All About Burpees
Contributing Authors: Michele Vieux, CJ Martin, Bryce Smith & Holden Rethwill
Tons of health experts are recognizing the benefits of burpees and the simplicity of the movement makes it easy to implement into just about anyone’s strength and conditioning program. Let’s cut the nonsense and dig deep into the burpee for a bit.
Are you ever going to fail a burpee?
The answer is no.
They may get ugly or a bit sloppy at times, but falling down and getting up takes very little skill. They are the perfect analogy for life – you get knocked down by a challenge and you find a way to get back up and continue moving forward. Because of this, burpees are the perfect character building movement.
What is a Burpee?
With a burpee, you may start by jumping your feet back, kissing your chest to the floor, pushing up off the ground while snapping your feet forward toward your hands and then jumping and clapping.
So why do people hate burpees?
Well, number one is that they are hard. That’s no lie. They fatigue your muscles and lungs faster than any movement out there. They are also frequently used as a punishment by gym teachers, football coaches and drill sergeants around the world so they might stir up negative memories for some.
But by following the tips below, hopefully, you can make yours easy – or at least manageable – super fast, and not the part of the workout that you dread or the day you avoid going to the gym.
No matter what your goals are, burpees can have a positive effect on your fitness not just physically but mentally.
The constant repetition and frustration of the movement builds character and perseverance. It teaches you to keep going during even the toughest of times.
Burpees fatigue your muscles and lungs faster than any movement out there and therefore are a highly effective tool to improve your gymnastics strength and overall conditioning.
You also don’t need any equipment or much space to perform them – you can literally do them anywhere. If you cannot make it into the gym, you are traveling, the hotel does not have a gym, or you are stuck outdoors, you can always do burpees.
They are an easy movement to perform where nothing more than your body is required. They give you no excuse to not workout.
Plus, EVERYONE can do some form of a burpee – beginning athletes, people with a little (or a lot) of weight to lose, kids (they LOVE them) and you!
Besides, everyone should be able to get themselves up and down off the floor for quality of life reasons. And if you are an athlete where you hit the ground and need to get back on your feet quickly – volleyball, football, and wrestling to name a few – these are the perfect drill to practice that.
Have you ever surfed? How do you get from the paddling position to your feet? Yay burpees!
What Muscles do Burpees Work?
Burpees are a full body workout and they help you gain strength in the entire body. With each repetition, you will work your arms, chest, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and core.
With some volume accumulation, burpees will have your arms and legs shaking and feeling like wet noodles. Burpees significantly differ from isolation exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions as they train the whole body as one kinetic chain. You get more bang for your buck and burn more calories in less time while doing burpees at high intensity.
Burpees are dynamic and fast-paced and can be a great addition to any training session. The rapid flexion and extension of the hips make them awesome for learning force production from core to extremity.
Burpees for Weight Loss
Since burpees require very little skill, and they are a movement that uses the entire body, they are great for weight loss workouts. Taking the skill out of a movement means that anyone can do them no matter how tired they get. They might get ugly but they can still be done – you can always just keep moving.
Burpees can be done in any type of workout, long or short. But since burpees are intense in themselves, the best way to use burpees for weight loss is to incorporate them in some sort of high-intensity interval (HIIT) workout.
The length of the intervals can vary but for maximum results, the rest and work periods should be set up so that you are able to push as hard as possible during the work intervals.
For most people, this will mean at least equal work and rest periods but possibly even a 3:1 rest to work ratio.
An example would be this workout that uses a 2:1 rest to work ratio:
Five Sets for Max Reps:
- 30 seconds of Burpees.
- 60 seconds of rest.
How many calories do Burpees Burn?
How many calories you burn doing burpees depends on many factors including how many you do and in what period of time. Generally speaking, the higher the power output, the more calories you burn. So someone who does 20 burpees in a minute is likely burning more calories than someone who does 10 burpees in a minute.
With that being said, there are other factors that come into play like body weight and metabolism but power output is a key factor in calories burned.
How to do a Burpee
There are many variations of the burpee – some allow you to move quickly without too many standards to worry about and some require equipment or certain standards to be met for purposes of judging in a competition.
There have even been attempts to make the burpee harder by adding other movements, like pull-ups or box jumps, into them!
But the basic burpee looks the same – you fall down then stand up.
How to Perform a Proper Burpee
Just like any other movement we do, let’s start with the basics and master those before building on the intensity. The key to strict burpees is the 6-count cadence and maintaining good form through each position. This movement is done for strength improvement and perfect reps. Every position must be hit for them to count.
