Learn to Love Burpees

The unofficial exercise of OCRs

Last week, I wrote about the main differences between an obstacle course race and a mud one. One of the key distinctions in the two events is the penalty for failed obstacles in an obstacle course race. The Reebok Spartan Race series has adopted the burpee as their penalty exercise. In the process, the burpee has risen into fame as the unofficial exercise of all of obstacle course racing. Whether you love them, hate them or have learned to tolerate them, it is undeniable that if you want to do an obstacle course race, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with this exercise.


The burpee is a full body exercise, also referred to as a squat thrust, which combines strength training and aerobic exercise into one set of movements. The original exercise is broken up into four steps also known as the “four-count burpee.” This exercise begins in a standing position. Then, you drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground and either step or kick your legs out into a plank position. Then, you return to a squat position with either a jump or a step and return to starting standing position.

This is the original burpee introduced in the 1930’s by American physiologist Royal H. Burpee who developed the burpee test as a quick way to assess physical fitness in young men. Over the years, the exercise has been used by the military, CrossFit and now obstacle course racing.


The burpee was introduced to Reebok Spartan Race in 2011. Joe Desena, owner of Reebok Spartan Race, changed the penalty from the push-up, because the burpee is a more compete exercise (it requires both strength and endurance). Initially, it was the four-count burpee described above that was used as the penalty on any obstacle you failed to successfully complete. However, in 2012, the official competition burpee was modified to include a push-up and, today, each failed obstacle includes 30 of the following burpee type:

1. Start standing with your feet on the ground
2. Squat with hands on the ground
3. Kick or step your feet out to plank position
4. Chest down to the ground
5. Push-up back into plank
6. Kick (or step) feet back in
7. Stand up
8. Vertically jump so both feet leave the ground with hands in the air
9. Return to standing position and repeat 30 times

The video in this article shows several types of burpees. Since the making of the video, the push-up and jump has been added to the official Reebok Spartan Race penalty burpee.

If you are training for a mud run or obstacle course race, regularly performing burpees can help you not only when you miss an obstacle but doing so will also make you stronger and increase your endurance for your next race. Next week, we give you the dirt on a simple exercise routine that will get you out of the gym and improve your speed and strength!

Margaret Schlachter

Margaret Schlachter, the first professional female obstacle course racer, is a top ranked athlete in the Reebok Spartan Race series. She is also an endurance athlete specializing in ultra trail running races, a Spartan SGX Coach, and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She founded DirtinYourSkirt.com, a leading source for all things obstacle course racing and endurance sports. For more information on Margaret, her upcoming book and online coaching services.

Margaret's book "Obstacle Race Training: How to Beat any Course, Compete Like a Champion and Change Your Life" is available for PRE-SALE! Click HERE to reserve your copy.

Find more of Margaret on:

Margaret's Website