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Should we do burpees?

I've spent much of my exercise career torturing people with burpees. There's something about being able to do ridiculous amounts of burpees that make some of us feel hard core. Super human. Bad assess. But as I've furthered my human movement education, I can no longer ignore the fact that they're not the best idea.

The main problem* is simple: Many people do burpees with really poor form. And if done repeatedly over time, this could lead to back issues. Ultimately, burpees take a lot of hip mobility, a flat back, and solid core strength to execute well. Very few people have all these magic ingredients.


The picture here is of a very popular YouTuber doing burpees during her online workout. Notice the curve of her spine as she comes out of her burpee. This isn't ideal positioning during rapid movement, especially when repeated over and over and under fatigue. Think of a thin willow branch: If you take it in your hands and bend it over and over again, it will demonstrate flexibility. But if you bend it enough times, it'll eventually wear down and break. If the branch is thicker, it will snap sooner. This is a fantastic analogy for the spine. Thin people with thin spines will be able to get away with this type of movement for a longer time than someone with a thick spine, though it's likely to catch up with them. And people with low back pain--whether their spine is thin or thick--will find burpees only aggravate their troubles.


Let's say, for argument's sake, you have a thin spine, amazing mobility, fantastic form, and no pre-existing back conditions. What, exactly, are burpees accomplishing? I really can't come up with a good answer. If you need intense cardio, there are a myriad of options that aren't hard on the spine. If you want more leg work, do squats or lunges. It's easier to do these exercises and focus on good form while executing them when you're taking your time. All this said, if burpees really float your boat and you have perfect form, then go for it!


Letting go of burpees was hard for me because I'm a sadist who found burpees fun; plus, it can be hard to let them go when they're so popular in HIIT formatting. But my back, which is now pain free, has absolutely thanked me for taking them out of my life. And guess what? Neither my clients' nor my muscles have shriveled up and our cardio hasn't suffered. If I ever made you suffer through burpees, my sincerest apologies. I know better these days. And now so do you.


*For the purposes of this article, I'm focusing on the low back as we come in and out of the floor portion of the burpee. I also see many faults due to a weak core when in the full plank/push-up portion of the burpee. People with shoulder instability will also have poor form moving rapidly into a plank position.

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