Burpees are one of the most useful movements in fitness. Against the grain of a trend-based industry, this movement has been a fixture for decades.
The simple four-count burpee is the creation of Royal H. Burpee. Royal was an American physiologist. He first wrote about his famed exercise in his Columbia University thesis.
As the United States entered World War Two, American armed forces adopted and popularized the burpee. They used it as a method of assessing the physical preparedness of their recruits.
Today, burpees have grown to somewhat of a pop sensation. Tee shirts boasting “Burpees? I thought you said Slurpees!” fly off the shelves. At the same time, a “burpees suck” hashtag is never far from trending on Instagram and Twitter.
So, here’s the big question: How do you get good at burpees?
You Have to Start Somewhere
Before you start Googling something like, “what are the best shoes for burpees,” consider this:
There is no magic pill for burpees. There is no magic fix for fitness. The best way to get better at burpees is to start doing them.
This is why I decided to write this guide. I’m going to help you find a starting point, and set goals for how you can grow. Ready? Go!
Burpees for Beginners
When Royal Burpee first conceptualized the exercise, he broke it down into a simple four-count movement. This became known as the four-count burpee, or basic burpees.
1. From a standing position, lower your upper body into a squat position. Your hands should lead your downward-motion, planting themselves on the ground. COUNT 1.
2. Kick your feet back, moving your body into into a plank position. Your arms should stay extended, with your hands supporting your upper body. COUNT 2.
3. Pull your feet back into your squatting position. Count 1 and Count 2 should be a quick, seamless motion. COUNT 3.
4. Return to your standing position, rising out of your hands-down squat. COUNT 4.
There are over eighty variations of the traditional burpee. Some of these burpee modifications scale it to make it easier, and some enhance it to find additional difficulty.
This is my burpee. There are many exercises like burpees, but these burpees are mine.
My burpee is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My burpee, without me, is useless. Without my burpee, I am useless.
My Burpee: The Creed of a CrossFitter
Modified Burpees (Scaled)
Are you looking to complete your first burpee? Well then, this section is for you. I’ll introduce you to a few burpee scales, which will help you with anything from a heavier body type to working around bad wrists or knees.
Modified Burpees for Bad Knees
There are two points in a burpee which put extra stress on your knees:
The downward (squat) movement
The jump to and from the plank position
Your goal should always be to push yourself to complete as close to the correct movement as possible, but be smart.
The Squat: Knee pain during the downward motion of the burpee results from bad squat form. The usual suspect is when you don’t hinge from your hips as you lower your body.
In simple terms? Stick your butt out as your first motion. One of the best indicators that this is a problem is if you feel your body weight in your toes. Your weight should be in your heels.
SOLUTION: Practice air squats before you start your burpees. As you build muscle memory, it will transfer into your burpee movement.
The Plank: Your knee houses a complex system of ligaments. Sometimes, injuries or neglect can add up to a not-so-simple case of knee pain. If you feel pain when you’re jumping into and out of the burpee plank:
SOLUTION: Remove the hop from the movement. Without the hop, you can walk your feet back to the plank position, walk them back up to your hands, and stand up. This will reduce most of the pressure on your knees.
Modified Burpees for Bad Wrists
The most common form of burpee wrist pain comes from the impact of landing on your hands during each rep. Because of this, you can ease the impact by reducing the distance you’re dropping your body. Try doing bench burpees. These involve keeping your body elevated (somewhat) on a bench, instead of dropping to the ground. This is a more wrist-friendly angle, but still takes you through the majority of the movement.
Half-burpees are much like a mountain climber. Picture the four-step burpee with the standing part removed. Keeping your hands planted on the ground, jump your feet and knees under your body, then back out into a plank. Repeat.
These can also help with knee pain, as you’re removing the squat from the movement.
Doing burpees while carrying some extra weight around can be tough. The most common scenario is difficulty bringing your knees to your chest for a transition to and from the standing position. You’re not the only one to have this frustration. The first step is JUST that: the stepping burpee. This is the same scale we recommend for individuals struggling with knee pain.
Don’t drop down, jump your feet out and back, and pop back up. Slow down, and make more decisive movements:
Lower yourself down in any method you feel comfortable. You can use a box, bench, or chair to assist you. COUNT 1.
Step your feet back and extend your body. Keep your hands planted on the box/bench if needed. COUNT 2.
Walk your feet back under your body, using the box/bench/chair as support. COUNT 3.
Work yourself back up to a standing position. COUNT 4.
If this is your first experience with burpees, it’s important you embrace that it is a process. Nothing will come overnight, but being consistent will get you the results you want.
Jumping Burpee Modifications
There are many modifications to the burpee which involve an added jump at the end. Most commonly, CrossFit burpees require both feet to clear the ground for a burpee to be counted as a rep.
Also known as barbell-facing burpees (or “bf burpees”), the bar-facing modification involves a jump over a barbell:
Facing the bar, squat until you can plant your hands on the ground. COUNT 1.
Kick your feet out, landing in a plank position. COUNT 2.
Hop your feet back to your hands. COUNT 3.
Pop up and over the bar. COUNT 4.
