Burpees: Saint or Sinner?

One of the most poorly programmed exercises in the history of fitness is Burpees. This post looks to examine their placement in training and the rationale for their inclusion in different parts of your workout.

Predominant more in bootcamps, outdoor fitness and when working with limited amounts of equipment the rationale for their inclusion in training can vary.

As it is such a big exercise which mobilises the whole body the question to be asked initially is what level of fitness are you?

Burpees commonly feel like the end of the world to new exercisers. They cause a massive elevation in heart rate and ultimately poor exercise form limits performance (which is caused by fatigue).

With most boot camps they seem to be included in the middle of circuits as well as used as finishers (the last thing that you do in a session which leaves you lying on the floor in a puddle of your own sweat). If included with other exercises in a circuit format to induce fatigue then their form may be compromised if their repetition range is too high. By nature they are not an exercise you should struggle through so when do you tolerate bad form? In my eyes never. Therefore, beginners are suited to low repetition numbers predominantly at the start of a session. If you are not combining it with resistance training it is likely to be the most neuromuscular fatiguing exercise you will perform. So for beginners it is as much a strength exercise as it is a conditioning drill. In my experience most coaches place them in the middle or at the end of sessions to invoke fatigue? My question is that if it is the hardest thing you do in a session should it not go at the start so form is maintained if you are a beginner?

With advanced exercisers does the parameters move? Well, the ability to perform the exercise against fatigue does as does power output (in theory). The limiting factor to the exercise is still failure of form so in that case it’s pretty much the same compared to beginners. Someone who has good recovery therefore can do more repetitions for longer but as it is still an explosive exercise should it not be placed at the start of all routines or does the training focus dictate its position?

If the training focus is on strength and power development it could be considered more sensible to place it at the start of a session or at least early on after your primary loaded exercises. If looking to use it as an energy systems training tool e.g. Fat loss or full body conditioning sports then it can be used as a supplemental exercise in essence in the second half of your training session. As advanced exercisers generally recognise good posture and bad form compared to beginners then it is suitable for this to be used as a finisher.

What is the relevance of this post then to training. Beginners need to recognise form and body position first and will find this harder if already fatigued. Advanced exercisers can use certain exercises to build up their capacity to do more but like beginners will ultimately be limited by fatigue. Often though beginners are thrown Burpees too early in too large amounts to develop suitable strength while advanced exercisers could throw them in to the start of a session as an explosive “primer”.

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