If you've ever been in a workout class that calls for a lot of burpees, then you know just how challenging it is to endure a set without collapsing. But since word on the street is that burpees are basically one of the most effective workouts you can possibly do, you just kind of grin, bear it, and periodically drop an F bomb. Well, my friend, here comes a mini victory for those of us who hate this infamously difficult exercise, and have often wondered if burpees are even good for you: According to at least one fitness expert, burpees might be totally pointless as a workout.
Michael Boyle, a certified functional strength coach, recently wrote a piece for Women's Health, in which he claimed that the burpee is not just pointless; it's bad for you, and I quote, "idiotic" to do as a regular workout.
Not one to mince words, Boyle opened his article by calling burpees "an inherently bad exercise," adding that repeatedly "throwing yourself to the ground and immediately getting back up again" is, simply put, "a really stupid idea."
But what, exactly, does Boyle have against doing burpees?
Look, I hate this workout, too. It's exhausting, and it feels almost impossible to get through in the moment — though I do admit I usually feel really good once I'm done with a set.
As for Boyle's hatred toward the burpee, he wrote in Women's Health,
In a burpee, you’re jamming your wrist into extension, then you’re putting a huge amount of stress on the anterior shoulder, which is the weakest part of the shoulder.
Neither of those things is good in a singular sense, and they’re clearly not good in high repetitions. If someone said I’m going to do that 100 times and call it exercise, I’d be concerned.
When it comes to doing burpees, Boyle emphasized that you should be asking yourself why you're doing them. Is it for cardio? For upper-body strength? For the squats? In his point of view, there are plenty of other exercises you can do, such as interval training and squat jumps, that target the same muscles as a burpee, but, in his opinion, in a much safer and more effective way. He explained,
The rationale behind burpees seems to be that they're hard, and they get you out of breath, so they must be good for you.
If the “why” with burpees is just that they’re hard and get you out breath, I'm here to tell you that there are better exercises for you.
As it turns out, Boyle's not alone in his frustration with burpees.
James Shapiro, an independent trainer in New York City, and owner of Primal Power Fitness, doesn't totally disagree with Boyle. He tells me in an interview with Elite Daily that doing burpees just for the sake of doing them because they feel hard, is kind of "stupid." That being said, he doesn't think they're a totally pointless endeavor.
"Burpees can be used as an excellent metabolic exercise, but should not be performed past [the point] where form breaks down," he explains. "There are amazing total-body cardiovascular and strength movements out there, and the burpee falls into that mix."
However, he does recommend a different exercise over the burpee: a bear crawl.
"As for the bear crawl, start on your knees [with your] hands underneath your shoulders [and your] arms straight," Shapiro tells Elite Daily. "Tuck in the toes toward the body, and make sure your knees are under your hips for the proper position."
Then, to start the bear crawl, Shapiro says to lift your knees off the ground, applying pressure in your toes. You can go forward or backward, but be sure to alternate your movements, meaning you move your right arm with your left leg, and your left arm with your right leg.
"You definitely will feel a burn in your shoulders, triceps, forearms, core, quads, and calves," Shapiro says.
And hey, if you do want to do some burpees, Shapiro recommends a variation of the exercise that involves a bench, which will be much easier on your body.
"I think a safer way of performing a burpee is using a small box or bench," the trainer tells Elite Daily. "The metabolic function is still there, but the chances of a misstep or hyperextension with the low back are lowered. If anything, the pace of the exercise increases."
Here's how to do a bench burpee: Start off by facing the long side of a bench, and make sure that, when you place your hands down, you have enough width and space for yourself, with a small distance between you and the bench, Shapiro says. Start your burpee with your small jump, lean forward to place your hands on the bench, jump out both feet into a push-up position, and jump back up with both feet in, so you can stand tall — and that's it!
Bottom line: Burpees aren't completely pointless, but there's probably an equally effective workout out there that you'll actually enjoy doing. Keep experimenting, and remember to always listen to your own body.