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An exercise coach’s thoughts on burpees


“I’m a certified trainer and I think burpees are idiotic.”


This was the title of an article I saw in Women’s Health magazine back in April of this year, and I just had to read it. Basically, in the shortest and simplest way possible, Mike Boyle (who is internationally known as an exercise strength coach) explained why he dislikes the burpee exercise, and I agree with every word. And I’d also like to give you my opinion on the subject!


I have been in the exercise industry for over 10 years now, and I have seen and read about almost every fad type of exercise or fitness routine out there. I have seen and worked with all types of clients, some of whom are struggling with the most physically debilitating injuries and conditions. And the biggest thing I notice is that finding good information about the best exercises to fit each and every person is a challenge–not just for fitness professionals, but also for the general population, who may not know where to start.


If you have ever worked with me, then you know I am a big advocate of form and technique and making sure every exercise I prescribe has purpose and value. As a certified exercise coach, the slogan I firmly believe in is: “I only give my clients exercises and movements that I would personally perform myself. If I do not see any significant value in the exercise, then I do not perform it personally or recommend it to anyone else.”


So here is where I believe the burpee exercise falls incredibly short on the risk versus reward scale. There are three main components to the burpee: the double-leg mountain climber, the push-up, and the double-leg jump off the ground. If you perform one of these exercises by itself, your form and technique can be sustained properly for a certain number of repetitions. But if you perform one of these exercises for a longer period of time (say 30 to 60 seconds), your chance of sustaining form and technique once fatigue sets in decreases dramatically. When you take all three movements and put them together as a burpee, the risk of injuring your wrists, shoulders, and low back far outweighs the reward of improving cardiovascular fitness (heart health) and fast-twitch muscle fibre (for rapid or explosive movements). And if you are performing many repetitions within in a given circuit plan–which is where this exercise is most commonly used–the risks increase drastically.


I might compare the burpee exercise to distracted driving. If you are trying to do too many things at once in a small amount of time (for example, driving, eating, drinking, talking to your passenger, and texting), then your chance of making a mistake or causing an accident increases substantially. Same thing with burpees.


So what exercises do I recommend instead of burpees that are very similar in movement? This list could be a lot longer, but here is a start:

  • single-leg mountain climbers
  • double-leg mountain climbers
  • push-ups (and if regular push-ups put too much pressure on your wrists, try push-ups on top of dumbbells or push-up blocks to better align the wrists and decrease the pressure; or if this is too difficult, try incline push-ups off a bench)
  • squat jumps
  • skipping rope
  • groiners with overhead reach
  • Spiderman crawls


Finally, if you want to read the original article that was posted in Women’s Health (which I highly recommend–and don’t worry, it is short and sweet), click on this link.


Happy exercising!!!


Zac Glowa