Proper 6 Count Burpee Video
How to execute 6-count burpees:
- Squat & place hands on the ground.
- Jump legs back so you are in the top of the push-up position.
- Perform a Push-Up Negative (lower yourself with control and perfect position i.e. straight line from your head to your toes).
- Press yourself back up to the top of the push-up position.
- Jump your feet back in and so that you are in position 1.
- Jump and clap hands behind head.
Rev Up the Speed by Removing 3 Counts
Once you are comfortable with the 6-count burpee, it’s time to start picking up the pace! To do this, you will need to start eliminating some steps. The first to go is step 1 – or at least you will need to merge it with steps 2 and 3.
Here’s what that looks like:
Burpee Crash Drill
How to Execute a Burpee Crash Drill:
1. Place your hands on the ground at the same time you are kicking back into the push-up. Remember that we are not going for strict reps here so the more of the actual pushing you can eliminate, the faster you can move and the less you will fatigue your muscles (mostly biceps and triceps). We are also eliminating the squat here to save those quads. In the beginning, you might only be comfortable landing at the top of the push-up however with more practice, you will become more comfortable catching yourself near the bottom.
Try this drill: Using a crash mat if you have one, practice falling to the ground as quickly as possible. Figure out where you are most comfortable landing. Don’t worry about the next steps yet. Just do ten reps of this and see how quickly you can hit the deck.
2. This was steps 4 and 5 in the 6-count burpee. At the same time, you are pressing yourself off the floor in what we would normally consider an “ugly” push-up where your chest rises first (“Cobra”), snap your legs forward by closing your hips rapidly. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible in order to avoid extra squatting. If you’re struggling with this, your hamstring flexibility is likely to blame. Stretch them often and keep doing burpees often.
Burpee Cobra to Hip Snap Drill
Try This Burpee Drill: From the “Cobra” position, snap your feet to your hands as quickly as possible then reset. Keep your feet in the same position (about shoulder width or squat stance) for each rep. Try to hit that position each time so that you aren’t spending extra time adjusting them. Repeat this ten times for speed. This can even be used as part of your pre-burpee warm-up.
3. This is the only part that’s the same as the 6-count burpee. Jump and clap your hands behind your head. Although your feet need to come off the floor for the rep to count, unless there are other standards specified (like touching a target), they only need to come off the floor a teeny, tiny bit. Less time in the air means more control of your body and faster burpees. Don’t stop in the standing position. This is a rebound, not a rest and you should be moving as quickly as possible into your next rep. Basically, as soon as your feet hit the floor after the jump, you should be starting your descent into the next burpee. Think fast arms, fast feet. Swing your arms down and rapidly close your hips. This looks similar to what you do with your arms in a GHD sit-up.
4 Burpee Pro Tips
1. Clap behind your head
Use your clap behind the head as a rebounding opportunity or another chance to catch the bounce. Punch and go. You should literally be throwing yourself back down to the ground instead of floating down. Kind of like barbell cycling…
2. Try to find a rhythm
Set a cadence in your head and stick to it. Be the machine. The machine keeps moving and does so to the same beat over and over and over until the work is complete, at which point, it is shut off. It doesn’t slow or stop. Pick a pace you can execute this with.
3. Standing Rests
If you must rest, do so standing up and NOT on the floor. “Catching the bounce” off the floor is part of what makes these fast. Plus, resting on the floor is a posture of defeat that we want to avoid. Stand tall. Stand proud. Stand with confidence or else you let the burpee win.
4. Remember: Burpees only suck if you let them!
Keep a positive mindset and know that you can never fail a burpee! Breathe calmly. Count up then down. Meaning, if you have to do 20 burpees, count them from 1-10 and then 10-1. It is much easier not to stop when you know your rep count is getting smaller and closer to the end.
The Burpee Pull-Up is exactly what it sounds like, a burpee that has been combined with a pull-up. The burpee remains the same in this as the speed version above but on the jump off the floor, a pull-up is added to the movement. This version does slow down the movement because of the addition but adds in another awesome bodyweight exercise, the pull-up, which can be performed as a strict rep or with a kip swing, depending on the ability of the athlete.
If this version is used in competition, the athlete is usually required to set up under a pull-up bar that is a certain distance (often 6 inches) above the tip of their fingers with arms extended.
Because of the extra high jump involved – it is important to practice a few reps before your workout to figure out hand placement. Doing this will ensure that you conserve as much energy as possible and eliminate extra distance traveled while trying to line yourself up under the bar each rep.
