Ah, the dreaded burpee. Both admired and reviled by all, ever since... 1939, apparently, when a man named Royal H. Burpee invented the infamous exercise to determine a person's physical fitness. (It's fitting, really, since most people find them to be a royal pain in the you-know-what.)
Fast forward to 2017 and it's still one of the most widely used and effective go-to exercises. To measure their effectiveness, Runner's World's Danielle Zickl decided to do 30 burpees every day for 15 days and track her results.
"I completed three sets of 10 burpees for 15 days straight," Zickl wrote. "I started out with a one-minute rest in between my sets and decreased that time by 15 seconds every three days until I was doing all 30 burpees at once with no rest for the last three days."
While we're exhausted just thinking about it, Zickl says her results were more rewarding than she could have imagined.
Not only did her 9-minute mile pace improve, but she found she was able to run longer distances than her typical three-mile run. By one of the last days, she ran five-and-half miles! "My stride felt stronger, and my breathing was more even and composed," she said.
Wondering why burpees had this effect on her, she asked Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, a New York-based sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, who told her it was because burpees work all your muscles and your heart.
“Burpees target every muscle in your body and train your cardiopulmonary fitness by repeatedly bring your heart rate up and down,” he said.
(Photo: Happily Grey)
Not only did starting her days with burpees put her in a good mood (thanks, endorphins!), but she also was able to power through her days without having to rely on caffeine.
Zickl says the burpees definitely got easier, but there were still days when she felt she was starting from zero. Dr. Metzl attributed it factors like not getting enough sleep the night before, and Zickl says it just proves how challenging burpees are — your body won't ever get used to them.
Zickl says there's a reason military members and athletes use burpees to train. "Knowing what I was doing for my body gave me a sense of strength that was more than physical. I felt mentally strong and ready to tackle my day," she said.
Will you take Zickl's 30-burpees-a-day challenge? Before you do, it's time to get well-versed in burpees. Check out these different burpee variations to get the ultimate burpee workout.
The Sprawl is a burpee without a pushup.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides. Bend your knees and squat down, placing your hands firmly on the floor. Jump your feet back to come into a high plank with straight arms and legs. Jump both feet forward to your hands. From your crouching position, jump up with hands above your head. That's one rep.
The standard burpee adds a pushup.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lower your body into a seated squat position, placing your hands on the ground slightly in front of your feet, shoulder-width apart. Quickly jump your legs backward, landing in a plank position with your body in a straight, diagonal line from your head to your toes. Complete a standard pushup. Return to plank position. Jump back to a seated squat, not moving your hands. From your seated squat position, jump up bringing your arms above your head. That's one rep.
Once you master the burpee, try it out with a BOSU ball—you can add the pushup or leave it out. This will add an extra core workout because it forces your body to stabilize itself on the ball rather than the floor.
How to do it: Start by holding a BOSU ball in your hands, with your arms extended in front of your chest. Keep your feet shoulder width apart, back straight and chest up. Bending at your knees, place the BOSU ball on the ground. Quickly kick your feet backward so that your body is forming a plank position. Make sure that your butt is tucked under and you are squeezing your glutes. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides. Return to plank position. Quickly jump, bringing your feet back toward the BOSU ball. Finally, pushing through your heels, return to the starting position. Whew — that's a lot.
And just in case you want to kick it into beast mode, try out a burpee deck squat jump. Make sure you have plenty of space to do this move!
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then squat down to your toes, roll back on the mat bringing your legs as far back as you can and then roll back up (use one or both hands to get up if necessary). As soon as you stand up, drop down, placing your hands on the floor in front of you. Kick your legs backward so that you’re now in a push up position. Quickly reverse the movement to return to the standing position. Push through your feet and jump up to the start position. That’s one rep.
This is the mother of burpee variations. This move literally works every muscle in your body. Give these a try—they're tough, but good.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand. Drop squat to the floor so that the dumbbells are touching about shoulder to hip width apart. Thrust your legs back to pushup position and perform a one-arm row with your left arm. Perform a pushup and then perform a one-arm row with your right arm. Jump legs back up toward your hands into a drop squat. Stand up and press the dumbbells overhead.