Bar-facing burpees typically require you to jump forward over the bar, without any lateral (side-to-side) motion. You’d then rotate your body to face the bar and complete another repetition to return back over the bar.
The burpee pull-up is a modification to the traditional burpee which adds a fifth motion for pulling. As you stand up, out of your burpee, you jump to a pull-up bar and complete a pull up, before dropping down and returning to Count 1 of a basic burpee.
Other Common Jumping Modifications
Burpee Broad Jump
Lateral Barbell Burpees
Lateral Erg Burpees
Burpee Box Jump
Burpees with Weights (Weighted Burpees)
If you’re finding burpees to be a little too easy, one of the best modifications you can make is to start doing burpees with weights.
The two most popular (and safest) forms of weighted burpees involve a weight vest or dumbbells:
Adding dumbbells to your burpee is a simple modification. In this, you’re going to grab two dumbbells.
In Count 1 of a dumbbell burpee, you place the dumbbells on the ground and rest your weight on them. After kicking out to the plank and back, deadlift the dumbbells back up to your standing position. This modification adds a degree of difficulty without adding weight to the plank or push-up.
Weight Vest Burpees
The only thing that changes in a classic four-count burpee when adding a weight vest is the vest itself. You’re still going to follow the full burpee process, but do so with the extra weight of the vest. Doing this adds weight to both the up and the down part of the movement.
Other Common Weighted Modifications
Medicine Ball Burpee
Burpee Workout Options
Here are three common burpee workouts. Just be glad I’m not suggesting the CrossFit Open 12.1 workout. It was seven minutes of burpees, for as many reps as possible.
Burpee Workout for Beginners
The Roxanne CrossFit workout is often used by gyms as a warmup, but is a great way to get you started down your burpee path.
The idea is simple: do jumping jacks while listening to Roxanne, the classic hit by The Police, and do a burpee every time Sting croons, “Roxanne.”
If the jumping jacks catch up to you, there are a few scaling options, which include high knees, running in place, and butt kicks.
There isn’t much strategy to this, but complete 100 burpees for time. Many high-intensity challenge-seekers turn this into a thirty-day challenge. Can you complete 100 burpees per day for 30 days?
Best Burpee Workout
If you’re looking to push yourself and feel like you have burpees under control, here’s a workout for you. The Burpee Mile takes the burpee broad jump to the next level. For time, complete burpee broad jumps the entire length of a quarter-mile track. Four times.
This movement is a special add-on to a four-count burpee. As you pop into the fourth portion of your burpee, launch yourself forward in a two-footed hop as far as you can. This “broad jump” helps your explosiveness and should earn you as much forward distance as possible. When you land, you can start directly into your next burpee.
Effective programming is represented by an increase in overall fitness, not just gains in a single area. As athletes, we are greedy. We don’t just want to be strong, fast, good at gymnastics or weightlifting, or short or long tasks, but we want to be good at everything. Programming for general physical preparedness means that as athletes, we are ready for whatever task life can possibly throw at us. All of our capacities should be on the rise together. Therefore finding the right balance, and hitting all sides of the spectrum can be a daunting task for a programmer. The best way to make sure we are spreading out the love so to speak, and chasing “fitness”, is by playing with the stressors (workouts) that we are exposing people to. The adaptations (results) correlate to the type of stress you are putting on the body. Here are some absolutes for getting the most “bang for your buck” out of G.P.P. programing.
Pair Complementary Movements Together in Workouts in the Form of Couplets or Triplets
Pairing two or three movements that do not contain the same movement functions (ie. hip mediated movements with shoulder mediated movements, or pushing with pulling) allow the athlete not to be limited by the localized muscle fatigue in workouts (ie. “my arms just can’t do another pushup”), but rather it are taxes metabolic engine that fuels the activity( ie. “I can’t breath, my whole body is aching”). The point is to develop theses energy systems that create a molecule in the body called ATP, that fuels life’s efforts. Athletes that continue to move, transition, and do work will express higher intensities. For example it is not so much that the athlete lacks the muscle stamina to perform another rep, but it is the ability to effectively utilize oxygen or sugars at such an intensity that causes the overall “awfulness”. It is the high intensity efforts that allow athletes to develop a more efficient metabolic engine, yielding positive systemic adaptations.
Keep Most Workout to 15 minutes or Less, Alternate Weights and Modalities
Keeping most workouts between 5 and 15 minutes and alternating loads allows athletes to get results on both sides of the fence, both aerobically and anaerobically. Aerobic work is that which requires oxygen as the primary source of fuel. It usually means longer efforts with lesser power output and load ie. 5k run. This results in increased endurance, reduced body fat etc.. Anaerobic work doesn’t require oxygen as fuel but rather uses sugars, lactate, or phosphogen to provide energy. These efforts are usually shorter with higher loads ie. barbells or explosive efforts. This results in good stuff like increased muscle mass, bone density and strength and muscle stamina. By utilizing strategies that alternate modes and efforts through the application of high intensity intervals, athletes can get stressors both aerobic and anaerobic in the same workout.
To be fierce is to be both strong & powerful but also fiercely confident in your appearance and your capacity to do anything you set your mind to! If you don’t feel this way now, you will! That’s our promise.