… doing burpees.
We eat too much, often the wrong kind of food—and move around too little. Most people neglect their bodies to the degree where the body can’t take care of itself anymore. One day, it gets out of shape so badly it goes into a tailspin, and then only the most strong-willed of us can put it back on track.
Burpees lower the threshold back to salvation more than anything else. I hate burpees and I love burpees—for three reasons.
1. It’s simple
You can do it everywhere: in your bedroom, at the roadside, in a hotel room, even at the back of the plane on transcontinental flights. And you need no trainer to teach you the technique.
2. It’s effective
Burpees is your ticket to the Hell of Anaerobic Exercise. This is the place for lazy bags like me who hate wasting time on unproductive things like exercising. Just a few minutes of pain and sweaty misery sprinkled throughout your daily/weekly routine will burn your calories and build your muscle mass like nothing else.
3. It’s scaleable
Even if you’re extremely out of shape, burpees are scaleable enough to accommodate you.
The founder of the Soviet state Vladimir Lenin was amazed to discover the magic of burpees when he was grounded in a police lock-up. Being an atheist vigilante, he called the variation of this exercise “prayer bends”. In one of his letters, he wrote of his “50 prayer bends challenge” (В.И. Ленин. Полное собрание сочинений. Том 55, стр.72).
The key to success is to use your heart rate for steering the exercise. You’ll need an HR measuring device that shows you the HR continuously while you’re torturing yourself.
I always include the anaerobic self-torturing at the start of every training session. I’m pushing 60, so my safe anaerobic range is between 142–160 BPM.
I do 5 anaerobic sets that take me about 10 minutes.
- I spurt (or use the elliptical) to push my HR to 150.
- Once my HR gets up to 150, I keep up the effort so that it stays between 150 and 160, and do this for 1 minute.
- After 1 minute, I cool down to get the HR to under 130.
- Once under 130, I spurt again up to 150, take 1 minute, then cool down again.
These 10 minutes are usually the most miserable ones of my day. But that’s exactly what they are supposed to be. I take these minutes as a reasonable penance for enjoying myself the rest of the time.
No pain, no gain is exactly what’s at play here.
However, the heart rate according to the table above is something you shall never, never, never challenge. Even with a strong heart, there’s always a risk you can push it too far if you go beyond the hot red zone.
This is why you must progress slowly, and always have the HR displayed in front of you. Talk to your doctor, start in humility, observe your body’s reaction, stay safe. Best of all, find yourself a good PT for the first few sessions: it gives you both better motivation and builds up a safe routine that you can start tweaking to your heart’s content.
For measuring your HR you can use any belt device you fix to your chest. For example, this cheap Wahoo thingie can pair with the iPhone you keep in front of you.
Footnote: I’m a certified PT.