Refining Upon the Burpee

There are many ways to strengthen and condition the human body and, to one extent or the other, all of them work. You can get varying results from any number of activities such as Olympic lifting, power lifting, barbell and machine training, odd-object lifting, gymnastics training, body weight exercise, clubbells and kettlebells, etc. It’s only a matter of choosing the modality that best suits you, boiling down to what you like and what you’re going to stick with. In the last ten years I’ve predominantly trained with kettlebells, clubbells (including mace swinging) and body weight training. Within the realm of body weight training alone, there are many discrete systems, everything from body building-style movements to yoga postures. I enjoy the freedom of using just my body as the primary tool in training and, because I travel, I can perform my routines anywhere at any time. As much as I enjoy kettlebells and clubbells, they are not conveniently dragged along when traveling.

In my body weight training system I’ve included exercises for absolute strength (akin to power lifting); strength-endurance; explosive strength; power-endurance; mobility training; static strength and cardio.

One exercise in my arsenal synthesizes many of the above attributes; I have previously written about it, the eponymous Maxercist. There exist many variations on this movement but my latest incarnation is the most satisfying yet.

I specifically created the Maxercist to simulate the rigors of grappling. It was my desire to include all elements of human movement encountered in a grappling match: pushing; pulling; static strength; strong core activation; grip; hip, spine and shoulder mobility; level change…all while under a high cardio stress.

To incorporate a plyometric element, I’ve introduced the Lifeline Heavy Speed Rope. The rope is heavy enough to provide significant upper body load while simultaneously working ankles, feet and calves, so often neglected in sports training. Jumping rope at high speed intervals provides a tremendous cardio workout, prepping the body for the Maxercist.

In begetting the Maxercist, one concept I used was even placement of stress upon the entire body while under a high systemic load. The idea is not to produce muscular fatigue (although that does happen in the latter rounds) but systemic fatigue (from high level systemic effort) while keeping the muscles as fresh as possible. In this way, you smoke not the muscles, but the system, and by “system” I mean heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, hormonal pathways, etc.

Another important aspect is the full range of motion cultivated in the various articulations used. I want to train my body in the extreme positions encountered in a grappling match. I want my joints strong in sudden, unanticipated leverages.

The high-repetition of the Maxercist movements also develop tendon strength. Many body weight exercise programs are rote, basic movements–which is fine–but I wanted to refine the Maxercist into an elegant kinetic chain, so as to develop other attributes in addition to conditioning. These attributes include:

  • agility
  • coordination
  • balance
  • grace


A good question to ask at this point is, Well, what is conditioning if it doesn’t include these elements? Yet most exercise programs don’t mention, much less include, these all-important elements. You’ve heard the acronym KISS (i.e. keep it simple, stupid) and I believe KISS is a step in the wrong direction. Athletes should refine upon their movement.

Then there is the mental factor: you must focus on what you’re doing and concentrate on connecting the movements together into a super-flowing kinetic chain. This requires a filtering out of external stimulus–that is, you must be here, now–an excellent practice for high-level athleticism.

While excess cardio (exceedingly commonly practiced) results in a loss of range of motion as well as loss of your hard-gained muscle and strength, the Maxercist is a melding of cardio conditioning and joint mobility with a strength emphasis. Unlike typical zone-out cardio, you get the benefits of cardio conditioning as a bonus with everything else you need.

Here is where I break down the Maxercist step-by-step and include a video performance for your entertainment.

Equipment needed:
a pull-up bar, tree limb or Lifeline Jungle Gym, basically something to pull youself up on.

  1. Facing the bar, drop into a flat-foot squat
  2. Roll back into a bent-leg shoulder stand
  3. Exhale, lowering the legs overhead into plow position
  4. suddenly reversing direction, roll back up into a flat-foot squat, then into an immediate forearm balance (Crane position)
  5. Hold the arm balance for 3-5seconds then,
  6. Explosively donkey kick the legs back, extending into the Upward-Facing Dog position then
  7. lift the hips back into Downward-Facing Dog, then
  8. Sit into a Bear squat
  9. Dive through into a Low Plank Position, continuing smoothly back to
  10. Upward-Facing Dog, then return to Low Plank and finally push up to
  11. Upper Plank position
  12. Sit back to Bear squat, then
  13. Extend the legs into Downward-Facing Dog
  14. Leap forward into Frog position
  15. Stand, or jump, up to the pull-up bar in front of you
  16. Perform a smooth Chin-Up or Pull-Up (your choice)
  17. Hold 3-5 seconds in the top position, throat against the bar
  18. Slowly lower down to full arm’s length
  19. Rinse and repeat. Wipe hands on pants.


The way I work the sequence is as follows:

A1) Heavy speed rope x 120 skips
A2) Maxercist x 5
A3) slow, smooth stability ball crunch x 10

That’s one round, which should take about 5 min, depending on speed and fluidity. Perform 5-10 rounds according to your strength and ability.

Your goal is smoothness, flow, and full articulation. Do not rush.
This is a phenomenal routine combining the best elements of joint mobility and conditioning and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!

The Maxercist is one example of many tools I carry in my kit bag. You can learn more about the Maxercist and much, much more at my upcoming Body Weight Trainer’s certification 3 May in Philadelphia. Or, join me and my teen aide-de-camp in Frankfurt, Germany 14 June or Kevin Buckley’s great new gym, Dynamic Strength & Conditioning in Nashua NH 12 & 13 September or later on in Reykjavik.

I’m looking forward to it!

In Strength & Health,
Steve