Was scrolling through my Facebook feed tonight when I came across a particular article a friend of mine had posted on their wall. The article aired the personal thoughts of a pair of 'celebrity trainers' about 'the world's most hated exercise': the burpee.
You can read the article here, but the general gist is that they don't think it's an effective exercise and it shouldn't be used. While these men are entitled to their opinion and fully entitled to share it with their clients, I respectfully disagree.
Now, I'm not a personal trainer, but I've been through a few in my time and currently train under two incredible trainers at Evolving Physiques (EP). I've also done more than a few burpees in my time and, while I agree that they're no fun at all, I don't agree that they're a waste of time or ineffective. My reasons are below and reflect my personal opinion and what I have learned through my health and fitness journey.
1. Not liking an exercise is not a reason not to do it.
I no longer do cardio training at EP, as I get most of my cardio through pole training, but back in the days when I would attend regular cardio classes, you could guarantee (especially if Pat was taking the class) that there would be a burpee (or ten) thrown in there. I don't like burpees, they suck and I'd really rather be doing something else, but you know what else I don't like: renegade rows, dead hangs, resistance runs, bulgarians, one-legged sit and stands, swiss ball hip thrusts, push-ups, Russian twists, planks, bicycles, crunches... you get the gist.
Not every exercise you do is going to be fun, some exercises you will love and enjoy, but others you will go 'Oh no! Not this again!'
But you know what? Chances are high that, the more you hate that exercise, the better it is for you. For instance, I don't like push-ups because they make my shoulders tight, my core ache, my arms tense and my legs shake: but I have preserved with push-ups over the years and now, while I would never say 'Let's do some push-ups!', I can do three in a row on my toes before switching to my knees and I've gotten better at them. My body has got stronger, my level of tolerance for discomfort has increased, my knowledge of what is 'good exercise aches' and 'bad pain' has grown so I can now tell the difference. But, if I had gone the first time I went to do a push-up 'No, I don't like this, I think it's a waste of time and I'm not going to do it' then do you know where I'd be? Not here, that's for sure!
Now, if an exercise in a program is really ruining your training and taking the shine off what you're doing, then by all means talks to your trainer about it and see what they suggest. Every trainer has a different approach and, if you discuss it with them, they will be able to advise you, as you should be enjoying/getting something out of your training sessions with them.
BUT, that said, I believe an important part of training is building endurance and resilience, and if you can work through the exercise you hate, then you will be making yourself stronger, both mentally and physically, and ready for new challenges down the track. Short term discomfort* will always equal long term gain.
2. Why does an exercise have to do EVERYTHING to be 'effective'?
The trainers quoted in this article say that a burpee is only good for 'getting your heart rate up' and that it has no real application that can be transferred to any other exercise. They recommend other exercises which also give 'the benefit of explosive movement that's going to get your heart rate up but is also going to hit your hamstrings, glutes, lats and core'.
But when did a single exercise have to activate every single muscle group to be effective? Some exercises do, some exercises don't, and each is effective for various reasons and has a variety of applications. It would be like saying a bicep curl is ineffective because it doesn't work your hamstrings and glutes, or that a lunge is a waste of time because you're not exercising your pecs or triceps. See how silly that sounds? Burpees do many good things (which will come up shortly), and they may not work every single muscle group but they don't have to either. The thing about a good exercise plan undertaken with the guidance of a qualified trainer is that they can tailor it to suit your goals, needs and abilities, with a range of exercises that complement those goals and ensure you get the workout you need/want, and see some results.
Also, I don't know about you, but when I've done a few burpees in a row, I can feel it everywhere! My core, my hamstrings, my calves, my glutes, my shoulders, my arms... I couldn't help but wonder as I read these men dismiss the burpee for not working major muscle groups if they have ever actually done one, or done enough of them to have any effect. An idle thought, but they seem to assume that because they have not had/do not see any benefit to a burpee, then the exercise is useless. Exercise is different for everyone and different exercises affect different people and different bodies, well, differently! What has no effect on you may have a strong effect on someone else and vice versa. I'd hope that, as trainers, these guys know that.
3. The many benefits of a burpee
The trainers in the article say the only good thing a burpee does is get your heart rate going, and then they proceed to inform the reader that there are 'so many other tools to do that that will actually transfer over and help you in other facets of your training plan'.
You know what? That's probably true to a degree, but it's probably true of just about every cardio exercise under the sun if you take them in isolation. Also, depending on the training goals of the individual, any of the many varied types of exercise could be ineffective in terms of long term goals and results.
