You can start with one round
If you had to choose just one at-home exercise - using no weights and no equipment - for both cardio and strength, which one would you choose?
I must admit, I took a while to agree with myself that it would be burpees. I was hesitant because most people hate burpees.
That's half-true at least. There's always the "I did 100 burpees a day" brigade, which makes it seem not so bad.
But there's a catch. It depends on your outlook. My outlook is always to get the best Return On Exercise.
I've been exercising seriously for more than 20 years. It was forced onto me because I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. That's right. I only acted because of a crisis.
For sure, it was the best thing that ever happened. I have become super fit, and my body age is generally tested at about 15 years younger than my 72 years.
Surgeons told me on two occasions, after surgery for different cancers, that I recovered in half the time of their regular patients my age.
It turns out that I was blessed by becoming a diabetic!
But I don't really like exercising. I do it consistently, I do it with focus, and I enjoy doing it properly - but I don't want to spend my time at the gym.
I'm exercising to live better longer, not to exercise poorly for longer at the gym.
Here's where I am going. When I do an exercise, I want to get the most possible value out of it - the best return - and minimise the risk of injuring myself.
You might be different. All exercise is good exercise (provided you keep safe). You might be happy with a low-key kind of drifting-through-the-motions way of exercising. Maintaining mobility is healthy.
My view is to learn the best form to apply it rigorously. I want to walk away with the physical and mental satisfaction that I've added the best I can to live longer better in the time that I spent exercising.
Watch this to see what we are going to correct
If you're similar, then let's review how the burpee can be the best no-equipment exercise for strength and cardio.
I'm going to illustrate what to do, using a video which shows everything that you shouldn't do (assuming you want the best results).
What you see in the video will burn a bit of energy - a bit more than doing the washing up, but not much more. Let's say that you'll get 10% of the potential benefits of a burpee following that technique.
I'm after 100% of the potential benefits of a properly executed burpee.
Just to be clear here - I'm not suggesting the burpee because it will burn fat more efficiently than other exercises, or that it will build muscle better than others.
My choice of burpees is as the single no-weights no-equipment exercise that will maintain your strength and cardio if you are fit gym-goer. If you are an average gym-goer, it will build both up.
Let's get all the benefits
Here's the way to get the 100% benefits.
The overall principle is that rather than simply sprawl -> push up -> stand and jump you perform a deliberate squat -> kick out -> push up -> jump return to squat -> leap into the air (squat jump).
Deadlift squat down
Start right from the top - don't flop over like a rag doll but squat down in a deadlift-like movement and place your hands just outside and very slightly forward of your feet.
You want to do a squat movement not a folding back hip hinge.
Jump back into perfect push-up pose - with tension
Jump back as your hands touch the floor into a perfect push-up position - again, not a floppy slump. I'm not going to tell you you to do a proper push-up because this video does it perfectly.
Execute proper push-up
You are now in the push-up position, and you execute one perfect unrushed push-up.
The next movement is critical to delivering the maximum benefit from the burpee.
Jump return to squat
At the moment your arms straighten at the top of the push-up explode forward with your feet. Land your hands between your two hands.
At the same time, while your feet are in the air, lift your hands off the ground.
At the instant your feet touch down explode down through your feet.
Accelerate up and raise your hands high as you can.
Return to ground
When you return to the ground, you have completed one movement.
Flow directly down into the deadlift squat and keep going.
Measure your progress - keep score
When people say that they can do 100 push-ups they can usually do 100 mushy movements.
For the best value from burpees at home, you need to exercise to a target against which you can measure progress.
The target is simply twenty burpees. Daily, or every two days, or a couple of times a week - it's up to you.
Here's the golden rule: it's better to do one perfect movement than 10 mushy movements.
To get to 20, you have to score 20 points - one for each perfect execution.
You score one point for each burpee, minus:
As an example, the first "burpee" performed in the opening video scores 1 - 4 = -3. (minus 3). So she will never make it to a count of even one proper burpee.
This is difficult.
Few people can score 20.
Start with one.
You have a measure of how to improve, and you will get substantial value each time you progress.
When you achieve 10 points, you can keep going, or add progressions and start back at a lower point goal.
Progression 1 - Hands-off at the bottom
At the bottom of the push-up lift your hands off the floor for an instant. This kills all momentum and "bouncing" off the floor and makes it harder than it may seem.
Progression 2 - Triple Push-up with Rotations
You can add this to the first progression or use it as an alternative. You are going to do three push-ups per squat jump. This will actually give your legs a break while benefiting your lower spine and shoulders.
Come up from the first push-up and rotate your right arm out and over, as in the video below. Do another push-up, and rotate your left arm our and over. Then, do the third push-up and execute the rest of the burpee in the usual way.
Doing ten of this single exercise every day burpees every day will keep your body in tune.
Good luck. Let me know how you go.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or another qualified clinician. Disclaimer.
Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter