Burpees are a great full-body exercise—but there are other options

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Even with gyms reopening at limited capacity, it’s still safer to exercise at home or outdoors. So, we’re dubbing this September Muscle Month to help you keep up your fitness, power, and health in socially distant times.

Navy SEALS swear by them. Power lifters and Spartan racers crank them out by the hundreds. Even Hall of Famer Jerry Rice mixes them into his workouts like hot sauce.

Plenty of non-scientists sing the praises of the burpee, a quick-flowing combo move that first turned up in army fitness tests in the 1940s. Some say it’s the best total-body exercise a person can do to build upper-body strength, improve stamina, and shred fat (a purported 200 to 300 calories in a half-hour sweat span). But does research support that?

There aren’t many studies comparing burpees to other types of high-intensity training, says Steve Bingley, an exercise physiologist and co-founder of Century Strength and Conditioning in Sydney, Australia. There have been experiments looking at the average number of burpees athletes can do, and how burpees stack up against battle ropes in elevating metabolic rates. Otherwise, the science around the supposed silver-bullet exercise is lacking. “Right now we’re doing them because they feel hard and use multiple muscles, and that’s it,” Bingley says.

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