You are probably familiar with interval training, the holy grail of fat-loss workouts. In interval training, you alternate between periods of intense work and active recovery. There is a ton of research to show how effective interval training is for fat loss and improving fitness. A recent study in the Journal of Physiology found that interval training at a high intensity on a bike can provide all the health and fitness benefits of riding continuously but more slowly for a far longer period of time. Short bursts working at 75 percent of your maximum heart rate or higher will boost your metabolism, burn more fat at rest, and earn you the muscular physique of a sprinter rather than the slight frame of an endurance athlete. Another bonus: Interval-training sessions
can be completed in 20 to 30 minutes or fewer, and all it takes is several weekly sessions to get great results—making this training style the ideal solution for busy people needing to burn belly fat.
Whether or not you are pressed for time, you should incorporate interval training (also called metabolic training) into your fitness program. In the next chapter, you’ll learn my eight favorite bodyweight cardio moves that I believe will soon become your favorites, too. But first, let’s take a long look at the biggest, baddest cardio-interval-metabolic exercise of all time. If I were imprisoned on a desert island and my evil captors locked me in a cage only about the length of my body, I could still stay in fighting shape by doing only one exercise in that limited space—the Burpee.
The Burpee is the baddest bodyweight exercise in existence, an incredible whole-body muscle builder, fat burner, and metabolism booster that will also make you more athletic for sport. Pure and simple, Burpees suck! If you’ve done them, you know what I mean. A workout of Burpees is like going several rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime. When my boot campers or clients hear that Burpees are on the agenda for a workout, they take a deep breath, a heavy gulp, and pray to the fitness gods for courage to get through the hellfire coming their way.
The Burpee movement can be traced to the work of American physiologist Royal H. Burpee in the 1930s. He developed the move as a quick and easy test to assess total-body fitness. The exercise continued to gain popularity through use in military boot camps and, later, as the calisthenic cardio exercise of choice in gym classes and athletic practices worldwide.
This ultimate equipment-free total-body exercise consists of a series of smooth and fluid movements that take your body from full standing to a Pushup position and back. It combines hip hinging, squatting, planking, pushing, and jumping movements into one seamless sweat maker. No other exercise works more muscles and burns more calories per minute than the big nasty Burpee. Perfect execution of this move is also a sign of elite athleticism and functional fitness. Did I mention that they suck?
The Burpee is a whole-body up-and-down metabolic nightmare. And it’s complicated to perform, which is why it is often bastardized by those who attempt it without proper instruction. It’s fraught with problems. But I’m about to show you how to properly perform the Burpee and make some instant modifications that will immediately boost performance and reduce the risk of injury. Plus, I provide you with a five-step exercise progression system that will have you going beast mode with Burpees in no time! The result will be a more refined Burpee routine that very well may break your heart, mind, and soul but not your body. That we’ll leave to Mr. Tyson.
HOW TO PERFORM THE PERFECT BURPEE
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Squat down low enough so that your hands touch the floor without rounding your lower back and while keeping your feet flat. Kick your legs back into a Pushup position with your back flat and then quickly return to the squatting position. Stand and repeat. That’s 1 rep of a Burpee. You can also add a full-range-of-motion Pushup while in the Pushup position and add a jump when standing up from the Deep Squat position. Now before you go nuts with this, start out slowly and get the movement down. There are several ways to instantly improve your Burpee performance.
Perform it through a modified range of motion with your hands placed on a stable low box, step, couch, or ottoman. This move, the Low-Box Burpee, is the ground zero exercise in my Burpee progression.
Use a wider stance with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. This makes it easier to get your hands on the floor because it doesn’t require as much range of motion at the hips. In turn, this makes it easier to keep your back flat so you don’t look like a crouching fool in the bottom position.
Really slow down the movement and break it up into its component parts. On the next two pages, you’ll learn how to do a special Burpee mobility test that isolates each move and determines if you are flexible enough to do Burpees without risk of injury. This movement screen is called the Blocked-Feet Burpee Mobility Test. By “blocked feet” I mean feet together. You should keep your feet together throughout the assessment.
Blocking your feet together makes the movement harder, but it forces you to learn good squatting and jumping mechanics because it makes you keep your feet flat, toes forward, and knees out. One of the scariest things I’ve seen with Burpees is how much the knees can collapse inward during the squatting or landing portions of the exercise, opening up the exercise to the risk of an ACL tear. With your feet together, the farthest your knees can drive inward is until they touch, which is still a safe position.
