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  • Ryan Vigneau

If Your Trainer Tells You To Do A Burpee, Fire Them.

What is the actual point of the burpee? Effectively it accomplishes not much in terms of improvement from a physical standard and serves as a filler to expend calories that could otherwise be put into a useful exercise chosen to elicit an improvement.

When choosing an exercise, you need to understand the risk vs reward scale otherwise you should move on. If risk wins, burpees out; if reward wins burpees are in. The consistency of the burpee diminishes fairly quickly so the risk value gets higher and higher with each rep. I have compared it to other basic exercises in each of the more mainstream categories:

1. Strength - Using bodyweight only the repetitions to elicit a stress response have to be considerably high, more than 20 give or take. Risk vs reward: 20 Burpees cannot be done on a consistent basis with form and technique - chronic injuries ensue, thus push up and squats are a safer option. Risk wins.

2. Power - Development requires a max intensity per rep to promote the adaptation and response for improvement. True power can be achieved with High Intensity Interval Training or High Intensity Training within a routine program, however, the key is the intensity devoted to each rep as compared to a peak of power output of the best intensity. Burpees are often prescribed as a High-Volume Interval Training or High-Volume training. HVIT cannot provide the intensity over time required to create improvement. Risk vs reward: It is hard to measure the intensity of a single burpee, multiple burpees decrease in intensity over time, resulting in diminished reward. Instead try a countermovement box jump, not the hip mobility kind, but the kind that lands you on the box at a little less than a locked knee position. Risk wins.

3. Rehabilitation - We’re just going to skip to risk vs reward. Too many moving parts, no true control of movement, potential for impact, hard to maintain form to establish true movement patterns. Risk wins.

4. Energy System Development (Aerobic) – It is not possible to do burpees continuously enough to move into the aerobic zone without increasing the risk to form otherwise developing poor motor patterns and secondary muscle groups having to do primary movements, increasing the likelihood of injury. Try a treadmill, bike, stair climber, tabata squat jumps or anything else but a burpee. Risk wins.

5. Energy System Development (Anaerobic) – Well, I suppose you could do 3 explosive burpees and it might work, but you could also do a 6 second sprint on a bike, a treadmill, really anything. So what’s the point? If you’re an athlete, you’ll get more out of a sprint. Sprinting is also full body and requires a strong coordination of upper and lower extremities. Risk vs reward? Well if you want to compete at a burpee championship than great, but it doesn’t really translate to sport. You do risk your ability to perform well the following day or doing all the other multi-planar movements required in sport. Plus, you can do a lot more sprint repeat intervals versus the muscular fatigue you’d experience trying to do with burpees. It just couldn’t be as effective without disrupting the rest of your training program or week. Risk wins.

The only use I can conceive for burpees is that they are a filler. Most trainers, I’m talking Instagram want to be fitness guru types, think it makes their workouts tough. Tough workouts that your clients can’t complete or struggle to feel successful with. Really it just made it poo because you didn’t plan your session and you’re all about the sale of a session instead of focusing on areas of development, improvement, goals, and abilities of your client. You didn’t earn their trust, you just broke them down to make yourself feel better as though you did something amazing. Any real performance coach or trainer can develop an impossible system to destroy a person. Look at your programming and describe why the burpee is there. What is the purpose of the burpee? Burpees are stupid and completely unnecessary. Is it your job to make someone hate something or to make them better? Instead of burpees, learn a little about speed development, power development, or some other method that may be of practical use your client might enjoy. Otherwise keep filming those fail videos. And please don’t suggest it’s functional. I also saw an Instagram account recently that listed deadlifts in a variety of different ways and suggested you buy their program. There were no deadlifts, just random bending over with objects. What is this credential lacking “fitness” person selling? I could go on but that’s for a whole other post. Burpees are stupid.

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