To burpee or not to burpee – what you need to know

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a burpee challenge with fellow MN-dweller, Leah Fontaine. The goal was 150 burpees throughout the day, ideally at least 15 every hour from 9am onward.

I decided to jump in for a couple of reasons – 1. I do most of my fitness stuff on my own. Knowing this would be a community effort felt good. And 2. I have a body and movement awareness that I can trust so doing a challenge at home without someone watching me isn’t dangerous — I modified when I sensed higher fatigue, stayed mindful of how my body felt, and employed recovery techniques to sore muscles.

Maybe that second reason sounds dramatic. Burpees, after all, are all the rage in at-home workouts and huge group classes. Why would a person need supervision? That’s why I decided to write this post.

Burpees are no doubt popular for getting your heart rate up but the complexity of this movement makes it easy to do incorrectly. Read more to see what you need to know to make the burpee work for you. More at


A little disclaimer:

I am not the burpee police. I don’t smirk at your group fitness class just because I’d rather powerlift or do pull ups. I have concerns about efficacy and safety based on my understanding of the body + what’s required for body change. Fitness classes are no exception to the “up the ante” rule of entertainment. It can be seen as entertainment as much (if not more) as it’s for fitness – often increasing risk to the user simply to attract new people…or including superfluous movement for similar reasons. In instances where someone is asking my opinion, I offer what I can in that context. This is largely why I have refrained from writing on movement in the past. In the end, if you ask me about your chosen fitness activity I’m going to ask “How’s that working for you?” And probably talk about how you can maximize results while minimizing risk. My preference for women is that we focus on quality before quantity of movement – choosing the movement + style that is most effective  for the given goal, not just assuming that if we move more we are guaranteed to get skinnier.

I joined this challenge knowing it meant I was agreeing that 150 burpees in a day is a fun idea. Here’s why: 1. The challenge itself is a small number in a given time frame, spread throughout the day. If it were “see how many you can do in 20 minutes and whoever loses has to walk outside naked” – I woulda been out of there quick and possibly sent a message to the organizer to talk about their proposal. 2. This challenge took out the push up at the bottom of the movement, a major cause of movement fault for beginners and fatigued intermediates. 3. There were no other movements involved – 15 burpees then rest for an hour.


Ok so what makes burpees so intense?

  1. Multiple movements in one
  2. Require Mobility + Stability
  3. Speed.

The unstable transitions the body passes through fast before achieving a new stable position make this a category 3 movement (most complex) according to Kelly Starrett. I actually didn’t include burpees in my later programs when I was a personal trainer because of these characteristics. Doing a single movement (with proper mechanics) fast takes skill let alone 3 movements done rapidly.


But since you’re doing them anyway, why not talk about it a bit and point you to good resources for scaling according to your skill level.


  1. Multiple movements in one

Not everyone includes the push up in the burpee but from start to finish here are the movements included:

  • Squat
  • Plank
  • Push up
  • Squat
  • Vertical jump


When I was teaching women in my home I taught them 1-2 movements at a time. Yup, that’s right. We would spend about 60 minutes drilling a couple of new ones and reviewing past movements. Movements like squats, push ups, overhead presses, and deadlifts require deep practice because our everyday life tends to result in decreased mobility and poor movement patterns, inhibiting our ability to achieve and maintain a stable position under load.

When you combine multiple movements into a single, fluid movement it’s important to start and finish each piece in a highly stable position. This sets up the next element until a single rep is complete.

If you do not know how to set up each movement, you perpetuate poor mechanics throughout. One effect of this is a loss of force output. You might not be thinking about that when doing burpees in your group fitness class. But a second effect is the cost of a compromised spinal position rep after rep after rep. Flexion and extension of the lumbar spine is a painful habit. [Trust me]

  1. Hip Mobility and Core Strength

The lumbar spine is made for stability. The muscles surrounding it are designed for isometric tension rather than the flexion or extension that we experience in the glute muscles or the thoracic spine. If we lack sufficient mobility in our hips or our T spine, the low back can round and the erectors are bearing load in an unstable position.

The burpee requires a person to get into a deep hip flexion position…fast. If the hamstring or glute muscles are unable to stretch sufficiently, the low back will flex in the squat. If you are unable to achieve a stable plank position due to a weak / poorly trained core, your hips will sag and your low back will extend in the push up position and hop back.

