“I’m a burpee connoisseur. I’ve done many in my life, tried numerous types, and I’m always awed by their power,” says Andrew Killion, owner of District CrossFit, who says that every time he wants to make a workout tougher, he just adds in a few burpees.
When Jen Ator, the fitness editor at Women’s Health magazine, was on her lacrosse team in college, the punishment for not showing up on time for practice was performing burpees continuously for each minute of tardiness. One morning, she slept through her alarm and was 20 minutes late, which led to a workout she’ll never forget. But although she cursed the exercise that morning, she’s become a believer, too. Ator uses 10 to 20 reps as a warm-up, as a cardio burst during circuit training or even as a stand-alone workout when she’s crunched for time.
With no equipment, and barely any space, anyone can follow her lead, regardless of fitness level.
Seven steps of a burpee
From Melody Feldman, coach at CrossFit MPH in the District:
1. Standing (shoulder blades retracted, tight core, feet shoulder-width apart)
2. Squat (knees driven out over toes, hip crease below knees, tight core, arched/neutral lower back)
3. Top of push-up (straight line from shoulders to heels, tight core, eyes forward)
4. Bottom of push-up
5. Top of push-up
7. Jump and reach (max vertical jump with arms overhead, tight core, land softly)
Watch her perform the move and follow along.
History of the burpee
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term originated in the 1930s: “Named after Royal H. Burpee, American psychologist. The original usage was Burpee test, in which a series of burpees are executed in rapid succession, designed to measure agility and coordination.” But there’s a bit more to the story than that.
Burpee (1898-1987) was a physical education advocate who worked for the Greater New York YMCA for more than 50 years. It was in that context that he developed his test, which was used by the Navy and Army, according to a New York Times article from 1959.
“He was a physical fitness nut. Not only did he do them, my father also did them as part of an exercise routine daily,” says Royal H. Burpee III, a 57-year-old plastics salesman in Easton, Pa., who does not do them. But he had to in high school gym class. When his teacher wouldn’t believe that Burpee’s grandfather was responsible for the exercise, young Roy brought in a copy of his book “Seven Quickly Administered Tests of Physical Activity.”