CrossFit Burpee: The best skill transfer exercise

CrossFit Redux members Ashley Gleeson, Sarah Quinn, Virginia Gonzales, and Meredith Douglass doing the CrossFit Burpee

I am pretty sure we have all had the same reaction when we read the CrossFit workout of the day and we see the word “Burpee”. The reaction is rarely a smile. Usually because the rep count is never on the low end.

In reality, you should welcome the CrossFit Burpee with open arms.
It is, by far, the best skill transfer exercise in CrossFit.Dave Gonzalez

It will make you stronger, faster, and give you the body control practice you need for every other exercise. There are many different variations of the burpee, but the CrossFit Burpee involves three planes of functional movement: Neutral, Flexion, and Extension.

  • The Neutral Position is the standing position where your feet are hip-width. This is both the starting-point and the end-point of the CrossFit Burpee.

  • Flexion occurs as you initiate movement into your burpee from the starting neutral position.

  • Finally, Extension occurs as you initiate movement off the ground. (Yes, you are fully on the ground because we always use full range of motion, right?!)

Let’s break down the CrossFit Burpee

From the starting Neutral Position, the next step is the hip hinge. This is the Flexion mentioned above. The hip hinge for the CrossFit Burpee is the same hinge as you would use for a deadlift. The goal is to load the hamstrings while maintaining a slight bend in your knees. If you bend the knees too much, your quads will do most of the work and not allow your hamstrings to be the stabilizer in the movement.

You wouldn’t deadlift with your quads, right?!

You should be able to load the posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, back) as you kick your feet back. Your hands will support your descent.

At this point, you are fully on the ground (again, full range of motion) and back in a neutral position. Your hands should be flat on the ground below your chest.

Now comes the best part of the CrossFit Burpee . . . but also the hardest. You may have heard your coach telling you, “Drive your hips”. This is where it comes into play. The goal of getting off the ground is to take your body into extension. This means keeping your hips on the ground and bringing your chest off the ground by extending your elbows. This is the loaded position of the movement.

From here, without bending your knees, drive your hips to the ceiling as hard and aggressively as you can. This will allow plenty of room for your feet to sweep back to the position they started in. But, depending on the flexibility of your hamstrings, it may be hard to land back to a hip-width position.

What you are trying to avoid is landing with your knees bent because you will land on the balls of your feet. We are looking for stability on the landing, just like a box jump or an Olympic lift. If you’d ever tried to land on top of the box or land an Olympic lift on the balls of your feet, you know that landing is very unstable.

If you need to plant your feet wider on the burpee landing so you can get your heels flat then, by all means, do it. As you get stronger and more flexible your feet will get closer together. Once you’ve stuck the landing, you are now back in flexion. Now bring your hips through and stand back up to neutral as you do the little jump that everyone looks so good doing!

Bottom Line: The better you can hit all phases of the CrossFit Burpee, the better control you’ll have when moving throughout a workout whether you use weight or not.

So the next time you see burpees in a workout, attack it with efficiency!

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About the Author

Dave Gonzalez

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Whatever your name is, I'm the guy yelling it when you come in for class. I love what I do and I love sharing my knowledge of CrossFit and functional movement with every class that I coach, clinic that I run, and blog that I write.

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