If there’s one thing the majority of the fitness community is united on, it’s their love of hating burpees. 4 years in my gym and I’m yet to find anyone willing to do the ‘1000 burpees for time’ WOD with me (starting to wonder if I smell or something). Yet we still do burpees.
So. Many. Burpees. In fact, I recently took a few weeks off working out while I moved house. During my first workout back, I suffered a decimation of my ego in a HIIT class, all thanks to, you got it, burpees! Never before have I come so dead last in a WOD, but on my return to class the next day (I couldn’t think of a good enough excuse not to go back), my fitness had improved overnight from ONE session and I smashed it! So clearly, there is a reason for all those burpees!
Speaking of love/hate relationships….let’s talk running. There’s no denying running is great for increasing fitness, easy to get into due to minimal equipment and expense required, and a useful life skill to have (running for buses, away from bears/bees, chasing the ice cream truck). Yet running is like marmite. Most powerlifters will look at you like you’ve got 6 heads if you suggest a jog in the park, while if you suggest the same thing to your triathlete friend, before you know it your 5k jog is a 50k mountain trail run and you’re wondering how it all went so horribly wrong.
So which is best for increasing fitness, or for those just starting out on their fitness journey? Let’s take a look!
Which Exercise Is Easier For Beginners?
Both exercises are very accessible to beginners. Neither requires much if any equipment (trainers are usually a good shout if you want to run, flip flops won’t cut it), and both can be done in the gym, outside or possibly even at home.
In terms of skill, running is easier to get started with for someone new to exercise. Most of us have run around as children at the very least, so you don’t need to ‘learn’ how to run, whereas burpees are a learned technique (stand with feet shoulder-width apart, squat down, place hands on the floor, jump feet back out so you are in a plank position, do a chest to floor push up, jump feet back in and into your squat, stand up, jump, but do it all really fast, don’t forget to keep that core tight and don’t let your back sag, actually kinda complicated for something that looks like just throwing yourself on the floor).
Burpees can be performed wrong and if you are new to exercise and don’t have proper tuition you can end up using your lower back, not engaging your core correctly, moving too slowly, or skipping steps.
While running can also be fairly technical if you want to improve your posture, efficiency, and gait, the barrier to entry is low enough that you can reasonably get up one day and go for a jog without worrying about technique. There are also lots of free resources to help you get started with running such as the ‘couch to 5k’ app, or my personal favorite ‘zombie run’.
For those who aren’t quite ready to just straight run, ‘Jeffing’ is fast gaining popularity. This involves running for a pre-determined amount of time varying from 10 seconds to 5 minutes, then walking for 30 seconds, then repeating. A great place to start is to run for 30 seconds and walk for 30 seconds, most people can jog for that long, then the short rest, while you walk, allows you to calm your breathing and heart rate, great for building up fitness from the very beginning!
Unlike running, there aren’t many ways to make burpees significantly easier. A few modifications you can try are stepping into and out of your burpee instead of jumping, or doing a ‘down-up’, where you simply squat down, put your hands on the floor, jump your feet out into plank position, jump your feet back in and stand up. This cuts out the push-up and the jump at the end, making it much easier for someone new to exercise.
How Many Calories Does Each Burn?
I like to look at calories burnt per hour when comparing exercises, as that’s how most cardio machines display their calorie burn, however, I suspect you probably aren’t going to just get up and do burpees for an hour, so let’s look at calorie burn over 10 minutes for each exercise.
Bear in mind that calorie burn will be a little different for each individual. Variables such as weight, fitness level (someone whose body is adapted to exercise will be more efficient at it and burn fewer calories than someone completely new to exercise), and the intensity/speed each exercise is performed at will change how many calories are burned.
That being said, burpees burn around 10 calories per minute, so that makes 150 calories burned for 15 minutes of solid burpees, 300 calories burned for 30 minutes, and for the brave/foolish who go for an hour of solid burpees, a hefty 600 calorie burn!
Calorie burn aside, burpees have a resistance component as you are squatting, push-upping, and jumping, so beginners can expect to benefit from some increased full-body strength and power as a nice bonus on top of burning a bunch of calories.
Running burns around 11 calories per hour for the average person not taking it too quickly. Throw in some incline and that number will jump up (as long as you don’t start walking). So 15 minutes of running could burn 165 calories, 30 minutes could burn 330 calories, and a 1-hour run could burn 660 calories. A little more than burpees but fairly comparable.
Pros and Cons of Each Exercise
Burpees – Pros
- Great full-body workout incorporating resistance training, power training, and cardio.
- Easy to perform anywhere, if you have space to lie down and stand up, you have space to burpee!
- Increase fitness quickly.
- Easy to incorporate into other workouts such as metcons.
- More variety than you’d think is available – burpee broad jumps, burpee pull-ups, burpee box jumps, bar over burpees, single-legged burpees, slow-mo burpees, the list goes on!
Burpees – Cons
- Burpees are a skill and need learning and performing correctly, incorrect form could hurt your back or shoulders.
- Can be intensive on the wrists.
- Not ideal for people who lack the mobility to get on and off the floor quickly, jumping could be problematic for ladies with pelvic floor issues.
- Can get boring, even if you mix up burpee varieties. Most people would not want to do solid burpees for more than about 10 minutes and even that might be pushing it!
Running – pros
- Brilliant for increasing cardiovascular fitness and health.
- Very low barrier to entry, anyone with a pair of trainers can start running.
- Running can be done on a treadmill inside, or outside in nature, taking in the scenery, getting some fresh air, and exploring new trails.
- Useful life skill – you’ll never miss the bus again! (Ok, you will, but you’ll have more chance of making it)
Running – cons
- Even for the average fit and healthy person, running can cause quite a lot of stress to joints, particularly to the knees.
- In winter, if you are stuck inside on a treadmill, running can get quite tedious (podcasts and tv shows can help).
- For an untrained individual, running can be very difficult to start off with, requiring lots of rest and walk breaks.
Which is the best cardio Workout?
I’m not gonna lie, this one’s a tough call. Both exercises can jack your heart rate right up, and get you out of breath and sweaty. Both exercises are both loved and loathed, often simultaneously.
Both exercises are great for fitness and heart health and can be adapted to focus more on power/strength if desired.
But for me, due to its accessibility, and the fact that you can go running outdoors in some gorgeous scenery, running wins. That and it’s definitely way easier and more feasible to run for an hour than do burpees for an hour, so ultimately running will be more sustainable and result in more results.
Both burpees and running are great for building physical fitness and stamina, programmed correctly they can both be used to build strength, power, or endurance, and despite the horror stories, if you embrace the lactic acid, breathlessness, and the mental game, they can both be fun! While running wins out over burpees, they can both have their place in your fitness regime. In fact. Wait. Why not do both?! Try this one:
Find a hill. Run up it as fast as you can. Do 6 burpees. Walk back down the hill, rest for a minute, then repeat as many times as you like/are able. You can thank me (or swear at me) later.
Ismana is a true clichéd ‘gym bunny’ and loves crossfit and powerlifting, which enable her to enjoy an active and adventurous lifestyle – the body will never be an obstacle before the mind is! Ismana loves to share her skills and knowledge with others, and is an experienced strength and performance coach, with a strong belief in keeping things simple when it comes to training.