The Origin Story of the Burpee
One might think the exercise movement “the burpee” has something to do with burping, but burpees are named after their originator Dr. Royal H. Burpee. Later burpees were popularized by the military as a training exercise during WWII, and today of course most of us know the burpee as that thing we dread doing in our high intensity fitness training classes like CrossFit.
The Story of Dr. Burpee
“The burpee” was a little different back when soon-to-be Doctor Royal Huddleston Burpee invented it back in 1939 to test the fitness of ordinary people at the YMCA where he worked, as it was later revised and popularized by the military and then later by gyms across the country. Still, the origin story of the burpee has its roots with Dr. Burpee none-the-less.
FACT: Burpee earned a PhD in applied physiology from Columbia University in 1940. He originally created the brupee while working at the YMCA, as noted above, but later refined it and even wrote about it in his PhD thesis.
Reebok Crossfit Games: History of the Burpee.
According to the Huffington Post, the original exercise was:
- Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you.
- Jump feet back into plank position
- Jump feet forward.
- Return to standing.
Today, the burpee is commonly preformed like this:
- Bend over or squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you, just outside of your feet.
- Jump both feet back into plank position.
- Drop to a pushup — your chest should touch the floor.
- Push or snake up to return to plank position.
- Jump feet back in toward hands.
- Explosively jump up into the air, reaching arms straight overhead.
How to Do a Burpee.
FACT: The military helped popularize burpees in 1942, during WWII, as a way to test the fitness of men enlisting.
UNKOWN: Dr. Burpee was a WWI veteran. One has to wonder if the idea of the Burpee wasn’t at least partly inspired by the need to duck and cover in the trenches of WWI. It is likely that the military later embraced Burpees in WWII due to the fact that if you could hit to floor and get back up again for X-amount-of-time straight, you were well positioned to duck and cover and the rise to your feet again on the battlefield.
FACT: Thee original idea was to use the burpee as a general fitness test, where Burpee used it to get measurements of people’s heart rates before and after a set of four burpees. Today however most of us know a version closer to the military’s later X-time-straight of burpees thanks to the popularity high-intensity training (HIIT) programs like CrossFit.
TIP: For more fun facts on the origin story of the burpee and its creator Burpee, see Huffington Post’s A Brief History Of The Burpee (and the other links in the citations below).