Three years after I wrote it, the 30 days of burpee article still pulls 90% of this site’s traffic, so I figured I’d revisit it for anyone looking for more reading. A quick summary: that fall I decided to do 90 days of a few minutes of burpees per day (and for the most part, no other strength). In doing so, I increased my bench press by 40 lbs. I also went up a shirt size, saw some nice cardio gains, and got some awesome progress pics.
So why the obsession with burpees? Well, at the time it seemed the stigma surrounding them (mainly used for punishment, leads to injuries, the Crossfit connection) was overshadowing their massive potential benefits. I also liked that I could knock them out anywhere –from an airport to a living room to a park, and of course this ease of access is more important than ever, given today’s climate. To this day I still train mainly via bodyweight exercises, the majority of which utilize running recovery in between reps, and I rarely surpass 20 minutes of workout time. Meanwhile, the burpees only take 2 to 7 minutes of my time. This week I finished doing a month-long block of only pullups and burpees (100 burpees, 100 pull-ups per day). Yesterday the gyms opened back up and I tested some of my strength metrics. I managed to bench 225 lbs x 8, and to my surprise, it actually felt quite easy. Granted, these aren’t massive numbers by any means, but I’m a runner, not a weightlifter, and I only use the bench from time to time to track changes that might arise as a result of focusing on different body-weight exercises. But there’s no doubt about it, at least in my mind: implementation of burpees can lead to massive upper-body strength gains. I’d also venture they serve as a solid ‘plateau buster’ for those who might be struggling to see improvements.
I don’t think you need weights to achieve an aesthetically pleasing body, and I believe –contrary to most in the fitness world– that the ‘best’ version of fitness can be achieved through traditional endurance activities (slow running, hills) and loads of gymnastics and body-weight work.
Granted, I should note my version of ‘best’ is of course terribly subjective, and is certainly influenced by my endurance background. Most people could care less about running a fast mile or winning OCR races- strip all the nonsense away, boil it down to primal urges, and the majority of humans simply want to look good naked.
Regardless, the traditional gym program strikes me as terribly inefficient. I was reminded of this again yesterday, when after maxxing on bench I squatted, did dips, flys, and light RDLS, and capped it off with running at 15% incline for 30 minutes (my secret weapon, more on this in later blogs). In the same time-frame I witnessed a few guys do no more than three or four different slow isolation exercises with tons of recovery time and chit-chat. No super-sets, no high reps, no focus on cardio or fat burning, just pure inefficiency. Now I know what some of you are thinking- this is all nonsense, and these guys are trying to get really big, not do some mud run. While I agree to some extent, last fall I did exactly that, putting on 20+ lbs in 6 months with minimal gym time.
So where do burpees fall into all of this? Well, they serve as a fantastic finisher, especially for those who abhor traditional cardio or would rather fake an injury than sit on the cardio bike for 15 minutes to close a lifting session. Try doing 50 burpees to close out your workout. This should take less than 5 minutes and yet it will likely destroy you. Do 100 burpees, do sets of 10 with kettlebell swings or chin-ups in between…whatever it might be, it’s only an extra 10 minutes at most and yet, it will likely offer more bang-for-your-buck than the actual lifting session, while also targeting your likely-neglected posterior chain and sending your heart-rate skyward.
Following are a couple of my favorite ‘finisher’ workouts. Adjust the reps as you see fit.
10x (10 burpees, 100 meter jog, 10 pullups, 100 meter jog) Continue until 1000 meters and 100 reps of each is covered.
Some days I’ll run the recovery as hard as possible in order to chase a time. On recovery days I’ll jog at 12-minute pace between strength reps in order to keep my heart rate down. If you can’t do 10 pull-ups or burpees unbroken, simply drop that number: do sets of 3, 5, or 7. Add in lunges or kettle-bell swings for a third exercise if you’re bored with the former.
8x (30 second tempo pace at 15% incline on treadmill, 5, 7, or 10 burpees)
This is a super-condensed version of what is my all-time favorite workout, and it also serves as the backbone of my upcoming treadmill-based training plan. There is zero recovery during this workout- the moment you finish the burpees, you’re right back on the treadmill and focused on recovering WHILE running. Compromised running is extremely difficult, and this workout serves as a wonderful initiation into that world. Feel free to supplement kettle-bell swings and split squats or lunges for burpees as you see fit.
1x (max burpees, 5 minute tempo)
Once every two weeks or so I’ll do 100 burpees for time (choose any number of reps you’d like). If you’re really looking to put yourself in a bad place, force yourself to get up and run immediately upon finishing your last rep. This is one of my ‘misogi’ workouts, and it serves to put you at your lowest both mentally and physically. Not every workout should build you up! Some should knock you down a few pegs, and this is certainly one of them.
That’s all I’ve got for the moment. However, in closing, I do want to stress the tremendous physical toll burpees put on your joints, knees, shoulder, and lower back, especially if done incorrectly. Do not do them without a warm-up, avoid them if you have pre-existing medical conditions, and stop if ever you feel discomfort.
If that doesn’t apply to you, go get after it!