The burpee has been around since the 1930s but in the last several years has become one of the most popular exercises around.
The burpee: Two words that either will make a fitness fanatic look at you in disgust or drop down and put on a show.
There is no in-between.
The exercise has been around since the 1930s thanks to its creation by U.S. physiologist Royal H. Burpee, who developed the burpee test. However, in the past two decades, it has exploded throughout the fitness world and become a fitness staple in the process.
A big part of that reason, said Micah Kurtz — who serves as Windermere Preparatory School’s strength, conditioning and athletic development coach — is the rising popularity of the CrossFit movement. Lee Lovette, who co-owns CrossFit Winter Garden with his wife, Alexis, agrees.
“I’ve been doing CrossFit for over a decade now, I’ve been a programmer for six years — so as someone who writes workouts, I’ve been writing it into workouts for six years,” Lovette said. “But I’ve had the joy of experiencing burpees — or something like a burpee — for the last 20 years.”
For those with a fondness of the burpee — including Lovette — there’s a level of pseudo self-loathing that goes into it. But when it gets ingrained into your system, you can’t just not do it.
“When we go on vacation — if I’m flying somewhere and they don’t have a gym — I’ll do 100 burpees, and that will be my workout for the day while I’m out of town,” Lovette said. “Nothing is going to hit as many body parts and as many muscle features, as well as your cardio, as doing 100 burpees.”
Proponents of the exercise note its bare-boned nature — with it not requiring any kind of equipment — which allows for folks to get the exercise in wherever they want, without any constrictions. And with it hitting on muscles all over the body, as well as getting your heart going, it’s the complete package, Lovette said.
It’s such a popular exercise that it’s often used as a tool to bring awareness and raise money for certain causes. One well-known example is that of Burpees for Vets — put on by the Courage Foundation — which raises awareness and funds for veterans suffering from PTSD.
Although burpees do offer a full-body workout with no need for equipment, not everyone is a fan of them — that’s where Kurtz comes in.
“My thought — anytime I’m programming an exercise — is, ‘Why are we doing the exercise? What is the point of doing the exercise?’” Kurtz said. “And the core values that I have in our strength programs is protect the athlete, and get them to move well and move strong. Then to thrive is the fifth (core value) … and one of those is enjoying exercise.
“The burpee exercise has a lot of potential for injuries,” he said. “You’re dropping down on the ground — jamming your wrist into the ground — forcing your wrist into extension, and that puts a lot of pressure on the wrist and can lead to wrist injuries. And then, as you drop down, you’re putting a huge amount of stress on the front part of your shoulder, which is also the weakest part of your shoulder.”
Other issues of note that come with the burpee is that the quick up-and-down movement can cause dizziness and light-headedness, while constant repetition can overwork joints and other parts of the body.
With those concerns, Kurtz often offers other solutions to those looking for a full-body workout, which also offers cardio perks.
“You could do a med-ball slam to squat to overhead press,” Kurtz said. “The med-ball slam is really working on your interior core and core power, the squatting down incorporates your entire lower-body strength, and then going into a thrust — or a press — then incorporates upper-body strength. You can do those as fast as you want and get your heart rate up.”