August 2, 2016
The Burpee: The Various Techniques Used by the Pros
By William Imbo
July 11, 2014
A few months ago I wrote what I hope was a ‘revolutionary’ article on why we should love the burpee, and I hope its gone some way to changing people’s opinion of this valuable movement. Of course, there’s the possibility that I am completely wrong, and the burpee truly does hate us just as much as we do it.
Regardless of our feelings towards the burpee, we must prepare ourselves to take on the challenge it presents by analyzing the various techniques one can employ to vanquish this deadly foe. The concept of a burpee couldn’t be more straightforward. From a standing position, drop down so your chest and thighs make contact with the ground, then get back to a standing position and jump a few inches up in the air you’re your hands over your head. Simple—or so we would like to think. The burpee has a funny way of obliterating any sort of game plan or technique you had in mind for the sucker.
With the recent handstand push-up-front squat-burpee event from this year’s Regionals providing some excellent case studies (not to mention 14.5 of the Open) in how to do burpees efficiently, let’s take a look at some of the options you can employ the next time the burpee makes an appearance in the WOD.
Author disclaimer: I realize the titles for these burpee methods may not seem very…official, so I encourage you to come up with your own names for each, as I’m sure you’ll be far more creative.
1. Rebound Burpees
The ‘rebound burpee’ is a simple variation where the athlete will literally drop to the ground, absorb the contact of the ground with their chest, and use that momentum to help propel themselves off the ground as they’re pushing up, snapping the hips simultaneously so that the feet spring forward together—similar to the rebound effect you get from bumper plates striking the ground from multiple deadlifts. Josh Bridges executed this method to perfection on his way to the event 4 record at the Regionals. While this method is useful if you’re in a hurry to complete a short amount of burpees in a race against the clock, it’s not the most efficient for longer WODS as it’s easy to get fatigued and your burpee rate will invariably drop as a result. However, you can somewhat compensate by landing with your feet wider and wider when coming out of the bottom position, which will be a whole lot easier than trying to snap into a perfect shoulder-width stance every time.
2. Two steps back, two steps forward
As my attempt at ‘naming’ this burpee technique suggests, instead of dropping to the floor in one motion, an athlete takes two steps back and lowers his or herself down into a pushup position. They then bring one leg up at a time to a standing position before jumping up. Chris Spealler (South West) and Denae Brown (Australia) favored this technique at their Regionals, and with good reason as they both won the event. This method may be slower than a rebound burpee, but it allows you to conserve a lot of energy and crank out reps at a more consistent pace, making it an efficient technique for WODS with various movements or longer time domains.
3. Drop down, Knees up.
As you might expect this is the reverse from ‘knees down jump up’, whereby an athlete drops to the ground quickly, and then comes up to their feet one leg at a time before jumping up, as if they were trying to lunge from a prone position. A number of athletes of varying shapes and sizes employ this method, including Ben Alderman (210lbs) who finished 6th in event 4 in NorCal (to the right of the screen), and Emily Friedman (130lbs) who finished 8th in the Mid Atlantic.
4. Rock-a-bye Burpees.
From watching the Regionals, this was the technique I saw employed most often (particularly when athletes started to fatigue), and one that I myself am partial to when the going gets tough. Essentially, one drops to the floor in their preferred fashion, except that their feet briefly leave the ground as your hips act as the pivot point. This means that as you start the transition to coming up out of the bottom position, your legs will come down and your hips and abdomen will come up, giving you a ‘swinging’ effect which will help with your hip drive and push-up off of the ground. Valerie Voboril (SoCal) starts to use this method around the 9-rep mark. She finished 1st in the event.
These are just a few of the techniques that are used by some of the best athletes in our sport, but everyone is different so what works for one person might be a nightmare for another. Play around with the variations listed here but do your research as well. Gymnastics guru Carl Paoli provides a great demo to a very efficient burpee that bears a great resemblance to the rebound burpee.
Love em’ or hate ‘em, being skillful with the burpee is a talent that every CrossFitter must surely want in their wheelhouse, given the frequency with which it makes an appearance during every Open season and an inordinate amount of WODS. Much like anything, finding the right burpee technique for you will take practice—but I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hone your technique, as the burpee is never going to die out. Better get used to it, my friends.
Photo courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.