Mastering the burpee

I hate burpees!

Like 99.99% of the world’s population, I’ve desperately tried to avoid burpees for the bulk of my life. Then, a couple of years ago, we started doing a lot of them at rugby training. It makes sense – the physical demands of constantly getting up from the ground while pushing through the barriers of cardiovascular exhaustion make burpees a great exercise for rugby players. But that doesn’t make them suck any less!

Like the rest of the team, I dreaded the burpees, which invariably played a role in our pre-season training sessions. I dreaded them so much that I decided I had to come up with a plan; I had to come up with some way of overcoming my hatred of the burpee, a way to make them ‘easier’, or at the least slightly-less-shit. So for the last 2 years, I’ve done heaps of burpees. I’ve definitely got better at them. I still hate them. But I’ve also come to value them.

There’s a popular saying floating around fitness circles at the moment which goes something like: ‘start getting used to being uncomfortable’. Essentially, this statement means if you want to make gains, you’re going to have to start pushing yourself. If you’re unhappy with how you’re looking or feeling at the moment, you’re going to have to step up and do something about it. If your run-of-the-mill, 3-day-a-week workout routine and your low-impact, low-heart-rate treadmill sessions aren’t achieving results, you’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone. Unless you’re happy with where you’re at currently, you’re going to have to do something different. And it’s going to be uncomfortable.

Burpees, to me anyway, are about as uncomfortable as it gets. Burpees take me to that dark place, where you want to quit every step of the workout, where every part of your body is screaming at you, and where you lay in a crumpled heap at the end of the session, gasping for breath to fill your lungs.

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But every time I push through one of those sessions, I learn a little about myself and those lessons carry over to every other workout I do. When my body is asking me to stop and I burst through the mental barrier and complete another set, it reinforces the sense of belief that my physical capabilities are far greater than I ever previously understood.

It’s also a little about empowerment. The burpee is just an exercise. It shouldn’t be so intimidating. By taking the time to focus on it, I learned how to make the burpee work for me, rather than simply scare me! In a way, the burpee has become my perverse party trick; that guilty pleasure I draw unusual, unexplained enjoyment from.

Don’t get me wrong – I still hate burpees. No matter how many times I do them, my burpee workouts still leave me crumpled on the ground, disheveled and sweat drenched. But at the same time I also feel a sense of accomplishment after every session – the feeling that I faced down something daunting, that I pushed myself to and beyond my pre-conceived limits and refused to back down from the challenge in front of me.

Facing challenges head-on is something we all need to do if we’re to improve, in any aspect of our lives. When it comes to training, I’d encourage you to have a crack at mastering, or at least focusing on improving, an exercise you dread. For you it might be squats, chin-ups, the rower – whatever makes you cringe. Stop running from it, and start making it reap rewards for you.

Your biggest hurdle will more than likely be your second workout. You might read this post, become inspired, and head out the door straight away for a brutal session of your nemesis exercise. Awesome, great work! But, if you’ve pushed yourself hard enough, that session will suck, and the hardest part of this entire journey will be making yourself return a few days later for another crack at it. If you conquer that mental barrier, you’ll quickly (after just 4-5 sessions) start seeing noticeable results.

Be warned – this means pushing yourself to extremes. If you’re working out and joking around with your friends at the gym at the same time, you’re probably not going hard enough. If you’re not completely exhausted at the end of it (I mean lying spent on the ground, as opposed to feeling slightly fatigued, with a gentle sweat on), you’re not going hard enough. And if you haven’t had to battle a brain trying to convince you to throw in the towel and quit, you definitely haven’t gone hard enough.

If you can master the art of pushing through the barriers your brain sets up for you, the sky really is the limit with what you can achieve, and there’s no better way to do that than by taking ownership of an exercise which has previously considered you to be its bitch!

- Reece #noexcuses