Because blocked feet force you through a greater range of motion, you naturally must slow down the movement, which is safer. In addition, it makes it easier for you to engage your core, because you can squeeze your legs together and clench your glutes better. This is particularly important for protecting your lower back when transitioning in and out of the Pushup position.
When performing the Blocked-Feet Burpee test, be sure to use the proper Hip-Hinge technique you learned in Chapter 6. Do each step in the movement on the next page slowly as if each were a separate rep. Practice your form and evaluate your mobility. Master this and you will be ready for the feet-apart Burpee and its many fat-torching iterations.
Blocked-Feet Burpee Mobility Test
YOU CAN USE THIS TEST AS A WARMUP OR ACTIVE RECOVERY BETWEEN WORKOUTS.
1. THE START: Assume a standing hollow-body position with your feet placed together in tripod foot position. If you start in a strong and stable position, you have a better chance of finishing in a strong and stable position.
• Keep your legs and feet together.
2. PLACE YOUR HANDS ON THE FLOOR: Push your knees out and perform a Hip Hinge, placing your palms flat on the floor directly underneath your shoulders. If you can’t get your palms flat on the floor without rounding your back, it means that you’re missing motion at your hips and hamstrings and you’re better suited to performing a Low-Box Burpee.
• Minimize movement of your lower back.
• It’s okay to bend your knees.
• Heels down
3. JUMP YOUR FEET BACK INTO A PLANK: Depending on your fitness level, you can either hold this top Pushup (or Plank) position or perform a full-range-of-motion Pushup, keeping your forearms perpendicular to the floor throughout. A Low-Box Burpee allows you to perform an easier Hands-Elevated Pushup.
• Perform a full Pushup (optional).
• Squeeze your glutes.
• Plank position
• Vertical forearms
4. JUMP YOUR FEET FORWARD INTO A SQUAT: Still keeping your feet together, drive your hips forward, pull your knees to your chest, and try to replace your hands with your feet so that your feet land right underneath your hips. You should land into the bottom of a Squat with your back flat, knees out, feet flat on the floor, and your arms fully extended in front of your body for counterbalance.
• Extend your arms as a counterbalance.
• Knees out
• Shins vertical
• Land with flat feet.
5. JUMP UPWARD: From the Squat position, forcefully extend your ankles, knees, and hips and reach your arms overhead. While airborne, you should assume a hollow-body position with your feet and legs together, armpits forward, and toes pointing down, This will provide you with the most core and shoulder stability midair.
• Raise your arms overhead as you leap.
• Bring your legs together and point your feet.
6. LAND INTO THE NEXT REP: As the balls of your feet touch the ground with your feet still together, immediately bend your knees, drop your feet flat, and push your hips back. Your trunk will bend forward for counterbalance, which is fine as long as you keep your back flat. Land as softly as possible, with your shins perpendicular to the floor to protect your knees.
• Pause before kicking back into a Plank.
• Land softly; keep your shins vertical.
How did you do? If you struggled with any one of (or all of) the individual components—Hip Hinge, Squat, Pushup, jumping and landing—then you aren’t ready for Burpees. Go back and practice the components separately and in combo until you can pass the test.
Yeah... the Burpee is complicated. That’s because it’s a bodyweight combination movement, which requires the greatest degree of total-body coordination and control. Once you can pass the Blocked-Feet Burpee Mobility Test, use it as a warmup or for active recovery work between workouts. For best results, I would perform a couple sets of 5 to 10 reps every day. It’s a corrective exercise that will make all other Burpees way easier to perform. Just be sure to do it super slow and with intention, holding and feeling every key position, so it takes about 10 seconds or so to perform each rep. If you really struggle with it, use the low-box setup and wide foot placement. It also never hurts to start with slower tempos and gradually build to faster tempos as you get deeper into your workout. From there, follow the Levels 1 through 5 progressions below.
Though not everyone can do Levels 3 to 5 on the floor, almost everyone can do them with a low-box setup that’s elevated to knee height or higher. Always remember to take control of your workout and regress your Burpees as much as needed. Note that for the unilateral Burpee variations seen in Levels 3 through 5, you can perform all of your reps on one side and then switch sides from set to set, switch sides at the halfway mark of a given time-based work period, or alternate between sides every rep within the same work set.
