Burpees have a reputation for being one of the toughest bodyweight exercises out there—a move trainers typically throw into a workout when they really want to challenge you. And while the collective response to burpees tends to include a few groans and sighs of dislike, this move offers plenty of advantages for your fitness and your performance.
The catch: You need to learn how to do burpees with strong form so you gain all the benefits, while sidestepping injury. Here’s everything you need to know about how to do burpees, including typical form mistakes and variations. Plus, why it’s smart to add this exercise to your workouts.
How To Do Burpees Correctly
Ian Finestein, certified weightlifting and CrossFit coach and owner of AR Strength in Allentown, Pennsylvania, breaks down the move so you can master proper form. He also demonstrates the exercise so you can mimic each step.
- Start standing with feet hip-width apart.
- Squat down and plant hands firmly on the ground.
- Then, jump feet back into a plank position, forming a straight line from head to heels.
- With control and an engaged core, drop knees, hips, and chest to the floor.
- Press back up to plank.
- Jump feet back up to hands.
- Finish by exploding up, extending hips, and jumping into the air as you rise.
“You want a controlled collapse and then a controlled ascent,” Finestein says. Also, make sure to look toward the ground as you hit your plank and drop your body to the floor.
Mistakes People Often Make When Performing the Burpee Exercise
The first form correction Finestein tends to call out to clients is planting the hands. Many times, people will land with their fingertips on the floor, instead of the full palm. But that puts a lot of pressure on your fingers and knuckles. “Your burpee is going to be much stronger with your palms planted,” he says.
Another common mistake with this move: Excessively arching the back, both in the drop to the floor and the press back up. “The spine is meant to move and bend, but there is a point where if your spine compresses, it can lead to issues,” he says, including back pain. If you’re having trouble with the move, and feeling it in the low back, practice stopping at the plank position (instead of dropping your body to the floor), and work on building core strength with other exercises, before you go back to lowering all the way to the ground.
The Benefits of Burpees
Finestein calls the burpee a great move for a “nursing home test.” “If you fall down, can you get back up?” he asks. “If you can, that’ll keep you out of a nursing home longer.”
The real beauty of the burpee, though, is that you get your entire body involved in one move, from the shoulders to your core muscles to your legs. And you don’t need any equipment or much space to get the work done, making it a very accessible move to do at home or when you’re traveling.
The burpee also gets you out of your typical stride motion, so you mix up your movement while working your muscles in new ways, Finestein says. And because you’re moving quickly and at a high intensity, you’ll also spike your heart rate, which benefits your cardiovascular fitness, he adds.
Though the research on burpees often includes a small population, the results still show promising pay-offs. For example, one study on 21 participants who were not very physically active found that performing a total-body high-intensity interval workout three days a week for six weeks—involving burpees, along with mountain climbers, jumping jacks, and squats—improved cardiovascular function. Researchers suggest this type of training as a way to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Also, one pilot study from the University of Palermo in Italy involving 13 participants in their 20s showed that four weeks of supervised burpees training improved quality of life, upper body strength, and heart rate variability during coronavirus quarantine.
Other research, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health just last month, involving 20 male and female athletes, found that a three-minute burpee test (in which you perform as many burpees as you can in that time) was a valid assessment of lower body power and strength, upper body strength, and aerobic fitness.
Finally, a study examining burpees’ effect on VO2 max found that while two weeks of performing the move in a HIIT-style workout, didn’t improve VO2 max, it did help maintain this marker of aerobic fitness level.
How to Add Burpees to Your Workouts
You can incorporate burpees into any workout, whether that’s a total-body strength session or bodyweight cardio routine. It’s also the perfect move to do as a finisher to a workout to get your heart rate up.
Perform the burpee exercise for time, anywhere from 20 to 60 seconds, or aim for reps of 5 to 10. Try it as a Tabata, doing burpees for 20 seconds, then resting for 10 and repeating for 8 total rounds or a total of 4 minutes. Just remember to give yourself time to recover from burpees, as the more tired you get, the more likely your form will suffer. So, keep that in mind as you hit each step of the exercise.
3 Burpee Variations
Another benefit of the burpee: There are tons of ways to make it work for you and your body. The key is just listening to what feels best, while still tackling a challenging move. Don’t want to jump? No need. Want to take it to the next level? Go faster or add weight. No matter what variation you choose, it’s all about maintaining that strong form so you squeeze every advantage out of the move. Here, three burpee variations to try:
Step Back Burpee
To eliminate the high impact, start standing with feet hip-width apart. Squat down and place hands firmly on the floor. Then step in foot back to a plank, then the other. Stop in the plank position or lower knees to floor and perform a modified push-up. Then, step one foot back up to hands, then the other to form a low squat. Drive through feet to stand back up. Repeat.
A good variation for those with back issues or just starting a core strength routine, stand near a chair, couch, or other elevated surface. Place hands firmly on the chair. Then step one leg back to plank, then the other. You should form a decline plank, body in a straight line from shoulders to heels. Perform a push-up in this position, maintaining a strong plank, or skip it. Pause, then step one foot back up toward the chair, then the other. Drive through feet to stand back up. Repeat.
If you want to add a strength challenge to the burpee, testing your muscles even more, then grab a medium to heavy set of dumbbells. Hold one in each hand down in front of you. Squat down and place the dumbbells on the floor by feet. Then jump feet back to a plank. Drop chest and entire body to floor. Then press back up, using your core to maintain a neutral spine. Jump feet back up to hands. Engage core and keep back flat, as you lift hips into a hinge position, and drag weights between feet. Then press through feet to stand up (like a deadlift), bringing weights up to shoulders. Then press the weights straight up overhead, biceps by ears. Lower weights back to shoulders, then back down in front of you. Repeat.