolism and can help burn calories all day. Who doesn’t want to burn calories?

  2. They make you stronger. The burpee is a full-body strength training exercise and the ultimate example of functional fitness. With every rep, you’ll work your arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings and abs. It only takes a few reps to start feeling them.

  3. They are great for conditioning. Burpees get your heart rate up FAST. There’s a reason that they are included as part of some of the toughest Boot Camp and Crossfit workouts.

  4. They require no equipment. They are free! You can do burpees in your house, in a parking lot, in a hotel room …

  5. They are versatile. Like I mentioned previously, there are numerous variations to burpees that will keep them from getting boring and monotonous. Dumbbell burpees; muscle-up burpees; one-legged burpees; a burpee mile (yep, burpees with a long jump … for a mile!) and the list goes on.

Like all exercises, there are certain risks that need to be considered when performing burpees. A weak core can cause a person to tilt their pelvis, arch their spine and put a great deal of pressure on their back. Learn how to hold the hollow position and make sure that you hold the proper position throughout the move. Be smart before you begin your burpee adventure.

I want to leave you with this. The current world record for 100 burpees is 3:01. That’s fast! I’m challenging each of you to a 30-Day Burpee Challenge. If you have never done burpees before (or even if you have!), I want you to try one today. And I challenge you to add one burpee a day for the next 30 days. Try to do them without stopping and add one each until you reach 30 in a row! What a way to begin the New Year! Good luck! Now, get started!

Michele Moulton is a certified group fitness, boot camp and Spinning instructor with more than 23 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She operates Bodystrong Fitness offering group fitness classes at the Stardust Skating Rink facility and teaches Spinning at the Albany YMCA. She is a Category 1 cyclist and the PCP Race Team Director. She is also a state auditor and the mother of two boys, Austin and Harrison.