Burpee Breakdown – by Chris Channells, Varsity Fitness

Training Tips   |   Jun 29, 2013

Burpees epitomise the phrase ‘great in theory’. I’m sure everyone in obstacle racing and the fitness world has at least heard of them. They have been around since the 1930′s and have been used since the 1940′s as a tool for measuring fitness in the armed forces which is perhaps why we have the association of it being a hardcore exercise or punishment.

In and of themselves they are a perfectly fine and legitimate exercise. However ask yourself this: when was the last time you ever saw them performed with excellent technique? In my experience they are seldom used as a single set exercise. What I mean is the sequence is something like 200 m run, 15 burpee’s and 30 jump lunges. Or something along those lines, they’re the potato of exercise, always on the side in some form.

I also see them used lots in boxing sequences. Technically this would be a great little exercise, multiple muscles activated, but the reality is that after 2 or 3 the people performing the movement have backs with more of a sway than a 30 year old pack mule. Or more arch than the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Plus the jump up stage looks like it’s done in slow motion and you’d be lucky to slide an A4 piece of paper under the shoes.

Also there is loads of variations you can add like pushups, but again the pushups become about 2cm deep. And really if you are going to train upper body properly you’d place pushups in an entire separate category.

I am however a big fan of the deconstructed burpee as a sequence of movements by itself. Such as 15 jump squats, 15 mountain runners or jumpers or whatever you want to call them, holding a high plank and bringing the feet in towards the body either singly or doubly. Plus a set of push ups or pushup variations if you want to. Or you can do for time if you wish. Either way you’re less likely to see poor form or accumulate injury just to get it done and say “I did 300 burpees!”.

Because really, when was the last time you saw a burpee performed with absolutely strict form? It’s human nature, people get lazy. Stuff happens.


What the perfect burpee should be –

1. starting from a strong plank position



2. Tuck knees in and smoothly move into a deep squat position




3. And jump up. clapping one’s hands over one’s head and repeating.



It all looks too easy, but what we have happen to the majority of obstacle racers is that just after a few burpees the back gives out and you either cave or arch:




… and your jumps become simply awful, more like the last spasms of an old flea rather than an exercise that’s meant to improve your performance.



And finally – some would say shamefully you end up buggered like this, and with a sore back from your terrible form:




Let’s Break It Down

Rather than that, you can separate the various exercises and do either a straight up squat jump, nice and deep and nice and high for either a specific amount or for time.

Or you can start with your high plank and try some variations like – mountain steppers alternating each foot to each side before returning to your high plank



Another variation is the mountain runner, bringing the knee’s forward into the chest and out as in a sprint type motion.


Or simply the hop in part of the burpee, some call these mountain hoppers - hop in before returning to your high plank


Often push ups are the most often added variation to a burpee and a requirement at races that dole them out either as a punishment or as one of the ‘obstacles’ but can you say your push ups end like this?


 ..more often people move a few centimetres, so you have to be clear about what you’re training for. Is it improved chest strength? Or do you anticipate you’ll be jumping over an obstacle and have to land in a plank-like stance?

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