One of the best total-body exercises is the burpee. Burpees hit 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. 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. Similarly, CrossFit often require a number of burpees to be performed for anyone arriving to class late.
Learn how to do a burpee, plus how it can incorporated into a workout.
What Is a Burpee?
The burpee, also known as a squat thrust, is a full-body plyometric 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.
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.
1. Burpees Are a Full-Body Workout
Most exercises work on specific muscles or muscle groups; whereas, the burpee pretty much works it all — core muscles, shoulders, chest, triceps and legs. 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.
Burpees are even considered a great butt exercise.
2. Burpees Add Strength
Let’s face it, burpees are tough and often fall into 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 three 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 three burpees can turn into 13 in no time!
A 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.”
3. Burpees Can Be Done Almost Anywhere
Another great feature of burpees is that you can do them anywhere. There is no need for any additional equipment beyond body weight. That makes them the perfect exercise to do in most places, including your hotel room, 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 four weeks of exercise training in just three 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.
4. Burpees Build Muscle Definition
As said above, burpees are considered a great exercise for the quads, arms, chest, butt, hamstring and the core. With all that work, it is impossible to avoid getting a more defined and toned physique.
Proper form is key; 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 your body will have the ability to use this oxygen more efficiently. This is when speed combined with perfect form comes into play, making you stronger and more efficient at performing the burpee. This work will help your other fitness endeavors, too.
How to Do Burpees Exercise
Even though the burpee may sound intimidating, it is really simple. Here are the basic instructions for performing the classic burpee.
- Start by positioning yourself in a standing position.
- Then, drop down into a squat position placing your hands on the ground.
- Next, jump 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.
Now that you know the move, practice it a couple of times to make sure you have good form. Keep the abs tight in order to protect your lower back.
- Instead of jumping the legs out to the plank position, you can walk them out to the position.
- If jumping is too much right now, just stand upright instead.
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.
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 these burpee workouts and work your way towards your next challenge.
First, before any of these workouts, do a warm-up, such as walking in place for a few minutes and then some jumping jacks. You can also combine these the burpee exercise with nearly any kind of workout. It goes particularly well with HIIT workouts or Tabata workouts.
1. Basic Burpee Workout — Beginner
Perform 3 sets of 6 burpees with a 30-second rest between each set.
2. Burpee Workout with Push-Up — Advanced
Perform 5 sets of 10 burpees with a 45-second rest between each set, but add a push-up 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.
3. 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.
4. Burpee Circuit Superset Workout
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.
If you are suffering from lower back pain, 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.
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.