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Better Than Burpees

Posted 12/18/2017 by UHBlog

Want to tone flab, but you’re burned out on burpees? Ask us how other strategies can help keep you fit.

Woman and man smiling as they do push-ups

If you attend fitness classes regularly, you’re probably familiar with this scenario: The instructor is leading a series of football runs, when she suddenly shouts, “Burpees for one minute, starting now!” A collective groan arises as participants reach for the floor with their hands and shoot their legs behind them.

Variations abound, but physical therapist Benjamin Geletka says all burpees begin with “a controlled fall of sorts.” You may move from a standing position into a push-up position, do a push-up, jump back to a standing position and do a jumping jack before repeating the drill. On the other end of the spectrum, you could simply stand back up after reaching the push-up position and repeat, or go to a one-knee push-up then stand.

Burpees are intense and almost universally hated. So why do fitness professionals favor them?

“It’s a shoulder, hip, glut and leg exercise,” Geletka says. “When you stand up again, particularly if you’re trying to be faster, you get a big jump in heartrate. It’s a high-intensity exercise, so it’s hard to sustain for longer periods.”

Switching between sets of high-intensity moves, like burpees, and lower-intensity moves, like squats with biceps curls, helps burn fat. That’s why HIIT– or High Intensity Interval Training – is so effective.

However, that doesn’t mean you must do burpees exclusively – or at all – to achieve results. Geletka suggests 13 exercises that, depending on your limitations, may be as beneficial as burpees:

  1. Air Squats. These are basic up-and-down squats.
  2. Goblet Squats. Holding a kettlebell or a single heavy weight, stand in a wide stance and perform air squats.
  3. Kettlebell Swings. Squat while swinging a kettlebell or heavy weight between and behind your legs. As you stand from your core, swing the weight forward to no higher than shoulders.
  4. Lunges. These can be performed forward, backward or to the side.
  5. Jumping Jacks.
  6. Jumping Rope.
  7. Battle Rope Wave. “This is good for shoulders and core strength,” Geletka says of the drill that involves holding and slamming both ends of an anchored rope. “You can squat to engage the hips and legs as you do it.”
  8. Mountain Climbers. Maintain a plank while alternately shifting your legs back and forth quickly.
  9. High Knees. This is basically a running march in place.
  10. Skaters. Repeatedly shoot your left arm across your right side as your left leg moves behind your right leg, then quickly reverse directions.
  11. Step-ups. Step on a low bench with the right, then left, foot. Step down in the same order. After a while, repeat with the left foot leading.
  12. Bear Crawl. Walk on your hands and feet, without your elbows and knees touching the floor. “These engage the gluts, hamstrings and shoulder stability,” Geletka says.
  13. Tabata. Alternate 20 seconds of intense effort with 10-second breaks for eight rounds. Geletka favors using a rowing machine or TRX for the work intervals.

Most exercises can be modified for folks with limitations, Geletka says.

  • Don't go as deep in lunges or squats
  • Eliminate weights or use lighter ones when squatting or lunging
  • Do half jacks (heel jacks) instead of jumping jacks
  • Replace high knees with marching
  • Use a lower step for step-ups

Geletka advises supplementing two or three 20- to 30-minute sessions of HIIT-type workouts weekly with rest days and your usual cardio and strength-training routines.

Benjamin Geletka, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, is a physical therapist at University Hospitals Rehabilitation Services at T3 Performance in Avon. You can request an appointment with Geletka or any other health care provider online.

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