Knowledge of self is key here. When you hear a fitness instructor yell out “alright let’s see those burpees!” and you don’t realize you have poor hip mobility (or that it’s required for a successful burpee), you will blindly follow. However, if you know that your hips have limited flexion you can safely modify on the fly according to your skill + mobility level.

  1. Speed

When we are trying to force adaptation on the body we add stress. Increasing load or number of reps are two ways to increase stress. Speed is another.

When I was coaching clients we began with doing movements at a very slow rate. If a movement pattern is new to you (or you’ve never received coaching in it) it’s helpful to start with slow flexion and extension in order for build up the mind-muscle connection and look for points of fault in your mechanics. For example, when you perform the downward motion of a squat over the course of 5 seconds, you feel the pull of the hamstrings and glutes as you draw your hips into external rotation. On the upward path you can focus in on evenly distributing your weight on your foot and resisting the urge to let your hips internally rotate. This helps you form that mental image of what a successful squat feels like. This is deep practice [And in my opinion, this is mandatory].

In the burpee, you have multiple movements combined in a single “rep” typically strung together for a heart-pumping cardio-type workout.

Because of the speed requirement, it is likely that your form will break down over time unless you have a well-trained system (in which case the speed component is less of a stress and you’ll end up adding reps to tax the system).


I mentioned above that in this burpee challenge we weren’t doing any other movements, but that isn’t common practice. Usually the burpee is used throughout the course of a 30-45 (even 60) minute workout with minimal rest between circuits. This adds up to a lot of time under tension and therefore, a lot of stress on the body. Without a strong foundation, your burpee form is likely to break down pretty quickly leaving you looking (and feeling) like a floppy noodle. Then add in additional squats, push ups, lunges, etc and you find yourself less and less capable of establishing a stable core from which to move, putting your joints in jeopardy both during the workout and when you apply that movement to real life.


A workout has multiple purposes, one of which you likely don’t think about much: practice how to move. Because life isn’t about performing squats in a gym or your living room, right? It’s being able to hike the Grand Canyon simply because you’re there and you’re conditioned enough to do it safely (like we did last year). Burpees are a great functional fitness movement – which is all the more reason to practice them with knowledge of their complexity and attention to your movement patterns.



Burpees are a more advanced movement than you might be led to believe based on their prevalence in large group fitness classes. The fitness requirement on the individual can easily exceed skill. So what’s a girl to do? Skip her fave class or start looking down on those burpee-doers? Of course not. Use your intuition, friend. Now that you have more information, you can better listen to your body and consider your skill level. There’s ZERO shame in opting out of the burpees, slowing them down, or modifying. They are great for conditioning and a fun challenge. But the ROI needs to be considered in the moment. Avoid any extreme “burpee or die” mindsets and you’ll slowly accumulate the skills you need to experience the full benefits of the burpee. Like when you’re wrestling with your husband and need to quickly get back on your feet before he gets you in an ankle lock.


Looking for a good alternative to the full burpee? Jen Sinkler has a great video for you.

If you’re curious about where I get my movement mechanics information, my go-to resources come from Kelly Starrett, Mark Rippetoe, and Bret Contreras. When asked for good workout information I also always direct women to Girls Gone Strong, Jen Sinkler, and Neghar Fonooni. All of which have youtube channels with good instruction videos.

movement Nutrition and Meal Prep Raising Capable Kids Self Care

20 Ideas for Winter Self Care (fight the blues + prepare for spring)

Winter in Minnesota can be brutal. We are currently enjoying a short break from the bitter cold but it almost makes it harder – because we know very well that winter can last until June so it’s going to get cold again soon.

That being said, winter is also an opportunity. And I kind of love that it’s in the midst of winter when the New Year comes with all the looking at our progress and the freshness of resolutions. Winter is the perfect time to let go of all the stuff that was draining us dry. Summer and fall often bring lots of commitments and late nights but winter draws us inside where we slow down, cultivate our meaningful relationships, and get more sleep.

Ahhh, I love the rhythm of the seasons.

20 practical ideas for self care during the winter months - action steps for your mental health, relationships, fitness, nutrition, personal development, and home life. Read more:


We need to tailor our self-care to honor the pulling in of winter. I’ve said it many times but it’s always worth reviewing – self-care is about taking the actions that will help you do good work. No matter what occupies the bulk of your time – be it raising children, teaching students, health care, business-building, public service, etc – you need your “down time” to be about replenishing your energy stores and pointing you to your values + intentions. The categories I consider when I brainstorm ways to practice self-care include: general health (including mental health), nutrition, movement, self-development, relationships, and cultivating a life-giving environment.