Once you figure out that position, it is recommended that you mark your hand placement on the floor with chalk or tape so you have a target each time you come off the bar so that you can remain consistent throughout the workout.
Bar Facing Burpees
This is a popular version of the burpee for competitions when a barbell movement is also incorporated in the workout. The burpee itself looks pretty much the same here but instead of jumping up to full extension, you must jump over the barbell.
The good thing about this version is that you don’t have to extend completely on the jump. Most athletes do find them a bit harder than the original burpee though because the jump to clear the barbell takes more effort and energy than the small jump to clear the floor.
Position also matters on this version, meaning, the athlete MUST be facing the bar when they do the burpee rep AND they must also jump off of both feet at the same time while facing the bar to clear it and also land on of both feet on the other side, then turn around to face the bar (this could be done in the air) for the next rep. So a little more skill is involved and they are more tiring.
This version can be scaled so athletes step over the bar instead of jumping, if need be. Or, if space is a factor, the burpees can be done parallel to the bar instead of facing the bar.
Burpee Box Jump-Overs
In yet another attempt to make burpees harder…the burpee box jump-over was created. This is also a popular movement in competitions as they are easy to judge. You do a burpee on one side of your box then jump up and over the box. They may be prescribed as box-facing or not.
With this version, you can clear the box in one jump or you can land on top of the box then jump down to the other side. Your hips do not need to open all the way on the jump and you don’t need to stand all the way up on the box unless otherwise specified. You will see many top athletes perform the jumps laterally so that they can land perfectly on the other side and move directly into their burpees, therefore moving faster than if they had to reset facing the box each rep.
This movement can be easily scaled to burpee box step-overs or even squat thrust box step-overs for athletes who need a modification.
“Squat Thrusts” or Half Burpees
This version of the burpee is a great modification for people who struggle to maintain intensity on the basic burpee due to lack of upper body strength to complete the prescribed reps, when an athlete is fatigued on the push-up portion but wants to be able to continue to move quickly through their reps, or if an injury requires someone to avoid pressing movements.
The only difference between burpees and squat thrusts is the elimination of the push-up. All other parts look the same. Fall, or kick back, to a plank. Jump the feet to the hands. Jump straight up in the air. Clap with your hands overhead.
As with any movement, there is always something up for debate. In CrossFit and workouts for time, burpees do not require a perfect push-up but the chest must touch the floor for each rep unless you are performing the scaled version, the squat thrust.
In gym class and the military, you will likely be required to perform a strict push-up with each burpee rep like in the 6-count version above.
Both are great exercises to utilize – the CrossFit-style burpee will allow you to move quickly and get your heart rate up higher while the 6-count version will allow you to focus on strength, form and moving in unison with your class or platoon.
Here’s what it looks like to string together 10 reps of burpees for time:
Notice the hands and feet hit the floor in the same, exact place for each rep; the legs are relatively straight as the athlete goes to the floor and also on the way back up as the feet kick up to the hands; the push-up isn’t perfect (and doesn’t need to be by standard) but the chest does touch the floor, which is a requirement; a hip snap is used to bring the legs forward; and the jump at the top is as minimal as possible to achieve the standard that the entire foot clear the floor each rep.
One of the best Burpee Challenges is the first CrossFit Open workout. It has been repeated over the years and for good reason. Everyone can do burpees. That means everyone can participate, which is pretty cool. But more importantly, it shows which athletes have developed the mindset and fortitude to thrive in competition.
This is a low skill movement and a workout with ZERO transitions to other movements or apparatus. Those who can approach this workout with the proper mindset and mental discipline will perform the best.
This is simply a test of your willingness to succeed.
If you have a goal, a proper mindset, and a good mantra, you will do VERY WELL on this workout.
On the flip side, if you go into the workout dreading burpees, you’ll make it to approximately minute 3 before it feels as if the whole world is caving in on you.
This workout is an opportunity to demonstrate your physical ability (your engine) and also your understanding of what it means to be “unconquerable.” Approach this workout with enthusiasm and a willingness to break through any mental barrier that could hold you back, and if you do that, you’ll have no regrets.
Personal records can come in many forms on this workout whether it be improved number of reps (power output) or improved mindset. Either is easy to see, feel and measure.
Here is the burpee challenge:
Complete as many reps as possible in 7 minutes of Burpees
The next time you see burpees on the whiteboard, attack them with confidence and by trying these tips. And let’s all try to save future generations from burpee disdain – never use exercise as punishment!