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The variety of exercise options available to everyone nowadays is mind-boggling, but there’s something to be said for simplicity – and for those craving a back-to-basics fitness approach, the burpee will become your new best friend.
It’s one relatively straightforward exercise that almost anyone can do – without any kit – that works out the entire body. It sounds too good to be true, but don’t fret – the catch will quickly become apparent when every muscle starts quivering 20 reps in.
Doing burpees is a full-body workout in every sense. They build strength and endurance, raise your heart rate and burn bundles of calories, while also testing your balance and co-ordination.
The variety of movements involved and muscles worked means the benefits of burpees will be obvious in your daily life, as every physical challenge becomes that little bit easier to conquer.
The classic burpee is a four-point move. From a standing position, drop into a squat with your hands on the ground just in front of your feet. Then kick your feet back behind you, keeping your arms extended so you are in a raised plank position. At this stage, the more adventurous can throw a press-up into the mix, which really ramps up the difficulty.
In the basic burpee, you remain in the raised plank and jump your feet back towards your hands. Then round off the manoeuvre by leaping into the air with your arms straight above you. Then do it all again.
Burpees can be incorporated into circuit training, used to warm up before other exercises or done over and over again to act as your entire workout.
The 100 burpee challenge is a good way to approach the latter: just do 100 as quickly as you can. The first 15 shouldn’t take much over a minute, but the rest will take a lot longer. Any time under ten minutes for the full 100 is pretty darn impressive.
The burpee ladder is another way to build a workout around this king of all exercises. Start with ten burpees, have a quick rest, then do nine, eight and so on. If you’re feeling brave, do burpees, press-ups and sit-ups on every rung. It’s a weird feeling to view sit-ups as a welcome break.
“There is a lot going on when you do a burpee,” says trainer Dan Baldwin of Six3Nine. “This means there's the potential to make the burpee harder and reduce the amount you can do, which means you're wasting energy and reducing the exercise's effectiveness.” Follow this five-point form guide to perfect the burpee and reap the worthwhile rewards, then use these tips when taking on the ruthlessly efficient burpee workout we've devised below.
“The burpee can put a lot of stress through your ankles, knees and wrists,” says Baldwin. “Make sure you're thoroughly warmed up and you've done some mobility work, including press-ups, lunges and squats, to loosen up the joints.”
“The burpee can be complex so to start with, split the move into two parts: a squat thrust and a deep squat jump. Make sure you are comfortable with each phase of the exercise before combining the two.”
“For the squat thrust make sure your shoulders are directly over your hands, and your legs are extended into a press-up position. When jumping your feet in and out, keep your shoulders above your hands – don't let them move backwards or forwards.”
“For the deep squat make sure your hips are sitting back and try to keep your chest as upright as possible. Explode up and ensure you cushion your landing by bending the knees as you make contact with the floor.”
“Once you're happy you can perform both with good form, add the two together. Your arms can play a part here and as you transition from the squat thrust to the squat jump, swing your arms forwards and above your head for maximum height.”
Now you’ve got the move down, add this dynamic burpee workout to your training sessions. It will build up your tolerance to the lactic acid inevitably flooding your legs and help increase your anaerobic performance for a fitness boost with a large scoop of fat-burning benefits.
First, find out your maximum set by doing as many burpees as you can before having to stop. Reduce that number slightly, and perform three sets with a 30-second rest between. For example, if your maximum set is 20, rest for 30 seconds then do 15 for your working set, rest another 30 seconds, then repeat a further two times. Now breathe, hard.
Select your burpee punishment for the above workout from the five devilish options below, ranked in order of malevolence
From standing, drop and place your hands on the floor outside your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position, then back to between your hands. Jump up, clapping your hands overhead.
Target: cardio, quads
Evil rating: strict parent
From standing, drop and place your hands on the floor outside your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position, perform one chest-to-floor press-up, then jump your feet back to between your hands. Jump up, clapping your hands overhead.
Target: cardio, quads, chest, triceps
Evil rating: overbearing personal trainer
From standing, drop and place your hands on the floor outside your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position, then back to between your hands. Powerfully jump forwards as far as you can, swinging your arms by your side for momentum. Land and continue straight into the next rep.
Target: cardio, quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes
Evil rating: school bully
Stand under a pull-up bar. Drop your hands to the floor, jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up and back to your hands, then jump up to the bar and perform a pull-up. When your chin is above your hands, you’ve completed one rep.
Target: cardio, quads, back
Evil rating: psycho boss
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand by your side. Drop and place the dumbbells on the floor outside your feet. Keep holding them as you jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position. Brace your core to keep your hips static and row one dumbbell up towards your armpit on one side and back to the floor, then the other. Jump your feet back to between your hands and, holding the dumbbells, drive up through your heels to jump off the floor with the weights by your sides.
Target: cardio, quads, chest, back, triceps
Evil rating: sadistic despot