As far as I'm concerned, the burpee is a great way to get your heart rate up, but is also has the following benefits:
You might argue that you can get these wonderful benefits through other exercises too, and you'd be right, of course. But does that then mean that these exercises are 'better'? Of course not, no exercise is better than any other in isolation. It means that the burpee has many functions beyond getting the heart rate up and can be used accordingly. Every exercise has a variety of different benefits, and a good trainer will be able to tell you how to use these benefits to your advantage to achieve optimal results.
And one final thing...
The last thing I would like to say before I close my defence of the burpee is that the entire tone and write-up of the article bothered me intensely. The opening by-line proclaimed that these trainers had 'busted a major myth' about the burpee and revealed that 'it's not as good for us as we believe'. This is tabloid journalism at it's finest; these men were doing in that article the exact same thing I'm doing in this article: expressing their opinion. They are more than entitled to have that opinion and news sites are equally entitled to publish that opinion, but it is just that: an opinion. It should not be read as evidence based fact.
Certainly, these men have experience in their field and have done well in their chosen career path. They deserve to be commended for this and I salute them for getting to where they are now, but they have no more authority than the next trainer to decide what exercises are good for everybody and which ones should be scrapped. The article gave their opinion weight because they are 'celebrity trainers' who 'own a line of gyms' - this is great and very good for them, but, at the end of the day, they are still trainers who are training their clients (some of whom happen to be very well known celebrities) and, obviously, burpees haven't worked for them. Does that mean they are a waste of time or, as these men colourfully described them, like 'adding garbage for the sake of it'? It does not.
The last thing that I found intensely irksome was a comment within the article that these men 'believe most people can't do burpees properly anyway' and that was more of a reason to stop. This comment actually made me angry. These men have built a career being personal trainers, and it alarms me that they have overlooked one of the most essential parts of their job: assisting people to have correct form while performing an exercise. A client can't do an exercise properly? Modify it! Their form is off? Correct it! Don't stand there saying 'you can't do it properly' and do nothing about it! This reads to me as out and out laziness and, at worst, negligence. I would certainly not trust these men to train me or anyone I loved if that is the attitude they take to people who can't do an exercise 'properly'. Further to that, 'properly' is going to vary slightly from person to person: form and technique are vitally important, but if I execute a push-up on my knees and the person next to me does it on their toes, and we both have correct form and technique, which one of us is doing it 'properly'? The answer, of course, is both of us, but we are doing it at the correct level for us and in the way that works best for our bodies and our results.
So if, like most people who exercise, you don't like burpees and if, like many people who read that article, you have thrown your hands up in the air and shouted 'Hallelujah! I always knew it!' I would invite you to pause, reflect and consider for a moment. You don't have to like burpees, and no one, and certainly no good trainer, is going to force you to do them if you really don't want to. But I would ask you to think about why you dislike them and what benefits could be gained if you persevere through them. Taking the easy road in the short term never led to anything good long term, after all, and training should be about the bigger picture. Wouldn't you like to look back in twelve months time, when you can do five burpees in a row, to the time when you couldn't even do one and say 'Wow! Look how far I've progressed'? That sounds like a better option than still moaning away in twelve months about how much you hate them and how uncomfortable they are.
We're all different, exercise affects us all differently, and each of us needs to ensure we are doing the right kind of exercise for our goals and our bodies. So before you dismiss the burpees because a pair of celebrity trainers in a news article said they were a waste of time, go and talk to a trainer at your local gym. Not only are they much closer and undoubtedly much cheaper, but they will have the time to sit down with you and work out the best exercises for you and your goals: burpees or no.
P.S. On Sunday (03/02/2019) I will be participating in the Destroyer Workout at Evolving Physiques, as part of a 'Mastering Your Mind' masterclass, hosted by Pat from EP. This workout involves the following:
I will be completing these exercises over a period of seven hours, while also attending the master class and learning about how to overcome mental obstacles and barriers; #wintersoldierdetermination will be out in force tomorrow! I will be uploading images and videos of various parts of the exercises to Instagram (@barbelldancer) so jump on if you don't already follow to see me take on this beast of a challenge, burpees and all!
* I don't like to use the phrase 'no pain, no gain' or a variant of, as pain is actually the body's way of alerting us that something is WRONG. If an exercise is painful, rather than uncomfortable, then you should stop immediately and tell your trainer. If you're not sure whether it's pain or discomfort, stop as well and tell your trainer where you're feeling it and what it feels like. Something one of my trainers told me was that an ache in the right place is good, but any kind of sharp, shooting or stabbing pain anywhere is bad. But everyone is different and you need to work at your own level: you know your body better than anyone. Over time you will learn how to tell the discomfort from the pain and a good trainer will always be prepared to pause and help you work out which is which if you're uncertain.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.