THE BURPEE PROGRESSION
Level 1 Ground Zero
• Feet should be spread.
• The lower the box, the harder the move.
• You can add a Pushup here.
• Jump your feet back into a Plank.
• Jump your feet forward.
• Stand and repeat.
Level 2 Beginner
• Perform a Hinging Squat.
• Hands should be flat.
• Add a Pushup for extra work.
• Don’t round your back.
• Feet flat
• Come to a full stand or add a jump at the top to make it harder.
Level 3 Intermediate
• Upper back will round slightly.
• Add a Pushup to make it more challenging.
• You can add a Single-Leg Jump here.
• Heel down
• Repeat the exercise with the opposite leg up.
Level 4 Advanced
• Swing arm back for counterbalance.
• Feeling strong enough to add a full Pushup?
• You can add a jump here.
• Repeat using the opposite arm.
Level 5 Superhero
SINGLE-ARM, SINGLE-LEG BURPEE
• Place your hand directly under your shoulder.
• Use your arm as a counterbalance.
• Keep your hips and shoulders square to the floor.
• Add a jump here if you dare!
• Land your foot forward enough so your shin is nearly vertical.
• Stand before repeating the exercise. Switch sides every rep or every set.
THE BACKWARD BURPEE
The Backward Burpee is the opposite of the classic Burpee, which means it’s done supine (facing up) instead of facing the floor. From a standing position, you perform a Deep Squat and sit down on the floor, then do a Backward Roll while keeping your abs crunched and braced and swinging your legs above you. Now, roll forward to move from a lying to a standing position without touching the floor with your hands or arms (you will, however, swing your arms forward for momentum). This makes the Backward Burpee more lower-body intensive than a regular Burpee. Eventually, you’re going to do this on only one leg at a time for an amazing body fat burner.
Outlined below and on the following pages is a complete step-by-step exercise progression sequence to take you from ground zero to superhero. You start learning how to safely roll on your back and progress to moving from a Roll to a Squat to standing and back. From there, you gradually build up the strength, balance, stability, and mobility to be able to roll from your back to a Single-Leg Squat to standing and back. In fact, Rolling Squats and Rolling Pistol Squats are great stepping-stone exercises to prepare you for the demands of Deep Squats and Pistol Squats. The added momentum you generate with your arms and legs as you roll backward and forward makes it easier to stand up from a Deep Squat position, especially on one leg. Really focus on reaching your arms as far in front of your body as you can when rolling forward. Your trunk will bend forward, which is fine as long as you keep your back flat. You also have to get your feet directly underneath your hips as you transition to the Deep Squat position or you’ll tip back a bit. Kick any of the Rolling Squat variations into overdrive by adding a jump at the top of the movement.
Rolling on your thoracic through lumbar spine, or your upper through lower back using Backward Burpees, is a great way to make your spine more supple. The key thing to focus on is maintaining a hollow-body position and keeping your abs fully crunched and flexed as you roll one vertebra at a time. Where you can get into trouble is if you lose the braced core position and let your lower back hyperextend when you make contact with the ground. Avoid rolling onto your head and neck, which often happens when you let your legs come too far back behind your body instead of straight up to the sky as they should. I prefer to reach my arms overhead to make ground contact as I roll back because it allows me to prevent too much weight from shifting toward my neck. Going very slowly in the beginning, especially when rolling back, will clean up your technique. Finally, be sure to use a softer surface to roll onto like carpet, grass, or a padded mat to make the exercise a bit more comfortable.
If you find it too difficult to perform this move from the floor, modify it in a similar way as you did with the Burpee by using a low box setup. Basically, you perform a Rolling Box Squat where you rock your body back and lift your feet off the floor after moving into the seated position on the box, all while keeping your abs braced and flexed. Then you rock forward and quickly put your feet back on the ground and directly underneath your hips to stand right back up and repeat. You can, of course, progress to doing this on one leg at a time or adding a jump to the top of the movement.
THE BACKWARD BURPEE PROGRESSION
Level 1 Ground Zero
• Sit and roll back.
• Crunch your abs throughout the exercise.
• Stay off your neck.
• Keep your legs together as you lift them toward the ceiling.
• Flatten your arms against the floor as you roll onto your upper back.
• Swing and reach your arms forward for counterbalance.
