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Freakin’ Burpees: Understanding the Physiology Behind the Torture

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Let’s talk about one of Crossfit’s favorite calisthenics exercise: the dreaded burpees. Seriously. I dislike them. With Passion. And every time I’m late for class, which is almost always my coach makes me do several burpees for every minute I’m late. You would think I would learn…

I come to class last week, and find this on the WOD board:

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100 burpees for time. Are you serious?! I was ready to boycott this WOD, but I pushed through and was able to finish it in a little over 15 minutes. It wasn’t pretty, but at least I finished!

And then if that wasn’t worse enough a WOD, the crossfit games started 2 days later, and lo and behold our WOD 2 days later:

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MORE BURPEES!?!! and add Snatches to that?! Yikes. I had no idea where I found the strength to push through this insane WOD, but I did it. It was painful. But it was over.

And it got me thinking…Burpees suck. I have yet to meet anyone who truly loves burpees. Yet they’re part of our workout at least once a week. I had to find a way to appreciate burpees despite how much I despised them. So I did a little research and was surprised to learn some cool facts about this powerhouse exercise that really works your entire body: your arms, core, legs, and even challenges you mentally. I mean something that sucks so royally and leaves you so exhausted even after 5 reps has to have some rewards at the end right?!

Nifty video on the History of Burpees

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eqkQ7azPm5c)

5 cool facts about Burpees

  1. It was founded in 1930’s by American physiologist Royal H. Burpee who created the burpee test for a Ph.D thesis to test for fitness
  2. The actual burpee consists of a combination of jumping jacks, squats, and pushups
  3. They burn a lot of calories. Because of the high intensity of the exercise, researchers say that if done properly, burpees can burn 50% more fat than moderate exercise like walking and jogging. (instead of spending hours on the elliptical, do 100 burpees instead!)
  4. No equipment necessary! It’s all about using your own body’s resistance and going at your own pace. You can do burpees anywhere. It’s what makes it such a versatile little exercise!
  5. 1,840: The Guinness World Record for most burpees performed in an hour. This was done by Paddy Doyle in the United Kingdom on Feb. 4, 1994

Performing a Burpee (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU9vmUk8jUg)

Physiology behind the Burpee

Step 1: From Standing to Squat position:

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Muscles Used:

  • Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Gluteus Maximus: contracting and lengthening at the same time (eccentrically)
  • Squatting causes knees and hips to flex and ankles are moving to dorsi flexion position.
  • Using your muscles in the back to maintain an upright position
  • Using core to prevent excessive forward bending

Step 2: From Squat to Push up or Chest to the ground position:

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Muscles Used:

  • Biceps/Triceps of arms to support upper body and elbow as you push your legs back to start the pushup
  • Quadriceps allows you to move your knee forward
  • Hamstrings and Glutes allow you to move your hips back.
  • Upper chest muscles: pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and rotator cuff all contract to keep your body off the ground.
  • Shoulder muscles: trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior and pectoralis minor all contract to stabilize shoulder/scapula area.
  • Rectus abdominis contract to keep core stabilized

Step 3: The actual Pushup:

Muscle Used:

  • Pectoralis major and anterior deltoid muscles contract to stabilize shoulders while performing the actual push up. 
  • Tricpes contracts allowing elbow flexion
  • Rectus abdominis stabilizes core and keeps them contracted

Step 4: From Push up to Squat Position:

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Muscles Used:

  • This is one of the worst part of the burpees. 
  • Gastrocnemius (calves) contracts allowing feet to be lifted and knees/hips rapidly flex to the squat position
  • Rectus femoris (part of your quadriceps) and hamstrings contract as well as lower part of the core to maintain upright position

Step 5: The Jump

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Muscles Used:

  • Gastrocnemius, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes all used to forcefully jump before landing on your feet and repeating the motion again and again. 
  • Back muscles and core used to stabilize the core and the back.

So when all is said and done, Burpees suck. But they suck for a reason: They really work out the whole body. Not only physically but mentally as well. It takes dedication and perseverance to really finish all 100 burpees.  Do it long enough, and you’ll definitely see some radical changes. I appreciate burpees for their potential, but I’ll still complain and curse each time I do one.

References:

1.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burpee_(exercise)

2.http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/the-burpee-or-squat-thrust-what-this-exercise-is-and-how-to-do-it/2011/08/11/gIQAY995IJ_story_1.html

3.https://www.biodigitalhuman.com/home/

4.http://blog.spartanrace.com/muscular-analysis-of-the-burpee-wod-fundamentals/

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Feliz Día de San Valentín

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Happy Valentines day, Friend! I can’t wait for tomorrow when all the chocolates go on sale. Dove dark chocolate, I’ve got my eye on you!

It’s also my one-month anniversary of doing Crossfit! Not going to lie, Crossfit is kicking my butt, yet I keep going back. I just can’t say no.  I really can’t believe I’ve been enduring this torture for a month already. But honestly, as much as I complain about the difficulty of the WOD’s, I truly love it! Sure, I’m in a semi-permanent state of being sore all the time, but I really look forward to my 4pm. I’ve met some really cool people, and we have some awesome coaches. That’s what makes me love crossfit so much. You build a community where everyone encourages and pushes each other to do better.  And the best part: I’ve definitely noticed some great changes. I can tell I’m getting physically stronger, and I have definitely improved a lot on my times and reps. I even have some baby muscles in my twig like arms! 😀 I’m still working on my perfecting my form rather than adding more weights. But baby steps…

What doesn't kill you, really does make you stronger!

What doesn’t kill you, really does make you stronger!

Until tomorrow…Hope you have a great Valentines day!