20 Ideas for winter self-care

General Health (including mental health)

  • Start a bedtime ritualArianna Huffington talks bedtime practices in this Business Insider article and her most recent book, The Sleep Revolution.
  • Start a simple morning ritual – include light movement (yoga, stretching, bodyweight circuit), meditation (use Headspace to get started!) and drinking water.
  • Keep a houseplant (or 10) – select from this list for plants that can help purify your air.
  • Find a conservatory or zoo with indoor exhibits – the rainforest room and Koi pond at Como Zoo and Conservatory are frequent haunts for us as we start itching for spring! Seriously, it’s my therapy.
  • Say “no” to more commitments – practice filtering social engagements and opportunities through your values and goals before committing. Is it a relationship you are purposefully cultivating? Is it a cause that’s important to you? Is FOMO or guilt behind your “yes”? I recommend The Best Yes by Lisa TerKeurst to read more about this idea. Ultimately if you pack all of your down time with obligations (that don’t reenergize you) you are choosing the road to burn out.


  • Shake up your breakfast with nutrient dense + delicious foods I’ve pinned some make-ahead breakfast ideas that will give you a great energy boost as you step into your morning.
  • Increase your greens intake – Like this Kale-Pineapple green smoothie from Lindsey at Nourish Move Love.
  • Take a break from the sweets so you can better tune in to what your body is really craving. Whether you go so far as to do a Whole30 or 21 day sugar detox or not, creating new habits in place of the 2pm sugar-fix can help you with mental clarity, consistent energy levels, and boost your immune system.


  • Try a new workout style or class – keep your interest high by changing things up when the weather outside can make you want to skip everything.
  • Start a Saturday morning movement ritual with a friend! Hold each other accountable to fitness goals with a joint workout then spend a slow morning over coffee + breakfast! Fellow fitness-lover + coach Britany of Define Fettle has an awesome tradition of “burpees then brunch” (she even made a tank about it!). That’s a tradition worth stealing!


  • Say “yes” to more quiet reading – try a new genre or re-read a favorite fiction series instead of watching Netflix.
  • Learn a new skill just because you can – guitar, knitting, painting, your personal style, how to cook Indian food, mastering a new coffee brewing method, etc.
  • Pick an everyday task and turn it into a ritual – washing dishes becomes 10-20 minutes of listing everything you are grateful for, work commute becomes mindful preparation for your day, evening Netflix with roommates or significant other becomes an intentional point of connection before hitting “play.”


  • Initiate a weekly or monthly gathering with friends – trade off hosting – with emphasis on hospitality and deep connection – Shauna Niequist wrote a great book to both inspire + equip you in this area.
  • Start saving money for a summer vacation with friends – give yourself something to look forward to that doubles as incentive to be more thoughtful about your spending.

Life-giving environment

  • Declutter your spaceslet your mantels, corners, and countertops breathe (it doesn’t have to be forever)!
  • Try your chemistry skills: make your own household cleaners, makeup remover, body scrub, etc.
  • Buy fresh cut flowers – one of the beautiful things about our modern culture is a bouquet from California sitting on your kitchen table when it’s snowing outside.
  • Diffuse essential oils into your home – the olfactory nerves make your sense of smell the only sensory input that goes straight to the brain, making it the fastest physical sense to calm or energize!
  • Plan a garden for spring – we’re all thinking about the changing weather anyway so make use of it! Try planting some greens from seed or growing herbs in your kitchen window!
  • Get a head start on spring cleaning – tackle a room per week (or biweekly!) with deep cleaning. No doubt it will give you fresh eyes for your spaces! It may be “work” but it’s also very therapeutic to get rid of dust bunnies. Trust me.


As you can see, I consider a wide-range of activities to be self-care. I mean fresh cut flowers and spring cleaning in the same list?? But after 5 years of shouldering a start up business, becoming a mom, dealing with depression, anxiety, and general low energy – I’ve found that self-care is not the obvious things you think of when you’re on the cusp of burn out. Yes, a massage or weekend away can be helpful but it’s the stuff you do every day to align your life with what really matters that keeps you moving forward despite the responsibilities, stress, and fear. These are what fight against the winter blues, loneliness, and cravings most effectively.

