This burpee challenge review is part of our Good Sport series. We’re up for any challenge (physical or mental) and this is where we prove it – and then convince you to do the same! Daily squats anyone?
About five years ago, I adopted an “always say yes” motto when I’m asked to try any workout. So when my friend Nicole did a Facebook call-out for three people to join her in the 50 Burpees a Day for 30 Days Challenge, of course I had to join.
Now 50 burpees may seem like a lot—and it is. But since I recently changed jobs and now work out only twice a week, I needed something new. Plus, 50 burpees can be done in under 10 minutes, and under five if you’re fit (and I like to think I am). I also rationalized that I could split them up, or do catch-up if I needed to.
Here’s what the 30-day burpee challenge was like, and how I feel now that it’s over—along with some profesh trainer insight.
Day 1: I did 50 burpees straight–and never again
I thought, Oh, I’ll video it. And I did. I was dying, but I did it. I posted it. Proof. Done. After that, though, the most I could get through in one continuous go was 30 (once), and after that two sets of 25. Why couldn’t I do it again? “I would say it’s mental,” says Jennifer Lau, Toronto-based Nike master trainer and principal at fitsquad.ca. “You were likely excited and nervous to start the challenge, so the adrenaline might have pushed you through to completing the 50 reps on the first day. Clearly you have it in you, and physically you can handle the work capacity—it’s just wrapping your head around it.” It’s all about the mental game.
Some days I killed the burpees; other days I suffered
Since the challenge happened over 30 days, I figured the varying sense of difficulty was due to hormonal ups and downs. After all, around my period, there are times when I get exhausted without doing much. But Lau clarifies that a number of things play a role in performance: “How was your sleep? Did you eat well and choose healthy foods that wouldn’t make you feel sluggish? Did you have a stressful day? Sleep, stress and nutrition have huge impacts on our energy and therefore performance.”
It was frustrating not being better on day 30 than day 1
I did 50 burpees a day for 30 days and didn’t notice any improvement (or change in my body, for that matter). What the?! “Burpees are not a strength-based movement, so it’s difficult to measure improved strength after the challenge,” Lau tells me. “[In comparison], in a push-up challenge you would probably get more measurable results.” That doesn’t mean I didn’t reap any fitness benefits, however.
Does 25 x 2, 10 x 5, or 20 + 20 + 10 all equal 50?
Because the goal was just to accomplish 50 burpees a day, I played around with how I hit that number in any given day. But looking back, I wonder if I was doing the same workout. Lau says nope: “By completing 50 straight, you are keeping the same high level of intensity throughout the exercise. The shorter your rest periods, the more calories you will burn. So, no, taking breaks between 25 or 10 reps does not burn the same as 50 without rest.”
Is it cheating if I double up?
There were two days I completely missed because of work and evening plans, so I just did 100 burpees the next day. Because I was still doing the same number, I just brushed it off. On the Facebook group, I saw friends start over or even give up because they missed a day. I didn’t want to fail the 50 Burpees a Day for 30 Days Challenge, so I kept going. And I was right to do that, says Lau, as long as I was able to maintain good form for all those next-day burpees.
Timing matters for the 50 Burpees a Day for 30 Days Challenge.
I did my 50 burpees whenever I had time—after dinner, before bed, when I woke up. But if I were to do it all over again, I wanted Lau’s insight on how I could make these burpees more effective. Do them in the morning, she advised: “You can get them out of the way, and you’re less likely to skip your workout later due to work, other commitments or low energy.” But at the end of the day, the end of the day is better than not doing them at all. On rest days, I looked to the burpees as a quick burst of cardio. And on workout days, I used them as a finisher. Lau gave me the thumbs-up for this approach.
I’ve seen fitness challenges that work your way up to doing something, like running a 5k. But the 50 burpees seemed more my level. Now that I’ve done the 50 Burpees a Day for 30 Days Challenge, Lau tells me to try a 30-day challenge that’s more strength-based: “I like the push-up, pull-up or squat challenges. Add friends or document it to stay motivated.” So who’s up for joining a Facebook group?
The proper form for burpees
One thing about doing these challenges, you start to notice your form, even when you don’t mean to. Just something about doing 50 burpees for 30 days, right? Heather Gardner, trainer and owner of Kardia Athletica in Toronto, tells me that burpees are hard and it can be too tempting to forsake the form due fatigue and the complexity of the move. But she walks me through the proper form. It essentially goes from standing upright, into a squat, into a plank, into a push-up, back into a squat, back to standing. That’s great, if you know the form for each. But Gardner breaks it down even more, for low-impact (stepping) and high-intensity burpees (jumps and push-ups).
- Start standing up, jumping upward. Land softly, absorbing the impact of the jump, especially if you’re in bare feet.
- Bend down into a squat position, the drop your hands to the floor. Then step or hop your feet backward until you are in a plank position. And you will want to follow proper form for the plank, says Gardner. “Have your shoulders stacked above your wrists. Be sure that you are holding strong in your core,” she says. So, your body is straight from your head, to your shoulders to your hips to your ankles.
- Here in this position, you have the option to do a push-up, either on the toes or on the knees. Make sure when you lower the body, you are still keeping your body in a straight line (from either the knees or the ankles)–don’t dip the hips or arch the back. And do the same when pushing up.
- Step in or hop the feet back up to the front of the mat to return to standing position.
But one thing you need to ensure before doing a burpee, and that is to make sure your body is warmed up. As you go through 50 burpees, watch your form. “This is a challenging move,” says Gardner. Plus, if you are doing the burpees challenge along with regular workouts, keep an eye on your engery levels. “You are going to have better form at the beginning, because you’re not as tired. […] By the end, it challenges you to push through toward that finish. Unless you’re extra focussed and aware, you could be extra sloppy with form. When you’re sloppy, you run the risk of an injury.”
This article was originally published on Sept. 6, 2018. It has been updated with files from Lisa Hannam.