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Why the Squat Burpee Beats the Rest

By Bryce Hastings for Trillium Sport & Fitness

With the recent explosion of high-intensity exercise, burpees are everywhere – and they come in all shapes and sizes. Here we explain why opting for the squat burpee is your best bet.

Burpees are one of the simplest ways to seriously spike your heart rate and build cardio endurance, and as a result they are a staple exercise in HIIT workouts such as LES MILLS GRIT. They also commonly make an appearance in workouts such as BODYSTEP, BODYATTACK and BODYCOMBAT too.

If you’ve got a few LES MILLS workouts under your belt you’ll have noticed that squat burpees are Les Mills’ burpee of choice. This is because squat burpees are the safest way to get the transformative effects of the exercise without putting your knees, lower back, wrists or shoulders at risk. 

People often do burpees using a full crouch, which takes the knees into full flexion. There are two reasons why this is not ideal. Firstly, when you go into a full crouch you get a lot more pressure behind the knee cap, and you compress the meniscus (the little protective pad in the knee joint). The second issue is that your spine ends up in full flexion, which puts pressure on the lumbar discs. As a result the full crouch creates a fair bit of lower body joint stress. By using a squat instead of a crouch to transition to the floor you are able to keep the load in the muscles of the legs and core, and out of the knee joints and lower back.

The traditional crouching burpee also requires your wrists to absorb a high level of force, which increases injury risk. You can minimize the impact on your wrists if you squat first.

Once you’re in the squat position we advocate dropping into either a plank or a push-up, rather than dropping completely down to the floor. EMG testing in the Les Mills Lab reveals that dropping the chest all the way to the floor drives no additional increase in heart rate, yet significantly increases the activity on the pecs and anterior deltoid as they attempt to stabilize the shoulder. Essentially this means you’re generating more joint and soft tissue stress, without any worthwhile training benefit.

Our philosophy is to load the muscles, NOT the joints. This allows you to reap the benefits and minimize the risks.


Bryce Hastings is a leading New Zealand physiotherapist and fitness expert. As Les Mills Head of Research he leads research into the most effective approaches to exercise and plays a pivotal role in structuring all LES MILLS™ workouts. Bryce’s passion for effective exercise comes from spending 30 years in physiotherapy, where he saw “people getting their lives wrong” every day and felt like he was acting as an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. By working in fitness he gets to be the fence at the top.

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