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Burpees: The Single Best Exercise Ever?


Burpees - Dr. Axe

If you were to ask me what exercise I would perform if given only one option, it would undoubtedly be the burpee. Burpees hits almost every muscle group while providing the aerobic and endurance benefits. It even helps strengthen the core. (It is important to note, though, the person has to be in proper shape to start off as this complex exercise can lead to injury if the exerciser isn’t ready for it.)

To be clear, this exercise is not an easy one. In fact, some people make breaking world burpee records a priority. On May 17, 2014, in Greenwood, South Carolina,  a gentleman by the name of Cameron Dorn broke two burpee world records. He performed 5,657 within a 12-hour period. He also completed the most burpees in a 24-hour period, finishing with a whopping 10,105. Another world record was achieved on October 21, 2013, in Portland, Oregon, by Lloyd Weema. He broke the burpee world record for the most chest to ground burpees performed in 72 hours with 9,480.

The burpee, also known as a squat thrust, is a full body exercise that incorporates four steps. The basic burpee is called a four-count burpee and starts in a standing position. From there, follow these four steps:

Count 1: Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground.
Count 2: Kick your feet back, placing your body into a plank position, while keeping your arms extended.
Count 3: Jump your feet back into the squat position.
Count 4: Jump up from the squat position.

Often, the burpee is performed as a six-count bodyweight exercise where a push up and an explosive jump is added to the mix, making this love/hate exercise even harder. The burpee is using so much energy that it is easy to get fatigued very quickly. This is one of the reasons that it is often incorporated into a challenge of some sort such as the 100 burpee workout. The fatigue happens very quickly due to the full body movements and, in some cases, up to three jumps not to mention the push up if you decide to add that.

Spartan Races require participants to do 30 burpees in a row if they choose to skip an obstacle– clearly a form of punishment that goes to show just how tough the exercise is! The Spartan Races are not the only ones that use the burpee as a form of punishment. The popular Cross-Fit gyms require a number of burpees to be performed for anyone arriving to class late. (1)

History of Burpees

Let’s get into the history of the burpee. A physiologist named Royal H. Burpee developed the burpee in the 1930s by using it as a fitness test. He used the test as part of his doctoral thesis in applied physiology from Columbia University in 1940. It became popular when the United States Armed Services used it as a way to assess the fitness level of recruits during World World II. It allowed the military to quickly review agility, coordination and strength. (2)  

We learned more of this through Mr. Burpee’s granddaughter, Burpee Dluginski, who has shared that her grandfather was a “fitness fanatic before the famous Jack Lalanne.” What was important to Burpee was to be able to measure the fitness level of everyday people. Around 1939, the invention and the official test of the burpee began with members of the YMCA in the Bronx, which is where Burpee worked.


Burpees - Dr. Axe


Burpee’s granddaughter says that the official movement has become known as a squat thrust, a four-count burpee, a front-leaning rest and a military burpee. The test was applied by measuring the heart rate of the subjects before and after four burpees were performed so that he could determine how efficient the heart was at pumping blood.

This measurement was a good indication of fitness level and apparently so good that the military used it as a fitness test. Initially, the test was for 20 seconds, later moving to one minute with 41 being considered excellent while 27 was considered a poor fitness level. (34)

5 Reasons to Do Burpees

1. Burpees Are a Full-Body Workout

As I noted above, if you told me I had to choose only one exercise, I would definitely choose the burpee. Most exercises work on specific muscles or muscle groups; whereas, the burpee pretty much works it all. You can even modify it to ensure full body work. For example, when in the plank position, throw in a tricep pushup and you are now including the triceps while working legs, core and other upper body muscles!

2. Burpees Add Strength

Let’s face it, burpees are tough and often fall into the the dreaded exercise category. You love the results, but they are so hard, that getting through 10 of them is enough of a challenge for most. The thing to keep in mind is that just like anything else, practice offers more. At first, doing even 3 burpees may be as far as you can go, but if you stay with it, you will be able to do way more because you will get stronger. Those 3 burpees can turn into 43 in no time!

A recent study reported the evaluation of active women and their aerobic fitness and muscular endurance when performing whole-body weight high intensity training to include burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or squat thrusts as compared to specific single interval exercises such as leg presses. The data indicated that although improvements in cardiovascular fitness and strength are evident by both endurance and low volume interval-style training, “whole-body aerobic-resistance training imparted addition benefit in the form of improved skeletal muscle endurance.”  (5)

3. Burpees Can Be Done Almost Anywhere

What I love about burpees is that I can take them with me wherever I go! There is no need for any additional equipment beyond body weight. That makes them the perfect exercise to do almost anywhere, so you have no excuse to keep up with your fitness, even when traveling.

