It would be quite simple to dive into notions of theology and state that Satan rose from hell, implemented the burpee, and then returned to his fire kingdom to fall asleep every night to the thumps of human bodies slamming on the ground above accompanied by the sweet serenity of exerted pain and profanities.
However, this is simply untrue.
If not the Prince of Darkness, then who?!
The man responsible for the burpee is Royal Huddleston Burpee. Now I know what you are thinking: “The guy was called Burpee?!” Don’t worry, I think we all have the same reaction.
Now, please do not despise this man before reading the rest of this article.
Completing his doctoral studies in Applied Physiology at the Columbia Teacher College, H. Burpee tried to think of a simple and quick way to assess the health and fitness levels of everyday folks (as opposed to early athletes and soldiers). While working at the YMCA in the Bronx in 1939, Burpee devised a movement that, according to him, could accurately assess the heart’s efficiency at pumping blood. Enter the primitive Burpee movement.
Compared to today’s gruesome ordeal, Royal H. came up with a movement which asked participants to:
- Squat down and place both hands on the floor in from of them (frog position)
- Send both feet simultaneously back into a push up position
- Bring both feet simultaneously back into the frog position
- And, Stand up.
Heart rate was recorded, the participant was then asked to do the above motion four times, and then heart rate was recorded once more to evaluate heart efficiency. The movement was later registered and finalized in his doctoral thesis in 1940 entitled ‘Seven Quickly Administered Tests of Physical Capacity and their Use in Detecting Physical Incapacity for Motor Activity in Men and Boys.’ Just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?
As you can judge for yourself, Burpee never intended to make us suffer; so he’s off the hook.
When the Second World War broke out, and the United States began getting involved in the fighting, the army was trying to think of a fitness test that would dictate if a man was fit enough to enlist in the army; enter the Burpee.
Men who wished to fight for their country were asked to perform the dreaded burpee, however rather than attempting four repetitions and then stopping, recruits had 20 seconds to perform as many of these as they could. Soon after, the time was increased to minute with 41 burpees deemed excellent and 27 as poor.
Royal H. Burpee, being the nice man that he was, openly disagreed with these methods, explaining that too many repetitions of this movement can cause serious injuries to the knees and the back (and I argue, to the soul).
Regardless, the fitness tests continued. It is argued that its integration into the army increased the popularity of the burpee resulting in its ‘go-to’ for advent trainees and, of course, the Crossfit community.
So this is actually a thing?
Indeed it is! On a daily basis one can spot a trainee performing the new and improved burpee which consists of going down to frog position, hopping into the push up, performing the push up (with proper form, please and thank you), hopping back into the frog position, and jumping into air reaching overhead in a manner of false cheer and personal encouragement. Hey, you can even applaud yourself with one solid clap when in the air.
But that’s not all; the burpee evolved into something more. People do them over bars; over bars after performing a deadlift; they add a pull up while jumping at the end of the movement; they jump in a tuck; they add an applaud in the push up as well for extra encouragement; they perform burpee challenges; they are done by children in phys.ed class; they are attempted by people of all ages; they are done 100 times as fast as one possibly can, and then some…
For me, they were done on the football field when my coach simply explained that I had to “fall flat to the floor and get back up again!!”
Personally, when it comes to burpees, I opt for the fall flat to the floor part…and that’s where it ends.