Ah, the burpee. Is there any other exercise that people love to hate so much as the burpee? There are memes and t-shirts and jokes about doing burpees.
What’s all the fuss about?
Burpees are full-body, high-intensity workouts, and they are the ultimate example of functional exercise and fitness.
With every rep, you’ll work your arms, chest, back, abs and legs.
Technically they aren’t challenging to do, though they do require a little know-how.
The reason every personal trainer loves them is that they are a calorie-burning, strength-building, body-weight movement that will get your heart rate up and the sweat flowing!
So, they are perfect workouts for weight loss and increasing strength.
If you aren’t familiar with this exercise, this article will walk you through what a burpee is, the history of the burpee, and how to do one.
We’ll also cover some tips for doing them efficiently and a few common variations.
Let’s get to the basics of burpees – what are burpees?
Today you’ll finally learn to do a burpee perfectly in just 6 simple steps.
But before you can master the exercise, let’s learn what a burpee is, where it comes from, and how it can benefit you.
Let’s get to the basics of burpees.
What Is a Burpee?
Basically, the burpee is a squat thrust with a jump in the middle. Here’s a breakdown of the fundamental movements:
- Begin in a standing position.
- Move to a squat with your hands on the ground.
- Drop your whole body into a pushup position, fully extending your legs. (This is called a squat thrust.)
- Complete a pushup
- Bring your feet back to the squat position.
- Stand and spring up with your hands over your head.
This is one rep.
They are typically performed quickly, and with high intensity, so you can see how this simple bodyweight exercise can improve all aspects of your fitness. The fast pace benefits your cardiovascular fitness and builds endurance, and the resistance builds muscular strength.
It sounds like a lot, so we’ll break each step down for you. But let’s start with the history of burpees and a few cool facts about them.
The History of Burpees
The origin of the burpee dates back to the 1930s when it was developed by a New York-based physiologist by the name of Royal Burpee.
In 1939, while Burpee was a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, he invented a 4-count exercise movement to assess physical fitness.
They were picked up in the 1940s by the US Military as a way to measure agility, coordination, and strength in new recruits.
The original version was far milder than what we do today.
It did not have the pushup or the jump at the end, and it was intended to be performed up to 4 times in a row.
Royal Burpee himself discouraged people from performing burpees for numerous times! Ah, how times have changed.
Dr. Burpee’s granddaughter now shares the legacy of the burpee and sees it as her mission to share its history and origin.
She explains that her grandfather was a huge fitness fanatic and wanted a simple way to assess one’s fitness level. And he wanted to do that in one single test. The original burpees went by many names before settling with “Burpee.”
Squat thrust was one of the names that stuck, along with 4-count burpee and Military burpee. (I think we are all a little sad that they weren’t called “Royals” instead.)
But if you come across any of these names, know it’s all the same exercise we now know as “Burpee.”
Initially, the exercise took a much simpler form and was done as below:
- Squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you
- Jump back into plank
- Hop your feet forward again
- Return to the standing position
As a fitness test, Burpee would take five separate heart rate measurements before and after the exercise.
They conclusively assess one’s heart blood pumping efficiency. Royal Burpee determined that the assessment would provide accurate measures of one’s fitness (1).
Burpees In Six-Count
The burpees have evolved over the last 70 + years. The burpee that is performed today is a little different than the original; it now contains six movements instead of four.
It is performed as swiftly as possible and requires the individual to move through the positions quickly and fluidly.
Most burpees today are performed like this:
- Step 1: Bend over or squat down and place your hands on the ground in front of you, shoulder-width apart.
- Step 2: Jump back so that you end up in a plank.
- Step 3: Drop down to a pushup until your chest touches the floor.
- Step 4: Push up to return to the plank again.
- Step 5: Spring back, placing your feet back in the original position in line with your hands.
- Step 6: Now jump explosively. Reach your arms overhead.
Today’s burpee has evolved and is much more challenging to perform than the original four-count fitness test. And the burpee continues to change.
There are different movement standards varying from-gym-to-gym and trainer-to-trainer.
Though the burpee most of us know and love (or hate to do) is most commonly performed as described above.
Now, let’s take a close look at each of those steps. Good technique when doing burpees will help you avoid injury and put less strain on your joints.
Squat – Step One
The first step in a burpee is a functionally a squat. Let’s take a look at how an air squat (a squat without weight) is performed:
- Stand facing forward and keep your chest held up and out; your stance should be slightly wider than your hips.
- Sit back and down like you’re sitting into an imaginary chair.
- Lower down, so your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible, with your knees over your ankles.
- Keep your body tight and push through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position.
If you are new to squats, start with three sets of 10 squats and then add more reps to a total of 12 to 15 as you gain strength.