A study of Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets investigated how the effects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) impacted fitness levels. Twenty-six college-aged participants completed 4 weeks of exercise training in just 3 days. This consisted of 60 minutes of general physical training such as whole-body calisthenics, incorporating “all-out” burpees. The results showed sustained fitness even though the duration of the calisthenics was short. An exercise program that includes HIIT may be the best way to maintain fitness without access to equipment. (6)

4. Burpees Build Definition

Burpees are working arms, chest, butt, hamstrings, quadriceps and a ton of core. With all that work, it is impossible to avoid getting a more defined and toned physique. Proper form is key; however, you need to take your time while performing the exercise to make sure you avoid injury and reap the benefits of this amazing all-in-one exercise. Once you have mastered it, you can start to challenge yourself with increased speed.

5. Burpees Increase Endurance

There’s nothing like 10 burpees in a row to get your heart pounding. A study showed that cardiovascular benefits were gained with calisthenics as compared to cycling indicating that both are beneficial in building endurance and cardiovascular strength. This happens because you are working numerous muscle groups all at one time. The demand for oxygen increases with this work.

Over time, you will be able to perform more of them because you your body will have the ability to use this oxygen more efficiently. This is when speed combined with perfect form come into play making you stronger and more efficient at performing the burpee. This work will offer benefits to other fitness endeavors too. (78) 

Burpee Workouts

There are many ways to do a burpee workout. Have you heard of the Burpee Mile? This is where you do a burpee with a broad jump for the distance of a mile. There is the popular 100 Burpee Challenge that may intrigue you. Not ready for that? How about trying one of my burpee workouts and work your way towards your next challenge! (9

Even though the burpee may sound intimidating, it is really simple. Here are the basic instructions for performing the classic burpee.

  1. Start by positioning yourself in a standing position.
  2. Then, drop down into a squat position placing your hands on the ground.
  3. Next, extend your feet back in one quick motion resulting in the front plank position.
  4. Return to the squat position in one quick movement.
  5.  Jump straight into the air as high as possible.

    Now that you know the move, practice it a couple of times to make sure you have good form. Keep the abs tight. If jumping is too much right now, just stand upright instead. Also, instead of jumping the legs out to the plank position, you can walk them out to the position. Once you are stronger, you will be able to perform the exercise consecutively based on the instructions of the workout. If you need a break, take 10 to 15 seconds, then resume. Over time, you will be able to do more at a faster pace.

Basic Burpee Workout — Beginner

Perform 3 sets of 6 burpees with 30 second rest between each set.

Burpee Workout With Push Up — Advanced

Perform 5 sets of 10 burpees with a 45 second rest between each set, but add a pushup when in plank position.

Challenge: Add 2 push-ups with a side knee tuck! To do this, once you are in plank position, perform a push up. As you go down, bring your right knee to your right elbow. Repeat on the left side. Then, resume the burpee. This one is tough, but offers amazing core benefits. 

Burpee Workout with Push Up and High Knee Tuck Jump —Advanced

Perform the burpee as prescribed above, but when you stand up to do the jump, explode into a high knee tuck jump. To do this, as you explode upward into the jump, tuck the knees and try gently slapping your knees as a reminder to brings the knees up as high as you can.

Burpee Circuit Superset Workout

Similar to burst training and some of my Burst Fit workouts, you will perform 4 sets of 4 exercises for one minute each with a 10 second rest between each exercise, and a one minute rest between each set. Do as many as you can during the interval.

Exercise 1: Mountain Climbers

Get in plank position and move the feet forwards and backwards, one at a time, in a fluid movement. Do not touch toes to the ground with the forward foot. Keep abs tight.

Exercise 2: Jumping Jacks

This is the classic jumping jack that you have known since childhood. Simply stand with feet hip distance apart. Arms at your sides. Jump feet out to the sides while taking your arms out the side and up above your head.

Exercise 3: Burpees

Start by positioning yourself in a standing position. Then, drop down into a squat position placing your hands on the ground. Next, extend your feet back in one quick motion resulting in the front plank position. Return to the squat position in one quick movement. Jump straight into the air as high as possible. You can add the push-up and/or the high knee tuck jump as described above for a bigger challenge.

Exercise 4: Squats 

Start with feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Keep the upper body as upright as possible during this exercise. Go down into a squat as if sitting in a chair. Try to go down until the quads are parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Burpee Precautions

If you are suffering from pack pain and find yourself seeking back pain relief, you may want to avoid doing the burpees. While if performed correctly, it should not cause problems, it is an exercise that uses most of the body. Additionally, if you suffer from vertigo, this exercise may be difficult to perform. And again, it’s best to work with a fitness professional, at least at the beginning, to make sure your form is correct and you’re not exercising with muscle imbalances. This can also lead to injury.

Final Thoughts on Burpees

Regardless of your fitness level, you can work your way up to performing the burpee as part of your workout and strength building. It is the perfect exercise to build muscles and endurance and can go with you just about anywhere.

Read Next: A Weak Psoas Muscle Could Be Triggering Your Back Pain

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