The main roles we play in our lives require us to show up. Solving problems, nurturing people, making wise decisions – they can’t be done well when your time spent alone / away from work is a hodge podge of poor habits and trying to escape stress. Any one of the ideas up there can act as a catalyst for becoming a stronger, more capable woman.


I would love to hear about where you begin. Comment below with one thing (on or off the list) you are going to incorporate into your life in 2017 for better self-care.


movement Self Care

How to boost your productivity this spring

Productivity is a little particular. With all the pretty instagram pictures of work spaces, we seem to have a general idea that our environment matters — that it impacts our mood, focus, and therefore, the quality of our work. But did you know that nature can also have a profound effect on our work quality? Since it is the first week of spring (and Minnesota actually seems to be joining in the spring party despite a forecast for snow), I’ve compiled a list of some of the reasons that you should spend more time outside – even when there is work to do. In fact, especially because there is work to do. If you want to boost your productivity, you gotta be willing to step away from the desk.
You might think that in order to be more productive you must spend more hours at your desk but in reality there's a better way. Read on for a natural, everyday method for boosting your productivity. More at:
Gotta get back to work? Pin the image now to read later! Go here to pin directly from Pinterest!
Ready? Here we go. We’re going to run a simulation. Let’s pretend you’re going for a walk outside. Here are 4 things you can expect to experience:


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Presence of mind

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This may take a conscious effort at first but when you release your mind from planning or worrying about the future, you open up your mind to the stimuli your 5 senses are experiencing. Whether it’s listening to the birds, smelling the fresh blooms, or looking at the trees bud new leaves, your attention on the concrete world around you has an impact on your nervous system. Your body relaxes. A practice in mindfulness is said to reduce anxiety and depression as well as increase your ability to focus and fire up your creativity.
5 benefits of self-awareness 
4 sign posts for building self awareness into your day 
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You might not think of walking as exercise but it certainly is – especially when compared to sitting at your desk. Research indicates a two-fold effect of exercise on the brain. First, in the regulation of growth factors. Down the cascade this impacts your brain’s ability to strengthen + form new neural connections in the brain. (Research has been done on the effects of exercise in seniors on the development of dementia + Alzheimer’s). For the creative entrepreneur, your brain on exercise will be able to make faster connections between your experiences and lead to greater creativity + innovation. The second effect on the brain is in the reduced risk of diseases that cause degeneration in the brain in the long-term. In addition, when you combine exercise with being outside, research indicates a positive effect on depression.

When self-awareness brings hard emotions
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Deep breathing

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Do you breathe while you check email? In recent years a term was coined by Linda Stone, “email apnea.” After observing it in herself and many others, she set out to bring awareness to the effects of shallow breathing, hyperventilating, and holding our breath while we work. Ultimately, it increases the stress we experience. The way we are breathing can trigger our sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight-or-flight response. Taking a walk outside where you are breathing in the fresh air is an opportunity to relax your nervous system and remind your body that you are not in danger.

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Connection with the vibrant world around you

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There are effects of being outside that science can’t completely account for. It lowers our stress levels and we aren’t really aware of why, exactly. One possibility is that beyond what I’ve listed above, the scent of flowers such as lilacs and roses as well as fresh pine can all have an relaxing effect on our nervous systems. So you should literally stop and smell the roses, ok?


Entrepreneurship can take a toll on the body. Sleep deprivation, chronic stress, more likely to eat poorly and not drink enough water are just a few things that tend to be common practice amongst business owners. A daily walk is something that can have a serious impact on saving your body + your brain for the rest of your life. As little as a walk around the block with attention paid to your breath + the world around you can increase your focus, decrease depression + anxiety, boost your brain for stronger + faster connections, decrease your stress levels, and boost your creativity.


It’s a habit that, though small, can increase your enjoyment of these hustling days and remind you of why you do what you do as you take in the real, live world around you. Your creativity is vital, no matter what kind of business you run. But the compounding stress of handling a business can dramatically reduce new ideas. This is why it is so important for you to think about yourself as you plan out your day-to-day life. So go take a walk.
Presence of mind:
Google talk by Dr. Ron Siegel
The Effect of Mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression…
Exercise builds brain health…
Vitamin D and Depression…
Deep breathing:
Just Breathe: Building a case for Email Apnea
Connecting to the vibrant world
Here’s proof going outside makes you healthier