How to Do Burpees

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

A young man performing aerobic exercise outdoors at a playground.
Getty Images / nattrass.

Also Known As: Squat thrust

Targets: Entire body

Equipment Needed: None

Level: Beginner

Burpees: You love ‘em or you hate ‘em. If you’re like most people, you probably fall into the latter group. This move will knock the breath out of you, make your legs shake, and strengthen your shoulders like no other. 

In this guide to burpees, learn how to perform them correctly, how to avoid the biggest burpee mistakes, when to implement them into your workouts, and how to modify them for pregnancy and injuries. 

Benefits

One guaranteed way to improve your fitness? Add burpees into your exercise rotation. Below, learn about the many benefits of burpees. 

Cardiovascular Endurance

Whew, do burpees do something for your cardio! We’re talking lungs burning, chest heaving, mind dizzied cardio—if you want it to feel like that, that is. You certainly don’t have to make burpees so intense if you don’t want to, but even doing them slowly will improve your cardiovascular endurance. 

Burpees are a high-intensity, full-body, fast-paced movement, making them one of the best for strengthening your heart, lungs, and entire cardiorespiratory system. (Hint: If you hate running, just do burpees instead. They’ll get the job done). 

Muscular Endurance 

In addition to improving your cardio endurance, burpees also improve your muscular endurance. Muscular endurance refers specifically to how long your muscles can sustain repeated movement under a given load. In the case of burpees, your body weight is the load.

Coordination

Burpees may seem simple on the surface—drop down and get back up—but they actually require quite a bit of coordination. You have to time the movement correctly, or you might end up face-planting on the way down. Practicing burpees can improve your coordination and body awareness.

Fat Loss

While any exercise can contribute to fat loss, high-intensity exercises such as burpees can help you burn more calories in less time. In fact, numerous research studies show that high-intensity interval training (which you can easily include burpees in) can help you burn more fat and increase your fitness more than traditional, steady-state cardio can. 

Upper Body Strength

Because burpees include push-ups, they can help you build upper body strength, particularly in your chest, triceps, and shoulders. 

Step-By-Step Instructions

A burpee is one movement, but you can break it down into parts: First, you get into a plank; then, you do a push-up; lastly, you do a jump squat. Follow this step-by-step guide to perform a perfect burpee.

  1. Start standing with your feet about hip-width apart and your arms down by your sides. 
  2. Bend down and place your palms on the floor in front of your feet. As soon as your palms make contact with the floor, jump your feet out behind you to assume the high-plank position. Keep your core tight and spine straight. 
  3. Perform a push-up. Don’t let your hips sag and don’t let your back arch. 
  4. After you finish the push-up, hop your feet back in. You should land flat-footed (not on your heels or toes), with your feet outside and slightly behind your hands. 
  5. Stand up and jump, reaching your arms above your head. 
  6. Land with your knees bent to absorb the impact. As your feet make contact with the ground, start lowering yourself to start another rep.

Common Mistakes

Burpees combine multiple moves into one; there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way. Here are some of the most common mistakes you might make while performing a burpee and how to avoid them.

Flopping Down

Be careful not to flop onto the floor when you lower into the push-up phase of the burpee. It’s common for people to flop when their muscles start to fatigue, but do your best to avoid this, because it could lead to injury — at best, a bruised knee; at worst, a strained muscle or torn ligament. 

“Worming” Up 

You may have seen CrossFit athletes arching their backs as they come up from the bottom of the burpee. Although this is common in CrossFit, it’s best to avoid “the worm.” It’s essentially hyperextension of the spine and can cause pain in your lower back. 

Modifications and Variations

If you can’t do burpees due to an injury, pregnancy, or any other reason, there are plenty of burpee alternatives to choose from. Truthfully, any high-intensity, cardio-heavy movement that involves supporting your own bodyweight will suffice. 

Half-Burpees 

A half-burpee, also called an up-down or a no-pushup burpee, simply eliminates the push-up portion of the burpee. This is a great alternative for people who have the cardiovascular endurance to perform burpees but don’t have the strength to perform push-ups yet. Half-burpees are also a good alternative for pregnant women who can’t lower themselves all the way to the floor.

Stepping Burpee

If you can’t kick your feet out behind you and then propel them back in, try a stepping burpee. This burpee modification simply replaces the ballistic motions with stepping, which is much gentler on the joints. Perform the same steps, but step your feet back to get into the plank position and then step them forward to return to standing. Like half-burpees, stepping burpees offer a great modification for pregnant women, because it removes the ballistic motions.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers offer another high-intensity way to train the core and upper body. Follow this step-by-step guide to do mountain climbers. 

Plank Jacks

Plank jacks remove the up-and-down aspect of burpees but still dial up the intensity. To do this move, start in a plank on your elbows or hands, and hop your feet in and out repeatedly. 

Tuck Jumps

Tuck jumps remove the plank and push-up portions of the burpee. This is a fantastic alternative for those with shoulder or arm injuries. To do a tuck jump, simply jump high and bring your knees to your chest. Take care to land softly with a bend in your knees. 

Pike Jumps 

Pike jumps build upon tuck jumps. To do a pike jump, jump as high as you can and extend your legs out in front of you. Bonus points if you can touch your toes! 

Jump Squats

Jump squats (or squat jumps) target the legs more than burpees do, but they certainly still produce the same heavy breathing induced by burpees. To do jump squats, perform a bodyweight squat (AKA air squat) and jump high as you come out of the bottom. 

Safety and Precautions

Before your next gym session with burpees, keep these precautions in mind to avoid injury and get the most out of your workout. 

Warm Up

Don’t think you don’t need a warm-up because burpees don’t require a barbell or a pair of dumbbells. Burpees can be just as taxing on your body as weightlifting moves, running, and other exercises, so you should still complete a thorough warm-up. Make sure to focus on your hips, knees, and shoulders, as those joints will sustain the majority of the impact.

Don’t Rush

You wouldn’t rush through a set of squats, right? Don’t rush through burpees, either. Burpees are a complex movement that require attention to technique. If you rush, you might end up making some or all of the mistakes discussed above. 

Modify As Needed

Many beginners make the mistake of classifying burpees as easy just because they’re a bodyweight movement. However, experienced exercisers know that burpees are one of the toughest exercises out there—there’s a reason so many people despise them, after all! If you’re not ready to perform full burpees, there’s absolutely no shame in modifying to a half-burpee, a stepping burpee, or another exercise altogether. 

Try It Out 

Try this move and others like it in these fun workouts:

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Article Sources
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