The first time you do a burpee you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Although it’s renowned as a brutal bodyweight exercise that burns fat as fast as it builds muscle, and is regularly used as punishment for skipping obstacles in obstacle course races, none of that tallies with how you feel after performing one burpee.
Don’t let that deter you. Do a second burpee, and then a third. Keep going and 30 seconds later you’ll be wondering how it’s possible for so many muscles to be aching and your lungs to be burning at the same time.
There is no fun way to do burpees. Whether you take them slow and hit a certain rep count, or try to cram in as many as possible within a set time period, they knacker you out faster than just about any other exercise out there. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that all that effort is absolutely worth it. The burpee works your arms, back, chest, core, glutes and legs – you name it, it works it. And burpees also spike your heart rate as much as sprinting for a bus does – one reason it’s a firm favourite among the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) crowd. And all of those benefits come without the use of any equipment, so you can do the burpee anytime and anywhere.
Read on to discover the best ways to include this effective exercise in your training.
Benefits of Burpees
It’s important to extol the virtues of burpee before telling you how to do them, because once you’ve knocked out of a set you’ll need some convincing to put yourself through that again. So here goes.
The burpee is a true full-body exercise, working most major muscle groups while also improving your cardiovascular fitness and testing your balance and co-ordination. If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, the burpee would be a smart pick for keeping you in the best shape possible.
Not only do burpees work a range of muscles, they do so in a functional manner, so you’ll notice the improvements to your strength and mobility in your day-to-day life, not just in the gym. That’s if you even go to a gym, because you don’t need to for burpees, which require zero kit to do. All that’s needed is the steely determination required to get you through them… and perhaps an understanding neighbour who won’t complain about the frequent jumping up and down.
The burpee is also an exercise that’s easy to vary and combine with other exercises so you work the body in different ways. You’ll find an extensive range of variations below, but first let’s run through how to do the standard burpee.
How To Do A Burpee
The classic burpee is a four-point move. From a standing position, drop into a squat with your hands on the ground just in front of your feet. Then kick your feet back behind you, keeping your arms extended so you are in a raised plank position. At this stage, the more adventurous can throw a press-up into the mix, which really ramps up the difficulty.
In the basic burpee, you remain in the raised plank and jump your feet back towards your hands. Then round off the manoeuvre by leaping into the air with your arms straight above you. Then do it all again.
Burpee Form Tips
“There is a lot going on when you do a burpee,” says trainer Dan Baldwin of Six3Nine. “This means there’s the potential to make the burpee harder and reduce the amount you can do, which means you’re wasting energy and reducing the exercise’s effectiveness.” Follow this five-point form guide to perfect the burpee and reap the worthwhile rewards, then use these tips when taking on the ruthlessly efficient burpee workout we’ve devised below.
- Mobilise: “The burpee can put a lot of stress through your ankles, knees and wrists,” says Baldwin. “Make sure you’re thoroughly warmed up and you’ve done some mobility work, including press-ups, lunges and squats, to loosen up the joints.”
- Break it up: “The burpee can be complex so to start with, split the move into two parts: a squat thrust and a deep squat jump. Make sure you are comfortable with each phase of the exercise before combining the two.”
- Squat thrust: “For the squat thrust make sure your shoulders are directly over your hands, and your legs are extended into a press-up position. When jumping your feet in and out, keep your shoulders above your hands – don’t let them move backwards or forwards.”
- Deep squat jump: “For the deep squat make sure your hips are sitting back and try to keep your chest as upright as possible. Explode up and ensure you cushion your landing by bending the knees as you make contact with the floor.”
- Get some air time: “Once you’re happy you can perform both with good form, add the two together. Your arms can play a part here and as you transition from the squat thrust to the squat jump, swing your arms forwards and above your head for maximum height.”
Common Mistakes To Avoid
As you begin to tire, it’s a common impulse to want to skip certain steps in order to make the burpee easier. Don’t beat yourself up about it, we’ve all been there but remember what your school teachers told you – you’re only cheating yourself. Applying the correct level of intensity to the burpee at all times ensures you reap all the heart-healthy, muscle-boosting benefits. If you begin to falter, rest briefly then go again.
Contract your core
The plank stage of the burpee is pivotal to ensuring your abdominals get sufficient stimulation. Ensure your shoulders are parallel to your wrists, keep your core contracted and engaged and your back straight, neutrally aligned with your glutes. Many make the mistake of arching their back, negating the positive effects the burpee has on the abs, while also risking injury.
Reps for days
As is the case with virtually every other exercise, doing more reps for the sake of it does not directly correspond to a successful workout. Focus on nailing the correct technique as explained above first, and this will help you to progress more smoothly.
