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”.

Exercise of the Week:Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is a progression I use with individuals before we look to advance them to flat bench chest press and bench press. The lying position means that the range of movement is controlled with minimal stress to the shoulder joint. This makes it a perfect exercise as a progression on from incline chest press as well as press ups. Often in individuals with unsuitable shoulder stability the scapula cannot hold position if you go to flat bench or chest press too early in their progression.

Twin this with poor torso stability and you ultimately leave yourself open to more shoulder issues. The floor press enables you to have a controlled range of movement while maintaining a suitable elbow position. Often in the pursuit of more weight the shoulders will flair out making the movement more nech dominant and placing more stress on the acriomioclavicular joint.

As you can see in the image there are a lot of ligaments that enhance stability at this joint which helps keep movement stable. From a muscular standpoint the movements you undertake will determine the pressure placed upon these ligaments. This can be shown in the image below- as joint position needs to be maintained as you lift the arm to vertical the more stress placed upon the shoulder joint which can lead to irritation and injury of the joint capsule as well as the structures of the shoulder used for shock absorption such as the bursa and cartilage.

All in all the floor press is a good compromise and a starting point for progressive loading for those with stable shoulders and can be a useful inclusion for newbies and advanced trainers alike.