Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

The burpee is a popular exercise favored by the military, athletic trainers, and fitness enthusiasts. To know the burpee is to love or loathe it (or both) for its high level of intensity that stretches the boundaries of endurance. The exercise can be simple yet demanding, but the gains certainly make the pain worthwhile. In exchange for a little time, exertion, and persistence, the burpee can help you achieve and maintain a higher level of overall fitness without special equipment or gym memberships.

What Are Burpees?

The burpee is a series of movements that can be a standalone workout or part of circuit training. It typically involves a repeated cycle of squats, pushups, and jumps. Trainers have developed many burpee variations for a range of body types and experience levels. Widely used versions include:

  • Beginner – no push-up
  • Basic – a popular version often displayed in magazines
  • Jack – adds a jumping jack-style movement
  • Sit-Thru – core-intensive, rotational movements
  • Renegade Row to Press – row and press movements that focus more on the back, core, and shoulders
  • Spiderman – advanced variation that targets shoulders, chest, core, triceps, and legs
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Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

A Brief History

Royal H. Burpee invented his signature exercise routine as a doctoral student in 1939. He was seeking to create a workout that would provide overall conditioning and test fitness levels quickly. Burpee wanted an exercise that required little time and no equipment or required participant count. Burpee tested and promoted his idea through his work with the New York YMCA. His exercise achieved immortality when military officers adopted it for training recruits during World War II. By the time the troops returned home, burpees had become a deeply entrenched exercising routine that gained popularity among athletes, physical education teachers, and other groups as well.

Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

Burpee vs. Other Exercises

Studies suggest whole-body workouts like burpees are typically more effective than exercises that work only one muscle group. Researchers at the College of New Jersey found burpees elicit a greater metabolic response than traditional weight training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research published a study noting burpees produce metabolic and cardiorespiratory results equivalent to sprint interval cycling, and the participants reported the burpees were easier to execute.

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Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

Burn Calories

Full-body workouts turn up the heat on calories and help with weight management, melting away to 50 percent more fat than moderate exercising. A person who weighs 150 pounds could burn approximately ten calories per minute with burpees. Enough reps can promote a caloric deficit, leading to weight loss. It is not necessary to do sets of burpees for extended periods; just one 10-minute workout melts away 100 calories. Furthermore, the aggressive exercise boosts your metabolism for hours afterward, so your body will continue burning calories throughout the day.

Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

Build Strength

Burpees are a prime functional fitness workout. They utilize your own weight to help strengthen your entire body and help you achieve weight and fitness goals and carry out daily activities with more stamina. Your arms may shake and your legs may feel heavy, but these are signs that your muscles are getting stronger.

Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

Increase Circulation

Researchers observe that exercise provides unique and immediate circulatory and vascular benefits. It also improves long-term circulation by promoting the development of collateral blood vessels that pump more blood and oxygen to the extremities. Whole-body workouts like burpees strengthen and expand the circulatory system and help make it more flexible. A stronger circulatory system can boost athletic performance.

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Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

Tone and Condition

Burpees work the arms, chest, core, hamstrings, butt, and quadriceps. Consequently, the physique achieves more definition. Burpees can help you condition your body quickly for a new sport or challenging physical activity like a marathon. Proper form is essential to reduce the risk of injury and achieve all the benefits of the exercise.

Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

Bolster Endurance

Research indicates calisthenic exercises promote endurance and cardiovascular strength because several muscle groups work simultaneously, increasing the body’s demand for oxygen. With consistent practice, your body will learn to utilize oxygen more efficiently. Practice will also enable you to perform burpees more quickly and become stronger.

Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

The Ultimate Portable Workout

The only equipment you need to perform burpee cycles is your own body, so you can keep up with your routine wherever you are. A study of Army Reserve cadets found that a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise regimen can be an immensely effective way to maintain fitness without equipment. Burpees are an ideal HIIT program on their own or as part of an overall intensive workout.

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Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain


Doing burpees correctly does not typically cause problems. However, individuals with back pain should not attempt burpees, and people with vertigo may find they cause dizziness. Seek the guidance of a fitness expert to ensure your form is correct and balanced — improper movements may increase the risk of injury.

Burpees: Embrace the Pain for the Gain

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