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Experts / March 2021
Natalie Chladek, Global Newsroom

This Guy Invented the Burpee...Seriously

Exercise fads come and go, but the burpee has proven it has serious staying power. The full-body movement has been burning fat, building muscle and improving cardiovascular health since 1939.

The man responsible for the grimace-inducing exercise is Royal Huddleston Burpee, a physiologist who was also the executive director of a YMCA in New York City.  

During the course of his doctoral research at Columbia University Teacher’s College, Burpee decided to create a method to evaluate a person’s physical fitness.

He selected about 300 fitness indicators, including everything from age to wrestling ability.  

He also came up with a simple movement as a fitness test: 

1. Squat down and place your hands on the floor
2. Jump your feet back into a plank position
3. Jump your feet back into the squat position
4. Return to standing 

And so the original burpee was born. 

The burpee has evolved since then. Today’s version includes a push-up in the middle and a jump at the end. But the burpee in its original incarnation played a fundamental role in his thesis entitled “Tests of Physical Capacity.”

Burpee would measure someone’s standing heart rate, have them do four burpees, and then measure how long it took for their heart rate to return to normal – the faster, the more fit the person.

However, it wasn’t until World War II that the burpee achieved mainstream recognition. 

The military needed a method to assess the physical fitness of the hundreds of thousands of men that joined the armed forces during the war.  The U.S. Army chose ten exercises to test fitness, one of which was how many burpees a soldier could do in 20 seconds. 

While Burpee himself never intended the movement to be used as an exercise to get in shape, the burpee today has found its way into countless modern workouts.  

Since burpees work just about every muscle in your body and can be done anywhere without any equipment, they truly prove that the gym is everywhere.  And since a myriad of variations on the basic burpee exist, they (almost) never get old. 

So the next time you see burpees on the white board for your workout, you can thank Royal H. Burpee, one of the original fitness pioneers. 

Show us your best burpee!  Share a video with @Reebok and tag #Burpeethon to be included in our #WorldBurpeeDay celebration!


Experts / March 2021
Natalie Chladek, Global Newsroom