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Burpees: The Ultimate Guide

Aug 19, 2021 | Strength & Conditioning

We love to hate ‘em—burpees are the one movement in a workout that prompts near universal groans and complaints from athletes. The why is simple: going from completely facedown on the floor to a fully extended jump with arms reaching overhead is the ultimate full-body eff-you to gravity.

The Ultimate Guide to Burpees: how to do them, scale them, program them, and more…

We love to hate ‘em—burpees are the one movement in a workout that prompts near universal groans and complaints from athletes. The why is simple: going from completely facedown on the floor to a fully extended jump with arms reaching overhead is the ultimate full-body eff-you to gravity.

Burpees came to be in the 1930s when a US physiologist, Royal Huddleston Burpee Sr. (yes, that’s actually his name), used the movement to assess overall physical fitness. Then, the US Army picked it up as a way to test new recruits.

They’re basic. They’re functional. You can take away parts to make them easier, or you can add weight and other movements to make them harder. They’re so simple, your grandma should be able to do them. And they can suck so bad that even the best athletes never want to do them again.

Here’s your complete guide to burpees.

How to do a burpee right

Many calisthenic movements can be super technical, but the burpee is uncomplicated and perfect for beginners. It’s surprisingly easy to lazify such a baseline exercise, so here’s a step-by-step on how to perform a burpee with the right technique.

 

Step 1: Crouch to the floor
From standing, hinge at the waist and crouch down to plant your hands on the floor in front of you.

Step 2: Jump back to plank
Once your hands press on the floor, kick your legs back out behind you ending in a straight-arm plank.

Coach’s Cue: aim to keep your feet about hip-width when kicking back. Sure, widening your stance can make your distance to the ground a little shorter, but experience has taught us that easier isn’t always better. Your hips and lower chain want to move in sync.

Step 3: Pushup*
From plank, lower down to touch your chest to the floor, keeping your elbows in and your gaze on the floor just in front of you.

*Some guides encourage a strict pushup where only your chest touches the floor, but most faster workouts don’t require this in order to make the movement flow smoothly. For our purposes, the whole front of your body can touch the floor, but the only mandatory part is your chest.

Step 4: Jump forward to crouch
Brace your hands on the floor and jump your feet forward to meet them so you’re back in the crouching position.

Step 5: Get some air!
In one fluid motion, reach your arms overhead, clap your hands, and jump just enough so your feet leave the ground.

 

Congrats! That wasn’t so hard. Try to keep each part of the movement linking with the next so you have one smooth exercise. Once you can get down on the floor and jump back up with ease, you can turn on some speed and really feel the burn.

Burpees

Burpees scaling options

If you’re new to fitness or this movement is challenging for you, it’s worthwhile to scale down to what your body is capable of.

Because burpees include a hip-hinge, pushup, jump, and reach, chances are if you’re injured pretty much anywhere, they’ll be difficult. But that also makes them an easy movement to scale up or down.

 

Scale 1: Step back and forth instead of jumping.
Great for beginners—instead of kicking your legs out behind you or jumping your feet forward, just step one foot at a time to slow things down. You can always add the jumps back in when you can move easily.

Scale 2: Try the nurpee (no-pushup burpee)
To shorten the traditional burpee or avoid aggravating a cranky shoulder, just skip step 3 above. After jumping back to plank, jump forward again to your crouch.

Scale 3: Wrist issues? Ball your fists.
Instead of placing your hands flat on the ground, ball them into fists or use a pair of pushup grips to keep your wrists straight.

Scale 4: Add ankle weights! Or dumbbells
An awesome (-ly terrible) idea to get more corework out of your burpees is to do them with a pair of ankle weights. Whew, not for the faint of heart.

 

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Burpee variations

These are the spiciest, heart-poundingest versions we could find of the best/worst movement out there. Enjoy.

Man-makers

What’s one way to make anything harder? Add dumbbells. Start with a dumbbell in each hand and follow steps 1-2 above: bend down and place the dumbbells on the floor, then kick your legs back into a plank position. From plank, perform a row with each dumbbell one at a time. Then jump forward to meet the dumbbells and perform a squat clean thruster: pull yourself down into a front squat with the dumbbells resting on your shoulders. As you stand, press the dumbbells overhead. (One of the comments on the demo video is “Brutal. They make you wish you were doing burpees.”)

