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Burpees: The magic workout

LiveMint logoLiveMint 24-04-2017 Shweta Taneja

Burpees could be one of the hardest, most intense parts of a workout session. This sweat-inducing, explosive four-step movement involves squatting, thrusting, getting into a plank position and jumping. “A burpee is a full-body exercise that helps develop muscle strength and burn calories,” says Kamal Chhikara, owner and head coach of the Reebok CrossFit Robust gym in Delhi. It engages all the major muscle groups like the arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings and abs. 

That’s perhaps why it was adopted by the US army during World War II to assess the fitness levels of recruits, and has become a favourite with trainers all over the world, says Mumbai-based Shruti Kadam, fitness expert at Gold’s Gym, India. “Even a few minutes of burpees increase muscular endurance and coordination.”

Our experts list some of the additional benefits. But do remember, if you’re new to exercise in general or 40-plus in age, don’t start burpees without a trainer—you could get injured.

Good for weight loss

The key to fat loss is keeping the heart rate high long enough to burn stored fat, says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, a fitness expert and founder of fitness centre Vesna’s Alta Celo in Delhi. “The burpee demands all your strength and power, utilizing the muscles from your feet to the neck and shoulders,” she says.

That’s not all. Your body works at busting fat even when you’re done with burpees. “Burpees boost your metabolism so you burn more calories throughout the day,” she adds, suggesting that you finish your workouts with 3 minutes of burpees (try for 30 repetitions) for additional weight loss. At the intermediate level, aim for 100-150 burpees as fast as possible, she suggests. You can add a press-up to the basic burpee to challenge your upper body strength.

As mentioned, burpees engage most muscle groups, most importantly the core. “A stronger core means an activated central nervous system, which in turn makes you alert, improves memory and body functionality,” says Kadam.  

Make it explosive 

Burpees are both explosive and anaerobic, designed to keep you out of breath, so the shorter and faster the workout, the better, says Chhikara. “For a beginner, 7 minutes of burpees is enough, while at an advanced stage, a mere 5 minutes (because you’re doing burpees faster at an advanced stage; you might do 40 burpees in 5 minutes, versus 20 in 10 minutes when you are a beginner) works to give your body a workout,” he explains. 

Surprise your body

Doing one workout gets your body used to it, reducing its impact. With burpees, you can experiment and include variations, making every workout a surprise to your body, says Kadam. “Try a box-jump burpee, where you jump on to a box in front of you post a plank rather than straight up and back,” she says. Other variations include jump-over burpees, where you jump over an obstacle between two burpees, and tuck-jump burpees, where you fold your knees into your chest at the peak of the jump.

Increase endurance

“Multiple repetitions of burpees, which is exactly how it needs to be done, expand your lungs, making you breathless, and make your heart stronger, making the body used to enduring more,” says Chhikara. Your body becomes stronger, ready to face more challenging exercise regimes; your performance in other activities, like cycling, swimming and trekking, improves too.

Build muscle strength 

Jacob says there aren’t too many exercises that can build strength quicker than burpees. “Unlike isolation exercises like bicep curls and tricep kickbacks, burpees are a full-body exercise,” says Jacob. The variety of movements involved and muscles worked means the benefits of burpees will be obvious in your daily life, as every physical challenge becomes just that little easier to conquer. For building add-on strength for your lower body, add in a broad jump at the end of a normal burpee.

No space issue

You don’t need much space for burpees. “You can do it at home, in the garden or even in a hotel room,” says Kadam. The only exercise equipment is your own body. For a complete workout, she suggests a 15- to 20-minute session of three-four sets, repeating 10-15 burpees in each set. 

Add them to any workout 

Burpees are dynamic and adaptable, making them a perfect addition to any workout, whether you’re doing a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)-style or need a quick tabata workout any time of the day, says Jacob. “Burpees can be incorporated into circuit training, used to warm up before other exercises, or done over and over again to act as your entire workout,” she adds. One can incorporate burpees as part of training, combining it with any aerobic activity like cycling, running or swimming, adds Kadam. “You can also add them in functional training or cross-fit training,” she says.

Make note

Things to remember before doing burpees

■ Make sure you can perform 10-15 good push-ups or have four-six weeks of gym experience to avoid injuries due to lack of strength. 

■ General warm-up is a must.

■ Take expert advice if you have any medical condition or injury, especially of the back, knees or shoulders. 

■ If you’re obese, avoid the jumping part of a burpee.

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