It may feel unnatural at first and don’t expect to master the squat right away. Most importantly, focus on your form and then worry about adding reps.
In burpees, you don’t have to have the mobility for a perfect squatting position.
In an ideal squat, you will want your chest up and your shoulders back.
However, in this case, you are aiming to get your hands on the floor so you can jump your feet back for the next movement, the squat thrust.
The Squat Thrust – Step Two
Once your hands are on the floor, you will shoot your legs back behind you, landing on your toes in the plank position.
In classic squat thruster exercises, you then jump back into a squat and repeat. But this isn’t a squat thruster.
It’s a burpee, and in burpees, we up the difficulty level a bit. So, your next step is a pushup.
Pushup -Step Three
Pushups are one of the classic strength-building exercises. If a coach were walking you through one, here is the order of movement:
- Begin with your chest and stomach flat on the floor. Your legs should be straight out behind you in full extension. Your palms should be at the chest level with the arms bent out at a 45-degree angle.
- Exhale as you push from your hands and heels, bringing your torso, chest, and thighs off the ground.
- Pause for a second in the plank position — keep your core engaged.
- Inhale as you slowly lower back to your starting position.
When you are doing burpees, it’s a little different. Again, the goal is to move swiftly through the exercise.
So, after your squat thruster, your weight will be in the balls of your feet and your arms and shoulders, supported by the palms of your hands.
Lower to the ground, touching your chest to the floor. Try not to let your back sag.
Pushup to Squat – Steps Four and Five
Burpees involve a lot of jumping. Now, you need to get back from the blank to a squat. Shift your weight to your hands and jump back into your squat.
People who experience pain in their wrists may need to step back, rather than springing back into position.
Jump – Step Six
We’re at the last stage! The most efficient way to complete this is with a squat jump.
From your squatting position, tighten your core and jump explosively into the air, bringing your arms up over your head. (To make sure you complete this last part, some gyms require a clap overhead.)
Land under control, and get ready to do your next burpee!
How Many Burpees Should a Beginner Do?
If you are a beginner to burpees, it’s not a matter of how many reps you should do. Instead, it is learning to do each of the steps in the smoothest, most efficient way possible.
The beauty of burpees is that you can get benefits from doing them, even if you are moving slow. So, take your time and master each step.
As you progress, you can add more reps and more speed. Start small, with a set of 5-7 burpees, and then rest.
Once you have enough fitness level and strength, aim for ten reps per set.
Burpee Exercise Variations
There is a range of ways on how to do a burpee.
One is to increase the number you do. Or challenge yourself to find the maximum set you can do in a particular time.
Below we go through an explanation of things you can do to change up your workout.
Burpee Without a Pushup
The burpee exercise can be a lot for some people. Something you can do to make a burpee a little easier is to remove the pushup.
This might also be a choice if a pushup puts too much stress on your wrists.
If this a problem for you and you are taking a CrossFit class or other workouts with burpees, make sure to get the instructor’s advice on the best way to modify the movement.
Burpee Box Jumps
If you have the equipment, a way to add intensity to your burpees is to do the final jump as a box jump.
So, instead of jumping in place, you land on a box. This a common variation in CrossFit classes and is excellent for building butt muscles.
Just one note: make sure to choose a box at an appropriate height, remembering that as you become tired, you can lose your balance.
Burpees With Weights
Yes, you can also add weight to your burpees. One common way is with a couple of dumbbells.
You start with a dumbbell in each hand at your side. As you go into your squat, you set the dumbells down, and do your pushup between them.
You pick them up as you stand back up, swing them between your legs as you would a kettlebell, and clean them to your front rack, from there move to an overhead press.
One Leg Burpee
Ready for an expert level? Try completing a burpee standing on one foot. (Yes, this is a thing.) Keep one foot off the floor throughout the entire burpee, then switch sides.
Now you know how to do a burpee! The burpee is an excellent all-in-one full-body exercise.
Since you can do them anywhere, they have a variety of applications. For example, they are perfect for interval training.
The cardio aspect will get your heart pumping and your lungs working hard.
For example, do a HIIT workout by going one minute hard and 30 seconds of rest for eight rounds.
They also function as a great warm-up. Use a few sets to increase blood flow to muscle groups before lifting.
A burpee works legs, glutes, abdomen muscles, shoulders, and arms. Or, if you need a simple and effective way to get in shape, burpees are great for burning calories and reducing fat.
Combined with good nutrition, they will support your weight loss goals. Want to improve your overall health?
This intense move will boost your stamina. Make a set amount part of your everyday routine, and you will see the effects in no time.
Many people hate the burpee, but few exercises combine all these benefits in one! So, give them a try; you might end up liking them, after all.