Pros and cons of different burpee variations – Burpees are mainly used as a full-body calisthenics workout that aims to build muscle-endurance and strength-endurance in both your lower and upper body. A standard burpee exercise targets mainly the muscles in your legs, hips, buttocks, abdomen, arms, chest, and shoulders. Using burpees as an assessment tool is a very useful way of discovering new weaknesses and performance markers.
Burpees as a test
Burpees can be more than just a full body exercise. I personally use burpees with my clients for 2 main reasons:
1 – Economy of movement – having the control to breathe and move correctly rep after rep as the heart rate increases, is a great way to conserve energy and teach clients about the economy of movement. I’ve used the 7 min burpee tests with a few of my clients and their earliest results were around 50 burpees in 7 min. Those same clients can now push 90-100 burpees in 7 min without major changes in body weight.
2 – Working capacity in specific considerations in training – I mainly have 2 types of clients, 1- the client that wants to lose unwanted body fat, improve their overall body composition. 2- clients who have performance goals in either CrossFit, Triathlons, marathon running, cycle events or team sport while recovering from training niggles, recurring injuries or persistent long term injuries. Both sets of clients can be tested every 8-10 weeks on a 3 / 7 min burpee tests. This test pushes them far enough to assess their working capacity in a test where the whole body is required in a own body weighted setting without additional equipment. This test does so repeating the same movement over and over again and requires them to perform outside their comfort zone. Getting used to being uncomfortable brings out the ‘best’ in people.
What is the ideal burpee approach for YOU?
I propose 3 variations:
Normal / fast / aggressive:
This is the burpee as we know it. The version where we go all out and see how many you can do in a short amount of time. This is the one where people usually cheat on their movement by not completing a full rep or cheat on the number of burpees they claim to have completed. It’s demanding, taxing and no one’s favorite. A full rep count as having both your hips and chest on the floor and coming up to full hip extension. Many coaches add a jump because its not possible to jump correctly without fully extending the hip. If you add a jump it’s a full rep and hard to cheat that.
- Great for short workouts where you have to give it your all.
- Great to get as many reps as possible in a given time , preferable a short time of less than 3 min.
- Incredibly taxing on the arms and shoulders due to you needing to catch yourself and your full weight coming down on the ground. It’s also very taxing because the faster you move the more oxygen you are sending to the working muscles. The entire purpose is to work as fast as possible but this means you burn out quick.
2. Paced / gentle:
This version still requires you to complete a full rep with chest and hips touching the floor and coming up into a fully extended way. Notice how I’m falling with less effort onto my hand. This dramatically decreases the eccentric load on my arms and shoulders therefore pacing my efforts and enabling me to do more burpees in the long run.
- Ideal for setting up a large amount of burpees where max burpees are required over periods longer than 3 min. In some cases 7 min where pacing and the amount of burpees per minute and maintained over a period of time is essential.
- Your burpee count here per minute is much lower than the fast and aggressive burpee. Although you can do more reps over time you simply cannot match the number of burpees per minute vs a fast burpee.
3. Low risk / rehab specific:
This is a very handy version to specific exercise considerations. I use this version for clients who have a history of lower back issues, knee and hip considerations. Notice how one leg is always straight , this is typically the leg or joint that has specific considerations and the amount of flexion to extension need to be limited. Keeping 1 leg straight also lessen the strain on the SI joint in the hip and lower back area and helps the lower back remain straighter than normal burpees where constant flexion to extension is not ideal and leads to further irritation of the joint.
- It’s a great version to test clients with consideration how their working capacity if coming on during later phases of rehab. It also a great way to test and push clients with considerations a bit further who are used to doing burpees and feel they want to get back into it.
- Its very slow, but for these clients that’s a good thing, its still challenging and a very handy version.
Norms for testing the 3 / 7 min burpee tests
Over the past decade I’ve used these norms to test hundreds of client’s working capacity in either a 3 min for beginner / intermediate / specific training considerations and 7 min versions for the more advanced and elite athletes. These markers provide insights into the performance and state of my clients and provides a good base for you to compare your number with others.
The main approach of the test is to maintain a certain amount of burpees every minute. I’ve seen athletes bang out 20-25 burpees in a minute and burn out the rest of the test. The main goal is to establish a steady pace and maintain that pace throughout the test, that is the real challenge.
Compare your test scores with the table once you have completed either the 3 min or 7 min burpee test with the burpee variation of your choice. This will give you an indication of where your current abilities lie. I’ve seen a massive performance carry over from this test to other short-medium performance based test especially in CrossFit. I recommend retesting after 10 to 12 weeks and compare your stats with your 1st attempt. The goal is to move up in a performance ranking every 3 months.
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