Make way for burpees

Make way for burpees

Break the monotony of a workout session with something new, says Krishnaraj Iyengar, as he explores military burpees, a unique exercise that combines muscle and cardiovascular training, while saving on time and space.

For a regular workout junkie, any alteration in routine calls for a disrupted rhythm, depression and desperation to get back to the iron jungle. Apart from India’s legendary monsoons that confine even the diehard gym rats to the domestic arena, holidays, official outings or sometimes, just an incredibly packed lifestyle leave no room for the ideal, leisurely gym workout.

In the absence of a gym, equipment or space, while many resort to the age-old calisthenic plan B, many wait until the sun shines on iron island. With gruelling routines and high-pressure duties, especially when a gym is a far-fetched option, while on the field and during combat, defence personnel rely on a unique form of exercise that provides both, muscle as well as cardiovascular training.

Space and time constraints are of no consequence when it comes to military burpees (sometimes just known as burpees) that require no more than a few square feet of space and a couple of minutes of dedicated training to get you in shape. Many athletes, too, practice these to boost fitness levels.

It is believed that the exercise got its name in the 1930s from American
psychologist Royal H Burpee, who developed the ‘Burpee Test’, inventing the exercise as a part of his thesis, as a quick and easy way to assess fitness levels. Burpees gained popularity when the US Armed Services incorporated it as a fitness test – a quick measure of strength, agility and coordination - for new recruits during World War II.

Incredibly gruelling but fun, the intensity of even a set of five-eight repetitions of a burpee can explain its potential. “This is, indeed, one of the most versatile
exercises, kinesiologically involving almost all the joints of the body. While new intense variations can be improvised, your heart will pound within just a few repetitions of burpees, which can also be performed as HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to improve body composition and cardiovascular efficiency,”
explains Binny Sreedharan, a Mumbai-based fitness expert.

Adding another workout, like surya namaskar, compounds the movement and helps in strengthening muscles. About 15 minutes of a few sets, he believes, is enough to provide outstanding workout to the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system.

Getting started

As intense as they may appear, burpees are certainly no rocket science, especially for those accustomed to weight training and basic calisthenics like push-ups. The method is simple. Beginning with the standing position, with legs shoulder-width apart, drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground as you would before going into a push-up.

Kick back your feet, with arms extended, and immediately return the feet to the earlier squat position and stand or jump up. These are done in a flash, maintaining steady flow and rhythm rather than breaking each step individually with gaps in between.

Another very popular, highly intense and probably one of the most effective burpee is the push-up variety. Stand, drop into squat position with arms (palms) on the ground, kick back your legs and immediately perform a push-up.

Here, it is generally just one push-up per repetition (although many improvise at advanced levels) as you touch the chest to the ground, rise (one push-up), return to the squat position and then, either return to the standing position or jump, preferably with both hands raised straight, then instantly performing the next repetition.

Initially, however, the rhythm might be slow, but when the pattern becomes
muscle memory, you will find the tempo gradually increasing, with you being able to perform more repetitions per set and more sets over time with regular practice.
It is believed that almost all the muscle groups that one would workout in a gym are effectively targeted by burpees.

Plus, each set provides the intensity of an energetic sprint, taking care of your
cardiovascular routine, which otherwise, often, maybe much less in terms of overall intensity.

Many experts also recommend burpees as an effective warm-up for athletes as well as for a regular gym-goers. The other varieties include jump-over burpee (jumping over an obstacle during burpee), one-armed burpee, long-jump burpee (athlete jumps forward rather than upwards), knee push-up burpee (performing the push-up with knees on the ground) and the highly extreme pull-and-push-up ‘body blaster’ burpee (jump, do a pull-up after performing the push-up).

A word of caution

While burpees are a great way to make you feel fit and good, please bear in mind a few things before you get started:

Burpees are simple, yet highly intense exercises that must be taught by a qualified trainer and practised under supervision. A doctor’s approval may be recommended for extra safety.

An excellent warm-up is imperative. This can include spot jogging, aerobics, stretches and the like.

For men, it is important to wear proper underclothing as jerks to the testicular
region can cause untold harm.

Women must avoid burpees during menstruation as these can pose direct strain on the uterus.

Individuals with back (or any orthopaedic) problems, hernias, hiatal
hernia and acid reflux, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders and those having undergone surgeries must completely avoid burpees.

A proper cool-down is imperative to bring the heart rate and blood pressure back to normal.

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