Uh, burpee. Who has not been forced against his will to perform so many strenuous reps of this exercise? Touted as a full-body workout that requires no equipment, gym educators and workout coaches around the world swear by its effectiveness.
As stressful as it can be, your shoddy gym teacher may turn out to be right: New research suggests that burpees not only improve teens’ endurance — as you might expect — but may be linked to marked improvements in short-term memory. Like we will.
For those unfamiliar, the infamous exercise popularized by the military involves squatting from standing, shooting your legs behind you in a plank position, doing a pushup, then jumping — then repeating, often nauseatingly.
Published in the magazine Environmental research and public healthAnd the the study 52 teenage boys and girls aged 15-16 participated, as current scholarship shows that this period in life is a particularly sensitive period for improving endurance. For four months, the researchers divided the adolescents into a control and experimental group. The former participated in a typical endurance program that did not include burpees, while the latter followed the same program but with the very intimidating exercise taken up. In practice, the teens began doing 60-second burpees, with the duration increasing as the study continued.
Researchers found that teens participating in the Burpee program achieved a significant improvement of 8.6 percent in the 2,000-meter (about 1.25-mile) sprint. Meanwhile, teens stuck in the control group were only 1.9 percent faster, which the data suggests isn’t a statistically significant difference.
Even before the cognitive effects were reached, it might seem obvious that performing burpees would improve endurance, but it surprised even researchers how effective burpees are at making teens better runners than the simple gin endurance program for the control group. In fact, the researchers note that to date, there have been no “scientific studies showing burpees as an effective component of adolescent physical activity.”
Things get even more exciting when you look at short-term memory. According to the study, teens participating in the Burpee program showed a massive improvement of 26 percent on the well-known and reliable Jacobs test, an assessment of short-term memory that uses a range of numbers that participants must remember in the same order the numbers are presented in.
The researchers temper expectations a bit, acknowledging that they “do not know whether the burpee caused these positive effects per se or whether it was an interaction with the program.” In other words, it’s hard to tell if it was a direct improvement in memory, or if teens became more active and engaged as a result of their participation in the study. Of course, the study didn’t say anything about how Burpees affected the fitness or cognition of other age groups.
However, the results are significant enough that the researchers hypothesize that “adding a burpee to an exercise program constitutes at least an initial, practical approach to improving the effectiveness of physical education programs such as those that have been adopted.”
And as a word of caution, this doesn’t mean teens should be instructed to exercise in every sense of the word, as researchers stress that finding the right balance is critical. Too little exercise won’t make much improvement, while too much exercise can drain them both physically and psychologically, and possibly discourage them from doing more burpees. Teens can be fickle.
The researchers say that future studies should focus on the dose of exercise needed for optimal improvement.
It’s early days, but the results are interesting, albeit far from definitive. It is possible that the improvement is due to the slight increase in the volume of exercise, and not the exercise itself. However, regular burpees won’t make your teen a regular with an idetic memory, but as study and decades of widespread adoption have shown, they will likely still be beneficial for them.