Devil’s Press

Similar to the man-maker and congruent with its name, the Devil’s Press is a movement forged in the fires of Hell by the King of the Underworld himself. With a dumbbell in each hand, perform a burpee up to step 4 above. As you stand from the crouch, “hike” the dumbbells by hinging at the hips and swinging them through your legs like you would a kettlebell swing. Finish the movement with both dumbbells overhead, shoulders active, and elbows locked.

Burpeee pullup

The absolute perfect way to include the only muscles not really used in a regular burpee: your pulling muscles (back and biceps). This one is easy in theory: perform a burpee under a pullup bar, and as you jump (step 5), jump to the bar and do a pullup. You can do whatever pullup variation suits you—kipping, butterfly, or strict—to get the job done. The trick is keeping your feet placement in the right spot to hit the pullup bar. Advanced athletes can work up to burpee muscle ups. (But why would you ever want to do that?)

Burpee box jump (over)

Possibly the longest burpee variations out there, option 1 is the burpee box jump: perform a burpee while facing a Plyo box and after coming forward (step 4), jump onto the box, then step back down on the same side. Option 2 is the burpee box jump over (BBJO): Same as above, but after jumping onto the box, pivot and step down on the other side. If you’re feeling frisky, you can clear the box completely. There’s some technical proficiency needed here when stringing together multiple BBJ(O), so do your best not to miss a jump when you get tired.

Bar-Facing & Lateral Burpees Over the Bar

A ruthless and heart-racing movement, sometimes called BARFing Burpees—these need a barbell setup with plates on both sides. Similar to the box jump, you can toggle the difficulty when it comes to the jumping. For bar-facing burpees, your head must be facing the barbell upon each pushup (step 3), but for lateral burpees, you can just jump left or right with each rep. Again, some technical elements here when it comes to stepping/turning so as not to miss a jump and fall on your face.

Burpee Broad Jump

Maybe you’re noticing a theme. Any movement that involves jumping can be linked to a burpee. For burpee broad jumps, the key is to land in the perfect athletic crouch position to leap forward as far as you can. Use your arms to really generate power and throw yourself forward in space.

Burpee backflip

Again with the jumping! For the more advanced gymnasts and calisthenics show-offs, why not combine a burpee with a backflip? You know, for fun.

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How to program workouts with burpees

Burpees are usually considered a versatile “cardio movement” to test aerobic capacity and improve overall conditioning. Whenever you see them in a workout, be prepared to breathe heavier. They also test mental durability, because your body can almost always do one more burpee well past the point when your mind is ready to give up.

Here are some details on where to include burpees in a workout depending on your goals.

For Warmups:
Hitting a few burpees before a workout gets the heart rate up, the blood flowing, and the coordination gears turning. Try a couple sets of quick sprints with a burpee on a whistle or at either end.

For Metcons (metabolic conditioning):
A good rule of thumb for programming burpees into timed/HIIT workouts is to put a fixed number of them wherever you would be running, rowing, biking, or using another cardio machine. A little can go a long way. Even 5 burpees can break up a monotonous workout with a target rep range.

For Strength:
Bodybuilding bros—your heart is a muscle too. And your body can only carry as much muscle as your heart will allow. Keep your blood pumping by mixing in 3-5 sets of burpees (try it on an interval!) twice a week at the end of your sessions. They’re a great movement to work on when you’re bored with sitting on a bike or walking a treadmill.

For Skill:
Athletes can always benefit from leveling up their skill sets. Master all the burpee variations listed above and consider yourself decently prepared for any kind of GPP programming thrown at you.

We might love to hate them, but burpees are the most functional full-body movement. They’re convenient, efficient, and perfect for working on overall fitness for weight loss, cardio endurance, and strength/skill development. 

If you program for yourself, don’t forget to include burpee variations in your training regularly. Everyone wants to be able to get up off the floor by themselves well into their later years. And after all, practice makes permanent.

Lily Frei Headshot

Lily frei

Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.

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