Burpees Are a Killer Full-Body Workout – and It’s Time You Stop Avoiding Them
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Burpees: You love to hate them. They’re the kind of exercise that taxes your body from head to toe and requires your brain to will your body to do just… one… more… rep. If you’ve been avoiding the burpee in your at-home workout routine during pandemic times because, TBH, you just aren’t going to force yourself to do them unless a fitness instructor is standing right next to you, well, you’re seriously missing out. “A burpee is a full-body exercise that hits strength, cardio, and plyometrics for an all-out calorie torcher that will quickly test your limits,” says Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., founder and president of Sweat Factor, a fitness streaming platform.
Here, learn more about the beloved burpee, including why you should be doing them more often, how to actually perform a burpee the right way, and how to modify the move to make it easier or, dare we say, even more challenging.
How to Do a Burpee with Proper Form
You’ve likely seen the burpee performed a slew of different ways, and there are a ton of fun modifications and progressions (see below for inspiration), but there’s really only one way to do the traditional burpee exercise. Here’s how:
Start in a high plank position with palms under shoulders, hips tucked, and core engaged.
Perform a push-up, then immediately jump your feet wide to the outside of your hands.
From this crouched position, push through heels to explode up, jumping into the air with arms to the sky.
Land softly with knees slightly bent, then immediately reverse the movement, coming into the wide, low squat with feet outside of hands.
Jump feet back, returning to high, palm plank position. Repeat.
Common Burpee Mistakes
Unsurprisingly, burpee no-nos tend to center around form rather than rep schemes or programming, says Donavanik. One of the biggest issues he sees is when someone “does the worm” during the push-up stage, by dipping their hips, arching and lowering their lower back instead of maintaining a tight core throughout the push pattern.
Another common burpee mistake is jumping your feet inside of your hands rather than outside, which might be tempting if you have limited hip mobility but it actually puts more pressure on your knee joints, says Donavanik.
Bottom line is that if your form is suffering, scale it back with burpee modifications that keep the exercise effective and efficient without sacrificing alignment.
The Benefits of Burpees
Breaking down the burpee, it’s easy to see how there are a litany of advantages to this exercise, but there are a few burpee benefits that deserve the spotlight.
It’s a full-body exercise: Many exercises claim to be a total-body movement, but a lot are just wannabes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a singular exercise that tackles your upper body, core, and lower body as well as the burpee. “You’re working almost every muscle in your body,” says Donavanik.
It’s a complete workout: The burpee is essentially an entire workout crammed into one exercise. “You’re getting strength, cardio bursts, and explosive plyometrics in a single move,” says Donavanik. So, no matter what your fitness goal may be, say, power, strength, or stamina, the burpee can help you achieve it.
It won’t let you ignore weaknesses: At first glance, this might not sound like a bonus, but if you really want to level up your fitness, you have to target any current limitations, which a burpee can bring to light. Can’t get your feet to easily reach your hands? Your tight hips need mobility work. Lower back pain? Your core could be weak. Arms maxed out from the push-up before your endurance? Your upper body strength training could use some attention.
You’ll tap into mental toughness: You know those moments during a workout where you just want to throw in the towel but something in your head tells you to keep going even though your muscles are shaking? That’s mental resilience, and it has to be built. To know that you can get through hard things (i.e. a ton of burpees) you have to have previously proven to yourself you can do them.
Should You Be Doing Burpees Daily?
By now you know that burpees are a demanding exercise. You don’t want to overdo it, especially without adequate rest. “I wouldn’t recommend doing burpees daily,” says Donavanik. For what it’s worth, that goes for any single, specific exercise, he explains, nodding to the importance of variety in your workouts. (However, you should start planking daily.)
When programmed appropriately, burpees can be an integral part of your overall fitness routine. How you do them will depend on your specific fitness goals, says Donavanik. “For general fitness purposes, I’d say you can do them one to two times a week as part of a more cohesive program,” he says.
Try this fun fitness challenge to test either your time or reps: See how many burpees you can accomplish in two minutes or how long it takes you to do 20 reps of burpees — all with proper form. Record your results, then start building burpees into your workouts once a week. “It’ll be a good test to see how you’re improving week-over-week,” explains Donavanik.
Burpee Variations to Make Them Easier and More Difficult
Mastered the OG burpee exercise and looking for a challenge? Or maybe you’re new to strength training and want to ease into the burpee party? Either way, there are a surprising number of burpee variations that can help you modify or progress the move. Here’s some inspo courtesy of Donavanik:
Add a tuck jump: Instead of doing a regular jump at the end of the movement, turn it into a tuck jump. Explode up, tucking your knees up towards your chest as you lift off.
Add a pull-up: If you have access to a pull-up bar, grab it at the top of your jump, then perform one pull-up.
Walk your feet in: Instead of jumping feet out wide to the sides of your hands and back out to plank, walk one foot in, then the other, and back out when returning to plank. This modification can be especially helpful for those with limited hip mobility, says Donavanik.
Drop your knees: Performing the push-up with knees on the ground can help you achieve faster and more explosive burpees while you build your upper body strength.
Skip the jump entirely: While you will lose out on the plyometric element to the burpee without the jump, if you’re rehabbing an injury or have joint issues, taking the jump out (and perhaps also utilizing the walk in/out modification above), may be best for you.
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