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Personal Trainer: Learning to work through burpee exercise

One burpee is not so bad. A few burpees are tolerable.

Everyone has a number in mind that is representative of the maximum number of burpees they can do. If your workout calls for that magic number then you know you’re in for a rough time.

As much as you may despise burpees, they are a functional movement nonetheless. All of the elements of a traditional burpee carry over to everyday activity.

If you are not familiar with a burpee, then let me walk you through one.

You start from a standing position. Dropping to the floor with the hands on the outside of the feet, you jump your feet back so the body is in a pushup position. Then you perform the pushup. From there you jump the feet back up to the hands. This places you in position to jump into a jumping jack so you land on your feet.

Having the ability to get onto the floor is very functional. A person needs a certain amount of hip strength and mobility to perform this movement. If the thought of getting up and down from the floor makes you cringe, then today’s modifications may be just what you need. They can help strengthen your muscles and ease your joints into mobility.

Proficiency with a pushup is an impressive aspect of a person’s physical fitness. It means a person can organize the spine and produce enough upper body strength to elevate the body.

Returning to a standing position also is a functional movement. There is a way to organize the body to not overload the knee or put torque on the lower back. The burpee is a way of drilling this technique so that you build strength in a healthy habit.

The jumping jack at the end seems to be a difficult movement only added to increase the overall misery of the burpee. But it is functional. It is beneficial to know how to absorb a landing correctly; opposed to landing loudly and letting the energy absorb into the body. A softer landing allows the energy to pass through the body evenly instead of being isolated to a few joints.

Burpees are an effective exercise for a few reasons. The use of body weight against gravity is a great way to get the heart pumping. This is why they are so despised. One burpee is easy, but linking 15 to 20 or even 50 can test the endurance of even the fittest athletes.

Burpees come in many varieties. Some have a pushup and others have a jump while others have a pullup built in. I have even seen some with a back flip.

Burpees can be modified to fit any athlete. Today’s burpees are designed as modifications of a traditional burpee. Even though they are modified, the major functional elements are still there.

One viral movement I want you to be sure to weed out is landing on the toes. When jumping or standing up it is common to not stand up with the whole foot on the ground. Standing while on the toe loads the knee and causes undue strain on the low back.

As you stand up, bring both feet up to the hands so they are flat on the ground. This takes some hip mobility but your knees and back will thank you. This position also readies the body for the final jump into a jumping jack. Landing on the toes just adds a step and expends energy needlessly.

Landing on the toes is a telltale sign that an athlete is tired. So is their speed. If you start to notice your form deteriorate or your pace decrease, then it may be time to use one of today’s modifications.

If you fear that burpees may be a little too difficult for you, then today’s modifications are perfect. They are a gentler burpee that will help progress you toward more difficult versions.

The burpee “lite” is similar to a traditional burpee just without the jumps and pushup. It is essentially getting down and up with correct technique. The box burpee is a modification I like to use for those who get too fatigued by other modifications. It is also good for those who have a limitation that prevents the safe performance of the traditional version.

I like to use burpees to build endurance in my athletes. I prescribe just enough to make a workout difficult but not too many to send my athlete over the edge. Burpees fit well almost anywhere in your routine. They do not require too much brute strength so they work as a good exercise to super set with a weighted exercise such as a squat. You can also couple them with a gymnastic such as a pullup. Burpees work well in circuits of multiple exercises.

(Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at 702trainer@gmail.com. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.)

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