Are Burpees Good For You?
No, burpees are not good for the general fitness population. Most people do not need to do burpees in order to get in shape. Burpees are, however, really good at making people tired.
To perform a burpee safely, fitness clients need adequate scapular control, wrist mobility, torso and pelvic control, solid jump mechanics at the knees and ankles, and endurance if going for longer sets. That’s a long list of prerequisites for an exercise most coaches oversimplify and consider an accessible conditioning tool and frequently get programmed for over fifty total repetitions.
Instead, we can build a workout that deconstructs the burpee but is far safer and more effective. This comes down to strategy. Plyometric jump training should be performed first in a workout while athletes are fresh because it is highly technical in terms of mechanics and demanding on the nervous system. Next would be pushups for upper body strength in a similar position needed for the burpee. After that we would dive into stir-the-pot on a physio ball or body-saws utilizing valslides to target core stability. For metabolic conditioning, we could perform sled work, which could be moderately heavy for longer work periods for more cardiovascular endurance or lighter repeated sled sprints for high intensity interval training (HIIT). Longer endurance running or interval running is also a great alternative to burpees if the athlete maintains a healthy body weight and joints tolerate running well. Other options include the rower or wind-bikes. All of these options will be lower risk than burpees.
Now, there is 1% of the population we would program burpees for. Competitive crossfit athletes need to practice performing burpees during training purely out of specificity. If you know burpees could easily be called upon during a competition, like the Crossfit Open, they need to be practiced to ensure efficiency and safety. We would still program them sparingly and limit frequency, but they would be sprinkled in occasionally.
Now when should burpees be performed in a workout? If we want to perform burpees at the end of a workout as conditioning, we are putting the body at risk because we are asking it to perform higher level motor tasks while already under fatigue. This translates to a higher relative risk of injury. But, if we do them at the beginning of the workout, we will be tired going into our strength portion of the workout and robbing our chances of performing our heavier lifts with great form. There is no ideal spot or sequence to perform burpees during a workout for fitness clients; there are just too many better options to consider burpees the “right” tool for any job… unless you compete in crossfit.
At Barbell Therapy, we pride ourselves on collaborating with strength coaches from all schools of thought for performance, but this is a subject we take a firm stance on. “Falling with style” or performing burpees, is an unnecessarily risky move to perform when general fitness is the goal. Train smarter, get on a wind-bike or push a heavy sled while watching your heart-rate monitor skyrocket.
-Connor Bombaci PT, DPT, CSCS