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The Total Body Move You Never Knew You Were Doing Wrong

You’ve seen the meme “I love burpees- said no one ever.” Part of why people dread the burpee so much is that it is total body taxing. That is, you think it is. When you take out the push-up, you take out the back (on the descent), pecs and triceps (on the ascent), and tons of core on the full push-up phase. Without the push-up, the burpee is just a core, deltoids, legs, and glutes exercise. That’s not so bad, right? Actually, that is the original burpee.

The burpee is named after Exercise Physiologist, Dr. Royal Burpee. In the 1930s, Burpee developed “the burpee test” to test both muscular and cardiovascular endurance of his clients and create a mode of human performance. The move consisted of standing, squatting (hands to floor), plank, squatting (hands to floor), standing up again.

Do you see a push-up in there? Nope. Do you see a requirement for the feet to lift off of the ground? Nope. The push-up and the leap are things we have added over time to make the burpee harder, but the bare-bones burpee is just a squat thrust with an overhead reach!

Prior to a fitness conference session with Keli Roberts in New York City in 2006, I had worked in the fitness scene for seven years, but never heard of the term “burpee.” Judging by the hum-dinger looks on fellow fitness professionals’ faces, they hadn’t, either. There was something else bubbling up in the fitness industry around that time...

It seems to me, we can track the erroneous belief that the burpee is all of the above, plus a push-up and a leap, to the same place we can track “double-unders,” “WODs,” and “man-makers”... CrossFit. CrossFit qualifies burpees to include these things. But, alas, CrossFit was not around when Burpee created his namesake move in the ‘30s as part of his Columbia University PhD dissertation. In other jargon, CrossFit can name it and claim it, but for the burpee, it is what it is-- and it ain’t a push-up and vertical leap.

There’s nothing wrong with upping the ante and adding a push-up, which is accurately qualified as a “bastardo,” (and that just might be the name we call you if you make us do it). There’s nothing wrong with doing a “CrossFit Burpee,” which tags the push-up plus a jump. But if you’re just getting off the couch and decide burpees may be fun, no need to rain on your movement parade by tacking on extra feats of strength… the basic burpee is just a plank to stand up! You can do that. And you can do it 20 times in a row in less than a minute! Now get off that sofa and just do it- we double dog, double-under, double-duex-burpee dare you!

Step 1: Stand up, straight and tall, then tuck down into a deep squat and touch your fingertips to the floor.

Step 2: Thrust out to a plank on your hands.

Step 3: Return to deep squat, touching your fingertips to the floor.

Step 4: Stand up and reach your hands high overhead.

Treat yourself to this 30-minute HIIT Burpee Extreme workout video with Brook Benten. No equipment required!

Brook Benten, M.Ed., is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist. This Texas girl has been trailblazing fitness for two decades. She champions continuing education and has impacted the field as an executive director of healthy living, CEC provider, fitness magazine writer, campus recreation fitness director, and workout video star. Brook is a presenter for SCW Fitness at SCW MANIA conventions and "Train with the Trainers" livestream weekly workouts. She is a lifestyle columnist for Texas Lifestyle Magazine. Benten is an ambassador for Power Music and Lebert Fitness; she is among an international team of six Master Trainers for Johnny G Spirit Bike.

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