Nothing brings us out in beads of sweaty dread quite like a burpee. But given the huge benefits of burpees, it’s high time we finally put our fears to rest and nailed them once and for all – the ultimate win to see out 2021. 

There comes a point in most cardio gym classes when PTs spring a load of burpees on you. Sometimes they come at the end of the warm-up, occasionally they’ll be part of a circuit. Often, they feature in the finisher – by which time you’re in pure survival mode after battling your way through a 40-minute workout.

Burpees are hard. In fact, they’re probably the hardest body weight exercise. Push-ups are difficult, sure, but burpees combine that pushing motion with explosive movement, both to get off the ground and to jump at the end. 

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But there’s no reason you can’t increase your cardiovascular strength and endurance to nail burpees once and for all. If you struggle to do more than a couple in a row without needing a breather, now’s the perfect time to work on getting to a place where you can do five, 10 or 20 reps.

We often wait until January to make resolutions or embark on new fitness challenges. That’s all well and good but with the new year comes new waves of pressure. You’ve got to cut the booze, up the veg intake, start a new fitness regime, commit to new social plans. It all gets too much. That’s why at Strong Women, we’re making December the month for taking on new fitness challenges. It’s all about getting your house in order before the new year.

By working on things that you find hard now, you’ll be in a better place to meet your goals in 2022, and because December tends to be a slow fitness month, there’s no pressure to go unnecessarily hard. 

Benefits of burpees – why bother nailing burpees?

The exercise was first developed by Royal Burpee, an exercise physiologist who used it to assess the fitness of university students back in the 1930s. Here’s why it’s as useful today as it was back then.

It’s a full-body workout

If you’re short on time or want to build overall strength quickly, compound moves like burpees are brilliant. By recruiting lots of different muscles, you can quickly improve on strength and endurance. Burpees work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, biceps, chest and shoulder muscles. You use almost every muscle to get flat on the ground and get back up again before jumping into the air.

It’s so full-on, in fact, that a 2019 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that when compared with sprinting, participants rated burpee workouts as being more difficult. They also found that they produced more upper body fatigue (which is kind of obvious, given that sprinting involves lower body and core strength rather than any real upper body work).

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Burpees boost cardiovascular fitness

Anyone who’s tried to do a few burpees in a row as part of a circuit or finisher will know just how breathless they can make you. If you’re not comfortable with burpees, you’ll spend a few minutes trying to catch your breath at the end. That’s because the exercise forces your heart and lungs to work hard in order to supply energy to the muscles. If you can do 10 in a row without too much trouble, chances are that you’re in pretty good cardiovascular nick.

They’re such a good indicator of cardio fitness, in fact, that they’ve become an international standard for evaluating endurance. A 2019 study analysed thousands of people and found that the average woman can do between 37 and 60 burpees in three minutes. 

While no one in their right mind is going to do three minutes of continuous burpees, it is interesting on a smaller level; you want to aim for a minimum of 12 burpees in a minute.

While you could do them during any workout, burpees tend to feature as part of HIIT workouts. “They’re generally programmed within HIIT sessions as you don’t need to do them for long to reap the rewards,” F45 trainer Amber Gamble previously told Stylist

“Just a few rounds of 30 seconds can be enough to get the average person’s heart rate into their highest zone, which will help to optimise performance as you are training your heart to maintain or improve its max threshold.”

We know that HIIT, in moderation, can be good for us: a study published in PloS One concluded that people who did just 30 minutes of HIIT every week improved their fitness and muscle function just asmuch as those who did 150 minutes of steady, moderate-intensity exercise. Get good at burpees and you might just be able to save yourself a lot of time.

They’re convenient

One of the biggest burpee bonuses is the fact that like push-ups, they require no equipment and very little space. All you need is a mat and a decent sports bra. You could burpee bare-foot but given the explosive nature of the move, proper support will stop you from developing back ache and chest pains.

How to do a burpee

We’re launching a five-week burpee challenge on the Strong Women Training Club which will aim to boost your fitness enough to nail 20 consecutive burpees. See the programme through and you’ll be edging towards the top end of that average window.

Trainer Dottie Fildes will be sharing her tips for doing the perfect burpee (keep your eyes peeled on our Instagram page), but in the meantime, here’s how to do a burpee correctly:

  1. Place the hands down onto the ground and jump or step back to a high plank position.
  2. With control, lower your body all the way down to the ground.
  3. Use upper body and core strength to press back up to a high plank.
  4. Jump your feet towards your hands.
  5. Lift your body back up to standing by jumping or stepping.

Still finding your feet with burpees? Slow the move down, take out the jumping and if you’re not ready for chest-to-floor action just yet, keep your chest off the floor. A half burpee involves getting into that high plank position and coming up to standing. 

Join us for the five-week burpee challenge, led by expert PT Dottie Fildes, over on the Strong Women Training Club. A new classes will be posted every Wednesday from 1 December.

Images: Getty

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