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We Hate Burpees. But Why?

The burpee is the most maligned movement in CrossFit, but is it time to give it a second chance?

It’s discrimination, if you stop and think about it. I mean, burpees didn’t do anything to anyone, did they?

I personally would vote for thrusters in terms of a movement that I dread seeing listed in a WOD, but if you cruise through social media and apparel companies, there seems to be an overwhelming dislike for the burpee.

First, I think we should take a look at what we are dealing with. According to an online description, a burpee is described as “a basic movement performed in four steps and known as a “four-count burpee:”

  1. Begin in a standing position.
  2. Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground (count 1).
  3. Kick your feet back while keeping your arms extended (count 2).
  4. Immediately return your feet to the squat position (count 3).
  5. Jump up from the squat position (count 4).

There is nothing exceedingly difficult about the individual components of this movement. Squat, kick your feet back, push-up, kick your feet forward, squat and jump. Done, easy, not a problem. But when repeated in sets, this movement leaves people writhing on the ground.

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I’ll admit that there have been a few burpee encounters that have left me with a dislike for this unassuming activity. About four years ago, our box started a 100-day burpee challenge. On Day One, you do one burpee. No problem! Day Two, you do two, easy. Day Three, Four, Five, I’ve got this. You get the idea, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the way this challenge would consume my life.

When you get to, say, Day 78, for example, you don’t just simply drop and pop out 78 unbroken burpees. It’s better to space them out throughout the day: a set of five during the pre-WOD warm-up, 10 during lunch, 15 at practice, 20 before dinner, sets of 10 during commercials. And finally, by the time you go to bed, you have your 78 done! Until you realize tomorrow, you have 79 to do. And it didn’t stop for holidays or family get-togethers. I got up on Christmas morning, did 20 burpees, opened presents with the family and went back to do 20 more in the basement by myself.

Then there was the infamous seven minutes of burpees during the 2011 CrossFit Open. Simple to program and literally thousands of people signed up for the Open thinking, It’s just burpees. I can do those. Turns out the joke was on us. That workout was brutal and also not the last time burpees have appeared in the Open, Regionals or Games.

But despite these arduous encounters, the burpee itself is very innocuous. There’s no heavy barbell or kettlebell. There’s no intense gymnastics element like a pull-up or handstand push-up or even a rope climb. It can be done alone or in combination with a box jump, muscle-up or pull-up and is occasionally served up as a punishment for leaving equipment laying out at the gym.

I don’t know that I, or many others, will ever like burpees, but maybe they have just gotten a bad rap. Is it time for everyone to give burpees a second chance?

Do any of you love burpees? I know there have to be some people out there who actually look forward to these. Share your stories.

Stay on the Grind.