It is funny to see that if you want to get clicks, shares, comments, or whatever on a fitness post there are few better topics to go after than the burpee. I’m not sure why the burpee tends to be so polarizing versus other movements. Maybe it is the popularity they have gained over the last decade (heck, I have a hard time imagining getting clients to buy into doing burpees 20 years ago!). Maybe it is the fact that being a bodyweight exercise people think they are very accessible and very low risk of injury. Whatever it is, the burpee is always a hot topic for many, but I thought I would be crazy and try to give a logical approach to them (nuts nowadays I know!).
Is the burpee dangerous? Well, no more so than really any exercise. Are push-ups dangerous? If you do them badly! Are squat dangerous, if you do them badly. Are pull-ups dangerous? If you do them badly, okay, I think you see my point. Any exercise done poorly can hold quite a bit of risk to them. Does that mean the anti-burpee people are wrong and being illogical?
I don’t believe so, I do get where many of them are coming from. Due to the fact they are often done with bodyweight I think people believe that the risk of the burpee is quite low. What they miss are considering these factors…..
-Burpees require a great deal of mobility in the hips! Where we see potential risk of low back issues is that large and QUICK flexion of the spine that happens on both phases of the burpee. If one doesn’t have good mobility/stability of the hips then we see rapid flexion of the spine. While I could tell you why experts like Dr. Stuart McGill say that is problematic let me give you a real world example.
Our neighbors sister started participating in a bootcamp. She is in fair shape, in her early 30’s. It was the “burpee bonanza” workout and during the 100 burpee challenge where it took one rep and she dropped down with a horrible low back injury. It was so bad that she called Jessica to look at her and Jess referred her to a doctor. The doctors almost had her go in for surgery as her disc had popped out in a pretty serious way. They wanted to shave it down, but she went for therapy and was able to calm it back down.
I’m not trying to scare you, but knowing her I knew she didn’t have the mobility or stability to do the burpee well. Combine lots of rapid flexion with fatigue and boom, we had a real life serious injury on our hands. If she possessed the mobility, stability, and fitness level to endure then it wouldn’t have been an issue, but we don’t often look to scale the burpee and build up the qualities progressively.
-You need strong glutes and core! The quick sprawl and coming back up from the burpee requires serious reactive strength of the core and glutes. We often train really slow in the gym and then all of a sudden perform an explosive drill to “condition” ourselves and we haven’t built the proper strength or reactive nature to our training.
As I’ve written quite a bit in our DVRT blogs, strength is both what we can produce and resist. This is often seen in quick and reactive situations where we can’t correct our movement, we rely on pre-programmed training on the nervous system. Basically, if we don’t train these qualities, we don’t default to them when we do them in life.
Does this all mean the burpee is dangerous and should be avoided? No, but we do need to build it up. How can we do so? Here are some ways we can use our DVRT system to build up to doing the burpee well and getting the benefits that the exercise can offer.
Bear Hug Squats
I’m a HUGE fan of HEAVY Bear Hug Squats. In fact, so much of the power of this DVRT exercise resides in going heavier and using larger Ultimate Sandbags. The tension we create against the Ultimate Sandbag combined with the leverage of the load allows us to build tremendous mobility in the hips as well as strength in the glutes and the core.
Lateral Bag Drags
Wait, we said the burpee is explosive and reactive, why are we doing a slow DVRT drill like lateral drags? The lateral drag teaches us how to engage the ground, how to react to a changing force against our body, and integrates the core from “toes to nose”. Whether it is teaching how to drop to the ground or coming from it, the stability and strength of lateral drags can go so far in developing better performance.
DVRT Master, Ara Keshishian, shows a progression of our lateral drags and how it builds capacity of not just a better burpee, but mountain climber too!
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Isn’t an exercise like the snatch far more complex than than a burpee?! Yes and no (love that answer?). In order to perform an Olympic snatch where you are getting into a full overhead squat position may be, but where tools like the Ultimate Sandbag come in so helpful is demystifying some of these classic lifts.
We aren’t needing to get into the overhead squat position, we are learning how to use our hips and core to not only take the weight overhead in one explosively movement (like dropping to the ground and sprawling out at the same time, and reversing this explosive motion) and stabilize it as well.
There has to be mobility, stability, strength, and power in this type of snatch, but we can get some easy feedback upon what we are doing right and wrong so we can maximize what the Ultimate Sandbag snatch has to offer.
The point of outlining these drills and the burpee is to demonstrate how sometimes the best way to get better at an exercise is to do other movements that make up the qualities of that movement. Don’t get stuck focusing on an exercise, think about the movement in the exercise and how we can get better at performing the movement to benefit from the exercise! It isn’t always as black and white as “good and bad”.
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