Burpees

Learning Series:

Do You See What I See?

For the uninitiated, the word BURPEES sounds more like something a newborn does.

Burpees, in fact, is a compound exercise. A compound exercise, is an exercise that involves more than one major muscle group and more than one joint at a time, such as the Squat. Burpees is a four or five part exercise involving different compound exercises. In contrast to an isolation exercise, which focuses on one muscle group and one joint at a time, for example: the bicep curl.

an exercise of biceps

an exercise of biceps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have not been following a regular exercise program or feel very out of shape, I would NOT recommend starting with Burpees. I would direct you to my 4 Minute Morning Progression Series, which teaches the foundation exercises for Burpees over the course of 14 weeks. As a result of following the graduated program, the body’s joint systems (ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage) will adapt to these movements. Learning this way allows us to focus on each part of the compound exercise, which will ensure good alignment so that when we put all the parts together, we won’t become sloppy.

When we exercise with good alignment, our movement becomes more efficient. When we move efficiently, we reduce wear and tear on our joints and muscles, which in turn supports a faster reaction time and optimal performance. Exercising longer, while out of alignment – though it may feel good mentally to know that we have burned a certain amount of calories – the end result, being the attack on our joints and muscles and skeletal system will have negated the effort in the first place. Exercise, whether for weight loss, maintenance or for peak sport performance, requires a delicate balance in many areas.

We may be able to fool our MIND,

with supplements or secret training practices,

but the BODY cannot be fooled.

Train smart, right from the start. Less is more. If we exercise with precision of movement as our primary focus, and be consistent, the results will come.

 “Build it, and they will come.”

-(Field of Dreams)

I’ve put together a little instructional video, which explains a common mistake that I was making. But I only realized that I was making this mistake once I started filming myself. Once again, I would like to encourage you to film yourself so that you can start to analyze how you are moving through your exercises.

I’ve tried to edit this video to keep it as short as possible, but as you may have noticed, I have a lot to say. Also, it is a lot harder (and time consuming) to make instructional videos than it first appears. I used my phone to record this video, though I had both my good camera and phone set up – but would you guess that I didn’t press record on the camera! Anyhow, I hope that it is the content of the video that will provide you with some useful information as opposed to judging it based solely on the lousy quality of the visual product.

For those not able to view the video, I am discussing the breakdown of Burpees. The most common error is to NOT do a complete squat but rather pass through it. The reason most will pass through the squat is due to restricted range of motion at our joints, i.e. tight musculature and fascia. Not performing the squat can lead to rounding from the back, which is not ideal.

There are two squats in Burpees. I have come to know Burpees as detailed below; though some call it Burpees Push Up (because it includes the Push Up). A classic Burpee may be done without the Push Up.

1. Squat

2. Plank

3. Push Up

4. Squat

5. Jump Squat

6. Repeat sequence

Also, I’d like to talk about the placement of our legs during the squat. There is a tendency to do a lot of exercises in a wide stance. This is OK from time to time, but important to understand that in order to develop a well-balanced body, our exercise program has to also be well-balanced. Always doing exercises in a wide stance or that are always recruiting the same muscles is not a well-balanced approach. There really is a science to exercise prescription. Though it can seem unlikely for some, anyone can muster up the drive to work hard. Working hard and for long duration alone, is not what will deliver a functionally fit body. So in my video, I venture to explain, (though very briefly and with basic language in an effort to be understood by everyone), how we should focus on parallel alignment, being the alignment, which is essential for our joints to function optimally. When we walk, the ideal placement is to have our feet and knees aligned in parallel. When we deviate from this tracking, our joints encounter wear and tear. By doing exercise OUT of alignment, our muscles become stronger in this unbalanced pattern, which further contributes to misalignment.

When we have limitation in our joints, our movement is restricted. When our movement is restricted we (unknowingly) compensate, which leads to overuse and contributes to faulty biomechanics.

What can you do?

  • Be consistent with stretches that are specific to YOUR restricted range of motion.

  • Do exercises that will support optimal range of motion in YOUR body.

I have found that when I practice my exercises (be it stairs, swim drills or Burpees), if I focus on precision then I am not able do as much; my weaker muscles will fatigue sooner. This is a good thing. This means that I am strengthening my weaker links. If I continuously train out of alignment and with brute force, then I am just repeating patterns that are only going to take me further from my goals. My goals being: having a body that is aligned and runs efficiently with the least amount of wear and tear.

