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Death by burpees: the horrible route to better conditioning

Written by joelsnape

‘Death by’ workouts take a bit of finesse to get right. In case you aren’t familiar with the format, they basically go:


Minute one: do one burpee (let’s get the terminology right: this means chest to the floor at the bottom, get up however you can. The pressup doesn’t need to be strict). Rest for the rest of the minute.


Minute two: do two burpees. Rest for the rest of the minute.


Repeat until failure/collapse.


It’s a format with good points and bad points. ‘Good’ is that you tend to get quite a bit of volume in, because the numbers go up in what’s known as a triangular series, where the last round you hit, n, means you’ve got: n(n+1)/2 reps. Getting to the round of 12 means you’ve done 78 reps, for instance, which is pretty good going. Bonus: you probably don’t need much warmup, because the early reps will get that done. And the best bit is that, if you choose your exercises properly, it always descends into the kind of unrelenting horror where each round becomes a choice between quitting and somehow getting through it, knowing that the next round is going to be even worse. After all, intentionally putting yourself through certain sorts of horrible things is good preparation for life.


The ‘bad’ is that this doesn’t work with everything. Death by pullups, for instance, is a CrossFit staple, but if you aren’t going to do kipping pullups (and there are good reasons not to) then your muscles will fail before your conditioning/heart, which isn’t much of a good test of anything. So death by burpees is great: death by bench press isn’t. Do a Death By workout today: they’re good, kit-free fun.


Still here? Bad news. Inevitably, there is an even worse way to do this.


Once you’ve got the hang of Death By Burpees, the much, much nastier option is this triple-header, devised by Michael Blevins.


Death By Triple Threat


(for each exercise, do 1 on the first minute, 2 on the 2nd minute etc, until you can’t get the required reps in a minute)


ROUND 1: Death By Burpee Pullups (chest to bar)


When you fail, on the next minute go straight into:


ROUND 2: Death By Burpee Box jump (start again at 1)


When you fail, on the next minute go to:


ROUND 3: Death By Burpee (start again at 1)


The ‘good’ thing about this is that it gives you three chances to fail, and some time to recover between them. It’ll keep your heart rate high and test how much you want to carry on, because it only gets worse as you tire. ‘Some people finish this and go ‘Oh, I didn’t really do much work there,’ says Blevins. ‘I’ll go: that’s because you quit.’


To give you an idea of what not quitting would be like, this should go something like 40 minutes long: 11 reps of round one and two, maybe 18 reps of round three. That’s 303 burpees and a lot of unpleasantness.
Death by Burpees. Get to it: and please don’t actually die.

About the author


Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.


  • 18 death by burpees ? As a third set ?!?!?
    You are crazy. The best in my box barelly scrached 18 on a normal Death by burpees alone.
    I am not saying we are elite or noobs. Just can’t imagine hitting 18 after death by burpee pullup and death by burpee box jump.

    Gotta give it a go tho 🙂 Nice idea.

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