A “Royal” Pain
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the movement we all know and love was named in the 1930s for American physiologist Dr. Royal H. Burpee. He earned a PhD in Applied Physiology from Columbia University in 1940 and created the exercise as part of his doctoral thesis as a quick and way to assess fitness without equipment.
The exercise was popularized when the United States Armed Services adopted his “Burpee Test” as a way to assess the fitness level of recruits during World War II.
There are many variants to this exercise. The one I was first introduced to in the Army and the one that probably most closely resembles the original is often called “The Bodybuilder.” This exercise consists of six or eight counts and begins from a standing position. From there the Soldier would (1) squat and place hands on the ground, (2) kick back the feet to assume the top of a push up, (3) lower the chest to the ground (4) push up extending the elbows (5) kick feet back in and, finally (6) stand up clapping hands over head or (7 & 8) perform a “Side Straddle Hop” (That’s a jumping jack to you civilians).
While impressive when performed in synch by a large military formation, the “bodybuilder” can be performed with limited speed due to the inherent pause at each of the positions.
The CrossFit burpee variant cuts the “corners” off the original bodybuilder exercise reducing the time the athlete takes to raise and lower his or her center of mass. This, as you probably know, greatly increases the demand the movement has on the cardio-respiratory system.
Other fitness programs are also incorporating the modern faster-cycling burpee into their workouts, but many of them stop in the plank position and do not require that the athlete’s chest touch the ground (like the guy in the photo). That will get you a resounding “No Rep” at your local CrossFit box, so take that weak sauce somewhere else.
So, this Saturday when you are knocking out Open WOD 13.1, give a thought to Dr. Burpee inventor of everybody’s least favorite movement.