Four Burpee Workouts
Burpees can be incorporated into circuit training, used to warm up before other exercises or done over and over again to act as your entire workout.
100 burpee challenge
The 100 burpee challenge is a good way to approach the latter: just do 100 as quickly as you can. The first 15 shouldn’t take much over a minute, but the rest will take a lot longer. Any time under ten minutes for the full 100 is pretty darn impressive.
The burpee ladder
The burpee ladder is another way to build a workout around this king of all exercises. Start with ten burpees, have a quick rest, then do nine, eight and so on. If you’re feeling brave, do burpees, press-ups and sit-ups on every rung. It’s a weird feeling to view sit-ups as a welcome break.
This dynamic workout will build up your tolerance to the lactic acid inevitably flooding your legs and help increase your anaerobic performance for a fitness boost with a large scoop of fat-burning benefits.
First, find out your maximum set by doing as many burpees as you can before having to stop. Reduce that number slightly, and perform three sets with a 30-second rest between. For example, if your maximum set is 20, rest for 30 seconds then do 15 for your working set, rest another 30 seconds, then repeat a further two times. Now breathe, hard.
30-day burpee challenge
A one off not enough? Then try our 30-day burpee challenge. The beauty of this training plan is that it’s scaleable – it’s based on your current fitness level, established by the test on day one.
Best Burpee Variations
Select your burpee punishment for the above workout from the five devilish options below, ranked in order of malevolence
Evil rating: strict parent
From standing, drop and place your hands on the floor outside your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position, then back to between your hands. Jump up, clapping your hands overhead.
Evil rating: overbearing personal trainer
From standing, drop and place your hands on the floor outside your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position, perform one chest-to-floor press-up, then jump your feet back to between your hands. Jump up, clapping your hands overhead.
Tuck jump burpee
Evil rating: morning people
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Drop down and place your hands outside of your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top press-up position, then bring them forwards again to between your hands. Jump up, bringing your knees to your chest. Adding a tuck jump will require you to generate more upward force than a standard burpee.
Burpee broad jump
Evil rating: school bully
From standing, drop and place your hands on the floor outside your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position, then back to between your hands. Powerfully jump forwards as far as you can, swinging your arms by your side for momentum. Land and continue straight into the next rep.
Evil rating: queue jumper
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then drop down and place one hand on the floor in the centre of your chest, keeping the other hand at your side. Jump your feet back so you’re in the one-arm press-up position, keeping your feet wider than shoulder-width apart to maintain balance. Then jump your feet back up to shoulder-width position and jump up. Make sure to switch hands between reps or after a duration of time.
To make this already difficult burpee even harder, try to do a one-armed press up when on the ground – or, if that’s a bit unreasonable, add the other hand to the mix to complete a diamond press-up and then take it away again before you jump your feet forwards.
Box jump burpee
Evil rating: not holding the lift for someone desperately trying to make it
To begin with, get a box that you’re comfortable jumping and landing on, and stand facing it with enough space behind you for you to adopt the press-up position. Drop down and place your hands on the floor outside of your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in a top press-up position, then jump them back to your hands again. As you stand up, jump up and onto the box, landing in a controlled fashion, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Stand to complete the movement, then step off the box.
Evil rating: not giving up your seat to a heavily pregnant woman
In stark difference to the other burpees in this list, you start standing on one leg and ensure the other stays off the ground throughout. Reach down and place your hands on the ground slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Then hop your leg back so you’re in the single-leg plank position. Hop the leg forwards again and stand up, maintaining your balance. Then jump up, raising your hands above your head. Swap legs after either 20 seconds or five reps.
Slam ball burpee
Evil rating: drill sergeant
Stand holding a slam ball. Raise it above your head and slam it down as hard as you can straight towards the ground. Once the slam ball lands, drop and place your hands on the floor outside of your feet. Jump your feet back so you’re in the top press-up position, then bring them back between your hands. Jump up, then grab the slam ball ready for another rep. Go as fast as you can without jeopardising form.
Evil rating: psycho boss
Stand under a pull-up bar. Drop your hands to the floor, jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up and back to your hands, then jump up to the bar and perform a pull-up. When your chin is above your hands, you’ve completed one rep.
Evil rating: pirate (the bad kind, not the Johnny Depp kind)
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, drop down and place both dumbbells on the floor outside of your feet. Keeping hold of the dumbbells entire time, jump your feet back so you’re in the top of a press-up position, then jump them back to between your hands again and stand up. Feel free to add in a press-up, or a renegade row, or a jump, or an overhead press.
Addtional reporting Cherrelle Jefferson (@cherrelleJj)