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Burpees: A powerful way to burn fat and sculpt muscles
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Burpees: A powerful way to burn fat and sculpt muscles

Touted for its strength and cardio benefits, the popular bodyweight exercise is an effective calorie burner that can be incorporated into any fitness routine
Burpees are a compound bodyweight exercise that provides the benefits of strength training and cardio
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

Burpees, one of the most intense compound bodyweight exercises, are in vogue among fitness circles. They’re definitely not for novices, and even seasoned fitness enthusiasts find them intimidating. Held in high regard for their cardio and strength benefits, the sets are usually done in intense spurts, making them an effective calorie burner and an exercise that can tire you out.

Burpees were developed by American physiologist Royal H Burpee in the late 1930s. He used them in his research project, where he analyzed the fitness levels of individuals through multiple bodyweight exercises arranged in a sequence. Later, they were adopted by the US military and gradually integrated into gym circles, now serving as an integral part of fitness routines.

Tough to master, burpees are one of the most effective full-body conditioning exercises that can be done without any equipment.

Burpees: Not for beginners

“Burpees involve compound movement, which means they engage more than two muscle groups,” says Nara Taraka Akhilesh, a strength and conditioning specialist from Hyderabad. “Activating multiple muscles, the exercise targets those in the upper and lower body simultaneously.”

However, experts sternly caution that burpees should not be performed by beginners. “They fall under high-intensity interval training, where a significant amount of calories are burned in less time,” shares Akhilesh. “While burpees can be incorporated into any workout routine, they should only be done by those who are at intermediate to advanced levels of fitness. Around 10–15 repetitions are the ideal range for everyone.”

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2022 found that incorporating burpees into regular physical education sessions at school significantly improved the endurance and cognitive capabilities of adolescents aged 15–16 years old.

Benefits of burpees

The health benefits of the compound exercise are widespread, which include:

  • Burpees aid in weight loss and strengthen the cardiovascular system.
  • They target multiple muscle groups, including the arms, shoulders, coreglutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.
  • Besides improving stamina, they also enhance the strength and conditioning of the muscles.
  • The exercise can be easily incorporated into any fitness routine or sports training activity.
  • No equipment is needed to perform burpees, and they can be done anywhere – in gyms, parks, at home or even while traveling.

Experts provide a step-by-step guide for performing burpees, emphasizing that the exercise should only be attempted by those at intermediate to advanced levels of fitness

Precautions to take while performing burpees

Since burpees involve jumping in the air, they put additional load on the ankles and lower back muscles when one lands. “While jumping, you must land on the toes instead of the ankles. Failing to do so poses an injury risk since it’s a plyometric movement where the body jerks while performing,” advises Akhilesh.

Some use burpees as a warm-up exercise; however, Akhilesh advises against it. Burpees should not be done without proper warm-up and muscle activation. In addition, those with hypertension should avoid the exercise since it increases the heart rate, which can be detrimental for them. While burpees can be done barefoot, it’s recommended to wear shoes with good soles and ankle support.

Those getting back to working out after a sabbatical or returning from an injury should not do burpees. Instead, basic strength training should be done to condition the muscles first. “If someone is returning from an injury, they should focus on strength training for the first three to four weeks. Once their fitness levels have improved, they can start doing burpees gradually,” adds Akhilesh. “People can begin with a simpler form of the exercise, such as inclined burpees.”

Takeaways

  • Burpees are an intense bodyweight exercise that provides benefits of both strength training and cardio.
  • Beginners should avoid this exercise. It’s meant for those at intermediate to advanced levels of fitness.
  • You should land on your toes instead of your ankles while jumping, as the latter can increase the risk of injuries. In addition, those returning to exercising after a sabbatical or an injury should focus on strength training for the first three to four weeks before doing burpees.

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