It’s endearing name belies it true nature. For it is as sweet to the ear, as it is fiendish to the rest of the body. Burpees are one of the best total-body exercises you can do. In fact, if you only ever did burpees, you’d develop a high level of fitness and muscular conditioning without ever having the need for fancy exercise equipment or more than a few square yards of space.
This brutally effective exercise takes strength, co-ordination, and endurance. It’s named after American physiologist Royal Huddleston Burpee who created the move in the 1930’s as a quick and dirty way to assess all-round fitness in WWII army recruits.1
The burpee has since become a firm favorite with anyone looking to develop a high level of fitness. Lovers of this move include everyone from Special Forces to elite athletes, and basically anyone who wants to get fit and likes a challenge.
Which Muscles Do Burpees Work?
Burpees are a total-body exercise. The ultimate combo move, a burpee combines a squat, a push-up and jump, which are all effective exercises by themselves.
Burpees work the following main muscles – roughly listed in order of recruitment
- Gluteus maximus
- Erector spinae
- Rectus abdominus
- Pectoralis major
- Hip flexors
Burpees work virtually every muscle in your body; the only notable exceptions are the biceps and latissimus dorsi muscles (and there are burpee variations that can fix that!). Every other muscle is guaranteed a great workout.
Benefits of Burpees
Burpees are the ultimate low-tech/high-effect exercise. They help you develop high end fitness, work virtually every muscle in your body, burn lots of calories and get a huge amount of work done in a very short time.
In addition to working all those skeletal muscles, a high rep set of burpees will leave you huffing and puffing like a steam train, which that means your heart and lungs get an awesome workout too.
Burpees also develop your muscular endurance, explosive power and strength!
How to do Burpees
Burpees involve the following series of moves: squat to squat thrust to push-up to squat to squat jump.
How to do a Burpee with Proper Form
Starting position: Stand with your feet together and your hands by your sides.
- Squat. Squat down and place your hands flat on the floor in front of your feet and shoulder-width apart
- Squat thrust. Jump both feet out and back to land in the pushup position
- Push-up. Bend your arms and lower your chest to lightly touch the floor. Push back up to full arm extension
- Squat. Jump both feet back in and under your body, knees close to your elbows
- Jump. Leap up into the air as high as you can. Land on slightly bent knees.
Then repeat, repeat, REPEAT!
To get the most from doing burpees, it’s important to do it correctly. This generally makes it safer and puts the stress on your muscles and keeps it off your joints.
If you are not especially fit or strong, lack core strength, are very overweight, have bad knees, dodgy shoulders, wrists or elbows, bad hips or a weak lower back, it may be best to avoid burpees or at least modify them.
How to Make Burpees Easier
There are a variety of ways to perform a burpee so it can be modified to suit your individual needs. If you are a beginner, for example, you can omit certain portions of the burpee to make the exercise less demanding.
Beginner burpee: Squat down. Then get into push-up position by bringing your feet back one at a time without jumping. Return to standing by bringing your feet forward, one at a time, again without jumping.
Burpees involve a lot of coordination and the more tired you get, the worse your technique is likely to become. Poor technique can lead to injuries so keep these tips in mind when performing burpees to make it as safe and effective as possible.
Here’s how to make sure you perform burpees perfectly every time.
- When you drop into the first squat, try to keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Squat all the way down – don’t just bend over from your waist. Your hips should be below the level of your knees when you put your hands on the floor for the pushup.
- Descend quickly but under control – don’t just drop into a low squat or your knees may suffer.
- Avoid diving onto your hands as you may hurt your wrists.
- Keep your core tight – do not let your hips drop out of proper alignment.
- Keep your neck neutral as you do the pushup – do not lower your head toward the floor.
- Don’t bounce your chest off the floor – touch the floor lightly and without letting your lower back arch excessively.
- Jump your feet back in as close to your hands as possible.
- Leap into the air from flat feet, if possible to reduce the strain on your knees.
- Always land with slightly bent knees to absorb the impact, otherwise you may hurt your feet, ankles, knees, hips or back.
As utterly brilliant as burpees are, you can change them up and make burpees easier or harder.
So whether you’re looking for an easier version to help build your basic fitness or a mega-tough version to provide the ultimate workout challenge, there’s a version just for you!
1 Double pushup burpees
Do two pushups instead of one to increase the upper body work per rep.
2 180-degree turn burpees
Do a 180 degree jump at the end of each burpee so you land facing the opposite direction. This adds an additional coordination challenge.
3 Lateral jump burpees
Do your burpees standing sideways on to a knee-high hurdle. When it comes time to do the jump, leap sideways over the hurdle and into your next rep.
4 Long jump burpees
Instead of jumping as high as you can at the end of each rep, jump as far as you can. For a fun and challenging workout, do your burpees for distance instead of reps e.g. over 100 meters, 400 meters or, if you are crazy fit, a mile!
5 Tuck jump burpees
As you leap into the air, pull your knees up into your chest and grab your shins with your hands. Snap them down quickly and land on slightly bent knees. This drives up the leg power component of burpees and will really set your lungs on fire!
6 Bench burpees
Stand in front of a sturdy and stable exercise bench. Perform your burpee as normal but jump forward and up onto the bench and then back down. This variation keeps you honest as each jump will be the same height.
7 Clean and press burpees
Using a medicine ball, barbell or dumbbells, hold the weight in your hands, squat down, jump your feet back, perform a single push up, jump your feet in, stand up and clean the weight to shoulder height and then, finally, push it over head. This variation is not for the uncoordinated or feint hearted.
8 Pull-up burpees
Do your burpees beneath a pull-up bar and perform a single pullup after the jump. This addition means you really are training every muscle in your body, as the pull-up works your (up to now neglected) biceps and lats.
9 Muscle up burpees
For this variation, you finish the burpee with a pull-up but then push yourself up and above the bar in a sort of dip motion. This is for advanced exercisers only and will challenge every aspect of your fitness and strength.