Please note: when lifting very heavy loads, it is a good idea to take a wider stance for the squat.

Below is the video of me showing how to do a

4 Minute Tabata of Burpees.

8 Rounds of two intervals.

Interval #1 =  10 seconds REST + Interval #2 = 20 seconds Maximum # of Repetitions of Burpees

I was able to complete 4.5 – 4 Burpees during each 20 second interval. Which translates to doing 32 Burpees in 4 Minutes. 

That’s:

  • 64 Squats
  • 32 Planks
  • 32 Push Ups
  • 32 Jump Squats

Wow! I never thought about it like that before! No wonder it does the trick!

Also, I notice that as I get more fatigued I tend to lift my hips UP as I jump back to plank. See if you can spot that. So I will work on keeping my hips more level with the ground as I jump back into plank.

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12 comments

  1. Burpees! I hate them! But my trainer loves them and finds distinct pleasure in ending my training session with me pumpng out 3 sets of 20! I am 67 and cannot believe I am doing burpees – but I have to admit they have a remarkable result and I always feel somewhat triumphant when I finish that last one! If you embrace them, they will embrace you!

    1. Gee, Bud – That’s a lot of Burpees! Safe to say you love to hate them?

      I know what you mean by that ‘triumphant’ feeling. I think that is the feeling which keeps brining us back. It’s kind of in the same vein as survival – being so close to being beat by something but instead coming out on top. I think this is a part of what can turn some people into compulsive/ addicted athletes. We need to watch that edge very carefully. Stay in check with a healthy balance.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Thanks so much for the video. I’ve come to find that burpees are definitely one of those ‘do or die’ exercises where high intensity yields high results. And yet when I am doing them, I observe myself from time to time to see if I am being fluid with my movements, looking for wasted movement and very much trying to conserve in my economy of motion throughout the entire exercise. Definitely one of my favorite compound exercises!

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I love the way you described “being fluid with my movements, looking for wasted movement and very much trying to conserve in my economy of motion throughout the entire exercise”.

  3. Fantastic! I am currently on week 13 using a low coffee table and it’s tough, but a good tough now and not just “why is this so hard for me?” I can feel the different muscles in my arms and back working. My burpees definitely need tuning too, but I guess that’s the next step.

    1. Yes, that would be the next step.

      I know that for many people just finding the motivation to DO exercise or a workout in the first place can be a limiting factor, so I always feel torn about bringing up the technique / alignment side. But, having said that, viewing our exercise from this lens may be more encouraging for those people (?). By doing less with focus as opposed to feeling overwhelmed by all the intensity of how exercise is presented by some of the ‘snake oil salesmen’.
      🙂

      1. This is a sample of my burpees, done in a cruise a couple weeks ago.
        I was tired in this set (last one of four, 15 burpees each set)
        Now that I read your post I will work on the technique!

        [video src="http://s1151.photobucket.com/albums/o636/jbesada/Carnival%20Glory%20Cruise%202012/?action=view&current=MVI_8001.mp4" /]

      2. Thanks for this!
        Notice how your toes and knees are turned out? Consider rolling out your IT Band with a roller and roll out your glutes against a wall with a ball (for a few minutes) BEFORE you do this workout.
        I use the travelroller – you can find the link on the right under Self Care.
        I roll out my glutes every morning and night for a few minutes. Again, not for an excessive amount of time; just a little but be consistent with it…try it as an experiment and see what happens. I will explain the reason for that another time. But, it has made a huge difference for me in re-balancing my muscles.

        I do not receive any kickback for linking to travelroller, it just happens to be a product I like and use.

      3. Hey thanks for the info!
        I will add the glutes roll with my lacrosse ball just before doing the burpees.
        I am very consistent with my myofascial rolls, using the lacrosse ball, two lacrosse balls taped together with duct tape and my foam rollers. I have several foam rollers, the classic black one (36inches x 6) the “telescopic one” that I think I invented: three PVC pipes of these sizes 2,3,4 each one and 2 feet long, bought in the hardware store and covered with parts of an old yoga mat
        But I will get the one you use
        Also saw you putting the ipad to another good use, will do same with my tablet, you really are a source of inspiration!

        Regards from the Miami Caveman, 60 years strong, feeling like 20 🙂

      4. Not sure what you mean about the iPad?

        Keep up the high energy Miami Caveman. 60 years old and you are rockin’ it…that’s what I’m talking about. Keep moving. Stay well.

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