This Is the Right Way to Do a Burpee — Plus Modifications That Don’t Hurt

Advice

two people on exercise mats learning how to do a burpee

Image Source: Pexels / Elina Fairytale

If there’s one exercise that always makes me shiver in my gym shoes when I see it in a workout, it’s burpees. Love them or hate them, burpees are included in many high-intensity and strength workouts. This exercise combines a jump, a squat, a plank, and a push-up to create an intense move that works just about every muscle group in your body. And while there are lots of ways to modify this move, a round of burpees is likely to leave your lungs and heart pounding, no matter which version you choose.

Still, the burpee exercise is pretty contested, even among pros in the industry. “Overall, I’m antiburpee,” says Rachel Prairie, manager of training operations at Anytime Fitness. “There is a time and a place to sprinkle them in, but smart programming will have strength training at its core and only use burpees as a tool to integrate high-intensity cardio or as an occasional challenge. There’s no need to be doing them every week.”

Meanwhile, Grace Taylor, PT, DPT, says that (like most exercises) the answer to the question “Are burpees good for you?” depends. “When done correctly, the burpee can have incredible health benefits — but it is very easy to compensate and do more harm than good,” she explains. For example, if you have a heart condition or pain in your hips, lower back, shoulders, or wrists, Taylor doesn’t recommend doing burpees in your workouts. And, for anyone starting out or unsure of their form, she recommends performing burpees in front of a certified trainer or physical therapist to make sure you’re doing them properly.

So why exactly do we put ourselves through this torturous move — do the burpee benefits live up to the hype? And how do you do a burpee correctly? Finally, how do you make burpees easier? Ahead, Prairie and Taylor answer all your burpee questions.

The Benefits of Burpees

“Burpees are a very effective full-body exercise,” Taylor says. “They activate many muscles, including the glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, pecs, lats, and triceps.” Strengthening those muscles can be applied to tasks you do in everyday life, helping to increase your tolerance for lifting, carrying, squatting, and even jumping. There’s a wide variety of activities that utilize these motions, including laundry, grocery shopping, childcare, work duties, cleaning, cooking, and leisure sports.

Burpees increase the demand on your muscles as well as expend lots of energy (calories), adds Prairie, meaning they work both your strength and endurance. So you can consider them a two-for-one cardio and strength exercise.

Not to mention, another burpee benefit is the fact that they’re so challenging despite requiring little space and zero equipment, Prairie adds. “If you’re looking for a quick burn: burpees!” she says.

gif demonstration of how to do a burpee
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sam Kang. Product credits: POPSUGAR 8lb dumbbells, Splits59 sports bra, Splits59 Leggings, Avre snreakers.

How to Do a Burpee

Burpees combine a lot of motions and require a lot of energy, so it’s easy to lose form. “A lot of people skip the squat in preparation for the jump,” Taylor says. This forces other muscles to compensate and makes the exercise less effective. Additionally, skipping the squat makes it harder to maintain a neutral spine, which is crucial for eliminating irritation to the mid and low back, Taylor says. To prevent lower-back pain, make sure you avoid rounding your back when you squat down to put your hands on the floor.

Prairie emphasizes the importance of warming up before you dive into this total-body movement, to help prevent injury. Prairie and Taylor both recommend remembering to breathe throughout the exercise and making sure you don’t arch your back when you’re in the plank position.

  • Start standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your spine neutral and your core engaged, lower into a squat. Place both palms flat on the floor in front of you, about shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be on either side of your elbows.
  • Gazing at the ground slightly in front of you, jump both legs back into a high plank. You should be able to draw a straight line from the back of your head to your toes: don’t allow your hips to droop, and keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  • Lower into a push-up, keeping your elbows within six inches of your sides. Make sure to move your body as one piece: think of it as a moving plank.
  • Push yourself back up to a high plank, then jump both feet forward to return to a low squat.
  • From the squat, jump up, pushing off the floor to extend your legs and reaching your arms overhead.
  • Land softly with your knees bent. That’s one rep.

Burpee Variation: Low-Impact Burpee

To make the burpee exercise a low-impact move, you can modify it by walking into and out of the plank so that you avoid jumping. To modify the push-up, you can perform that part of the move with your knees on the floor.

  • Start standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your spine neutral and your core engaged, lower into a squat. Place both palms flat on the floor in front of you, about shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be on either side of your elbows.
  • Gazing at the ground slightly in front of you, step both legs back into a high plank. You should be able to draw a straight line from the back of your head to your toes: don’t allow your hips to droop, and keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  • Lower into a push-up, keeping your elbows within six inches of your sides. Make sure to move your body as one piece: think of it as a moving plank.
  • Push yourself back up to a high plank, then step both feet forward one at a time to return to a low squat.
  • From the squat, stand up, extending your legs and reaching your arms overhead. If you’d like, you can also lift onto your tiptoes.
  • That’s one rep.

Burpee Variation: Elevated Burpee

Prairie recommends making burpees easier by using a box or bench to elevate your hands instead of going all the way down to the floor.

  • Start standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart just in front of a bench.
  • Keeping your spine neutral and your core engaged, lower into a squat. Place both palms flat on the bench in front of you, about shoulder-width apart.
  • Jump or step both legs back into a high plank. You should be able to draw a straight line from the back of your head to your toes: don’t allow your hips to droop.
  • Lower into a push-up, keeping your elbows within six inches of your sides. Make sure to move your body as one piece: think of it as a moving plank.
  • Push yourself back up to a high plank, then step or jump both feet forward to return to a squat.
  • From the squat, immediately jump up, extending your legs and reaching your arms overhead.
  • Land softly with your knees bent. That’s one rep.

Burpee Variation: Squat Thrust

You can also eliminate the push-up and just stay in a high plank when jumping back and forward, says Taylor. If you also nix the jump at the top of the burpee, then that’s usually called a squat thrust. The jump at the end is optional.

  • Start standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your spine neutral and your core engaged, lower into a squat. Place both palms flat on the floor in front of you, about shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be on either side of your elbows.
  • Gazing at the ground slightly in front of you, jump both legs back into a high plank. You should be able to draw a straight line from the back of your head to your toes: don’t allow your hips to droop, and keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  • Jump both feet forward to return to a low squat.
  • From the squat, jump up, pushing off the floor to extend your legs and reaching your arms overhead.
  • Land softly with your knees bent. That’s one rep.

Burpee Variation: Chest-to-Floor Burpee

You may think of this as a CrossFit-style burpee or a chest-to-floor burpee. In either case, it’s a burpee where you don’t stop in a high plank position and perform a push-up; rather, you jump back into a plank and immediately lower your whole body onto the floor.

  • Start standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your spine neutral and your core engaged, lower into a squat. Place both palms flat on the floor in front of you, about shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be on either side of your elbows.
  • Gazing at the ground slightly in front of you, jump both legs back into a high plank.
  • Immediately lower your body to the ground.
  • Push your chest and hips up off the floor and then jump both feet forward to return to a low squat.
  • From the squat, jump up, pushing off the floor to extend your legs and reaching your arms overhead.
  • Land softly with your knees bent. That’s one rep.

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