Love by few, hated by many.
A fearsome reputation followed by a discernible groan at the mere mention of the name.
So, Why Are Burpees So Hard?
It doesn’t matter who you are, what your level of fitness is, there can be few exercises loathed as much as the burpee.
Okay, I had to be different, didn’t I?
I actually have a BIG love for burpees.
So, if you can hide your displeasure for a few moments, I’ll explain why burpees are so hard.
I also want to delve into their history, and then I’ll attempt to make them a little more bearable for you.
Why Are Burpees So Hard?
Burpees are so hard because they are a full body exercise. They work the chest, shoulders, and triceps in the upper body, the quads, hamstrings, and calves in the lower body. Burpees also work the core, mainly the rectus abdominis and obliques, as well as the cardiovascular system.
When and Where Did The Burpee Come From?
Exercise psychologist, Royal H. Burpee was the inventor of the burpee.
While studying for his PhD at Columbia University during the late 1930s he came up with the full-body move.
Burpee also happened to be a bodybuilder and an avid camper.
He worked at the YMCA in New York and was looking for an efficient method to determine someone’s physical fitness.
So, the burpee was never actually intended to be a form of exercise, but rather to be administered as a physical test.
The original test required someone to perform the move 4 times in total.
Test participants would then be given a score, “not good”, “good”, or “excellent” based on a number of factors.
- Their pulse rate
- How quickly the test was performed
- The ability to actually perform the exercise
- A participant’s breathlessness after the test
How The Burpee Should Be Performed
I’m not entirely sure that the man himself, Royal Burpee, would be overly impressed by the modern-day burpee exercise.
Firstly, he never viewed the move to be an actual exercise that people regularly perform.
So, there’s no way he would expect someone to complete 10, 50, 100, or even more burpees in a workout.
And the “original” burpee was a 3-movement sequence.
It required nothing more than a squat, plank, and stand up.
There was no jump involved, and there was definitely no push up either.
The Original Burpee Test
Royal Burpee’s original format simply required a test subject to:
- Bend at the knees and place their hands on the floor.
- Kick their legs out behind them and hold that position.
- Bring the legs back in.
- Stand up.
The problem with the burpee exercise nowadays is that many people simply don’t have the core strength or mobility to perform the modern version.
Going back to the original burpee there were three extremely important factors that formed part of the test.
A person should perform a “deep knee bend”, so basically a deep squat.
This means that you should not be leaning forward (as many of us do), as this would be considered “resting”.
Additionally, for the “kick the legs out behind you” stage, the reason for holding this position is that the legs should be fully extended and the back should remain completely straight.
Plus, the original burpee should still be performed at speed.
A Modern Twist on the Burpee
So, realistically the burpee would involve dropping into a perfect deep squat and placing your hands between your feet.
Your back should remain in the exact position it would with a “normal” squat.
When you kick your legs out you will need to hold the perfect plank (or the starting phase of a push up).
When you bring your legs back in, your feet should end up outside your hands.
And then finally, stand up.
Over the years, the burpee has incorporated many additions.
These include a push up at the midway phase, plus a jump (and occasionally a clap) at the end.
Okay, we’ve made the exercise harder, as well as more strength and conditioning focused.
However, I’m sure Royal Burpee would be turning in his grave.
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How to Get Better at Burpees
Personally, I like the modern burpee and I do perform it as a standalone exercise, or as part of a circuit.
All of my burpees contain a push up and a jump.
However, I try to remain wary of form, but I’ll openly admit this can suffer when I am performing a lot of burpees.
That being said, I definitely aim for the perfect squat and perfect plank alignment with every single rep.
There are a number of ways I believe you can get better at burpees.
Split the Exercise Up
The modern-day burpee is basically made up of four different exercises (this should provide a further explanation as to why burpees are so hard).
- Push Up
My initial recommendation would be to get good at performing each of these exercises as a separate entity.
And yes, there is such a thing as jumping exercises.
By doing so you will dramatically improve your core strength and overall mobility, thus making the burpee easier to perform.
To be honest, the above 4 exercises would make a perfect conditioning circuit or bodyweight cardio workout.
Plus, as you get better at each exercise, rest-assured that you will also get better at burpees.
I would also recommend practicing jumping from the plank to the squat and back to the plank again.
And then repeating this sequence as an exercise on its own.
This in itself is a fantastic exercise.
And over time it will help to strengthen your core, as well as improving your mobility.
A win-win you could say.
Admittedly, our first thought about burpees is that they should be performed at speed.
And while this is true, you can actually perfect the movement, and improve your ability to perform burpees, by simply slowing down.
I see nothing wrong with taking a good 10 seconds (if required) to perform one burpee.
I can guarantee that the process of getting down to the floor and back up again will increase your heart rate, irrespective of how slowly you perform the exercise.
Obviously, as you find slow burpees becoming easier then speed the movement up.
That being said, why not try performing slow burpees for a high number of reps, i.e. 50-100 or for a set amount of time 10-15 minutes.
And see how you feel after that.
I can guarantee that the actual move may seem a lot easier, but you will have definitely got a decent short and intense workout in.
Why Do I LOVE Burpees?
The answer that everyone’s going to hate
Pure and simple, if you want to get better at ANYTHING in life, my advice, do more of it.
Probably not a very popular suggestion with many of you, but trust me it works.
I say that I love doing burpees, but this wasn’t always the case.
In fact, I remember a time I hated them just as much as everyone else, and I’d be the first person to try to find an excuse when it was “burpee time”.
However, as with all forms of exercise, the body eventually adapts to whatever you do regularly.
And the same can be said for burpees.
Don’t hate me for it, but over the years I have been through stages on performing burpees on a daily basis.
I have completed the 100 burpees a day challenge for 30, 50, and 100 days.
I’ve even completed entire workouts that consisted of a variety of burpees, e.g. with pull ups, tucks jumps, box jumps, long jumps, Navy Seal burpees, etc.
You’ll probably think I’m ever so slightly mad, but I’ve also performed a 500-rep burpee workout before.
Nevertheless, love them or hate them, burpees are a fantastic all-round exercise for strength and conditioning.
I’d like to leave you with something I was told by someone many years ago:
“The exercises that you hate doing the most are the ones you should be doing more”.
LOL, probably not a popular opinion, but it’s a principle I have followed throughout my many years of exercise.
As for the ultimate burpee test in the modern day – your aim is to perform 100 burpees (with push up and jump) in under six minutes.
I can guarantee that anyone who is able to do this, or has worked their way up to achieving this, will have absolutely no issues with their body composition.
They will look GREAT.
Talking of looking good, I’ve recently reviewed a workout program that uses just 8 bodyweight exercises throughout the entire program.
And you’ve guessed it, burpees is one of the 8.
So, if you want to get into unbelievable shape then I suggest you check out my Ripped With Bodyweight Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.