From a standing position, squat down and jump your feet back into a plank position. Complete a push-up. Jump your feet back toward you into a squat position. Jump straight up with your arms above your head and land softly on your feet.
Congratulations, you just completed a full burpee, at least by some definitions. And therein lies the problem, as there is no world burpee confederation to say what is and isn’t a real burpee, also known as a squat thrust.
On Sunday, what it means to do a “proper” burpee became a hot topic of debate after a video of a mother and personal trainer from Melbourne, Australia, completing 1,490 burpees in one hour went viral. The video documented Elizabeth Llorente’s attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most burpees done in one hour by a woman.
Llorente told The Washington Post she took on the challenge to raise money for MS Australia, an advocacy organization dedicated to people battling multiple sclerosis. As of early Tuesday morning, she had raised $5,000, half of her total goal.
“I wanted to do it for charity,” she told The Washington Post. “I knew I needed to do something that was a bit crazy, so I decided I would pick an exercise that so many people love to hate and try to do that for 60 minutes and try to beat the current world record.”
Not only did Llorente successfully smash the previous record of 1,321, she even improved on her own personal goal of 1,430.
But her moment of glory was called into question when people watching the footage noticed something strange. Llorente’s burpee technique departed from what many consider proper form for the popular cardio and strength-building exercise.
In the video, Llorente can be seen starting in a high plank position. She kicks her feet back but doesn’t lower her body into a push-up. Though both her hands and feet lift off the ground for the jump, her arms don’t go over her head and she doesn’t fully straighten up.
Comments on the video, which was posted to Facebook by 7 News Adelaide and viewed more than a million times, ranged from confused to annoyed.
“Still waiting for the first rep,” one user wrote, garnering more than a thousand likes.
Many bluntly pointed out that Llorente’s burpees weren’t “real burpees,” while others included video clips of people doing the exercise using traditional techniques.
On Twitter, news about Llorente’s feat received similar reactions.
One user wrote, “I thought burpees you had to jump up? She isn’t even lifting her head or going chest to the ground.”
Another acknowledged Llorente’s efforts were for charity, but added that “these are not burpees by any standard.”
But some were quick to come to her defense.
One Facebook user commented, “Fantastic effort and dollars to a good cause.” Another chimed in with, “Great job. She should be super proud,” and included a clapping emoji.
Having been a personal trainer for nearly eight years, Llorente said, she knows her burpees in the video are different from what people usually do in the gym. Her technique, however, is within Guinness’s standard for the exercise, she said. Under that definition, a completed burpee requires only extending the feet back and for both hands and feet to leave the ground for the final jump, according to BarBend.
“My coach and I made the decision that I would keep myself as close to the floor as possible in order to minimize energy output for the maximum number of reps in total,” Llorente said. “It was very strategic.”
But she added, “I definitely know what a burpee is.”
The painful, yet effective, exercise has been around for decades. According to the Oxford Dictionary the term originated in the 1930s. It’s named after Royal H. Burpee, an American psychologist and physical education advocate who worked for the Greater New York YMCA for more than 50 years, The Washington Post’s Vicky Hallett reported. The exercise was used as part of a test “in which a series of burpees are executed in rapid succession, designed to measure agility and coordination,” the dictionary entry states.
The exercise has evolved to include many variations. It can be done without the push-up, rising up on one’s toes instead of jumping, or for beginners, extending one leg back at a time rather than both feet together.
Regardless of which variation is done, Llorente said, all of them are “pretty intense.” To prepare for the attempt on the record, she said she spent three months training. Her regimen included three burpee sessions a week, with each session lasting anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to two hours, she said.
Llorente said breaking the record was tough. In an interview with the Project, she said didn’t do burpees for an hour nonstop. Instead she said she did them “in little blocks,” about 25 reps per minute, taking short rests in between.
At the 30-minute mark, she said she wondered if she could keep going.
“It’s the breathing and the mental aspects that’s challenging,” she said. “I suppose that’s kind of hard to see, because that’s on the inside.”
Seeing the negative reactions to her achievement hasn’t been easy, Llorente said, adding that the much of the criticism has overshadowed the purpose behind her goal to break the record.
“It’s been emotional,” she said. “It’s hard not to take it personally. At the end of the day, it is different to what we do in the gym. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. It’s just upsetting people think it’s okay to be so critical.”
For now, the record is still unofficial. Documentation still needs to be sent to Guinness and verified, Llorente said. But she’s trying not to worry about whether the critics could affect her chances.
“If it impacts the outcome, so be it,” she said. “I did this as a personal challenge. I did it to raise money for MS.”
And while a single attempt to complete more than 1,000 burpees already seems crazy, Llorente said she wouldn’t be opposed to another try.
“I might consider doing it again,” she said.
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