• Let momentum carry you forward into a Deep Squat, and then reverse the move and repeat.
Level 2 Beginner
• Vertical shins.
• Compress your belly into your thighs as you roll back.
• Maintain hollow-body position.
• Swing your legs down to roll into a Squat.
• Push your knees out.
Level 3 Intermediate
2 LEGS DOWN, 1 LEG UP
• Start on 2 legs.
• Squat, then roll back.
• Tuck 1 knee to your chest.
• Roll up onto your working leg.
• Reach your leg forward for counterbalance.
• Your upper back will round slightly.
• Vertical shin Stand to finish on 1 leg.
Level 4 Advanced
1 LEG DOWN, 2 LEGS UP
• Start on 1 leg.
• Elevate your leg.
• Compress your belly into your thighs.
• Roll back, keeping your core braced.
• Bring feet and legs together.
• Roll up onto 2 legs.
• Vertical shins
• Finish by standing or add a jump.
Level 5 Superhero
SINGLE-LEG BACKWARD BURPEE OR ROLLING PISTOL SOUAT
• Start on 1 leg.
• Move into a Pistol Squat to roll back.
• Elevate your leg.
• Keep crunching your abs.
• Roll onto your shoulders and arms.
• Tuck 1 knee to your chest.
• Keep your weight on the center of your foot.
• Stand to finish on 1 leg.
• Squeeze your glutes at the top.
THE SUPER BURPEE
If you’re looking for one move that’s guaranteed to put an “S” on your chest, it’s this grotesque gut-buster. The Super Burpee combines a regular Burpee with a Backward Burpee for the best of both Burpee worlds.
Here are a handful of my favorite Super Burpee variations.
•Burpee and Backward Burpee (jump at the top of both movements)
•Single-Leg Burpee and Single-Leg Backward Burpee
•Single-Arm Burpee and Single-Leg Backward Burpee
•Skater Jump Super Burpee (perform a Skater Jump on each side at the transition between a Burpee and Backward Burpee)
•Mountain Climber Burpee (perform 3 to 5 seconds of Mountain Climbers when in the Pushup position of a regular Burpee)
THE WORKOUT FROM HELL
One of the bonus workouts in the Men’s Health DeltaFit Speed Shred DVD series is called “The Workout from Hell” and features 60 minutes of nothing but Burpees. You alternate between 60 seconds of work and 60 seconds of rest for 30 total rounds, starting with the easiest Burpees in the beginning (Level 1) and progressing to harder Burpees from round to round, but only if you’re ready for them. I’ve received tweets and Facebook messages from people around the world saying that this was the most challenging and most rewarding workout they’ve ever done. If 60 minutes is too long, just cut down the number of rounds as needed to completely customize your workout. Even five rounds will give you a great bodyweight cardio workout, and it only takes 10 minutes!
OTHER BURPEE VARIATIONS
To make Burpees more challenging, add other bodyweight cardio exercises at various points during the exercise. The following movements can be added when in the standing position.
•Running or shuffling in place
•Any standing lower-body exercise (Squats, Lunges, Hip Hinges, Stepups, etc.)
•Punching or kicking
The following movements are appropriate to add when in the Pushup or Plank position.
•Plyometric Pushup variations
•Pushup to Plank Transfers
•Donkey Kicks and other ground-based animal movements
The options are endless when it comes to Burpees, so keep an open mind, have fun, and be creative! If you’re unfamiliar with any of these add-ons, many of them will be explained in the Body-weight 8 Cardio exercises in the next chapter.
MY FAVORITE BURPEE WORKOUT
The one knock I’ll give to the Burpee is that it doesn’t work your upper-body pulling muscles. There are a couple ways you can remedy this. One, stand underneath a pullup bar and perform a Jumping Pullup while coming out of the Deep Squat position. Two, Dead Hang from a pullup bar and/or perform Pullups as active recovery between sets of Burpees. My favorite Burpee workout is where I set the clock for 10 minutes and do as many quality Burpees as I can. I stop whenever I need to catch my breath or I feel like I’m about to sacrifice form and technique. But instead of resting and doing nothing, I jump up on a pullup bar and do as many good Pullups as possible. When I can’t do any more Pullups, I hang from the bar in a hollow-body position. When I’m ready to do Burpees again, I jump down and get back to work. Repeat this process until the time is up.