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How to Do a Burpee with Perfect Form, Plus Variations

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline,

Reading Time: 5 minutes 10 seconds

If you’re like most people who workout, you probably have a love-hate relationship with burpees. This powerful move is simple but very challenging. It works multiple muscles and elevates heart rate rapidly. 

For an intense, full-body, efficient workout, you need burpees in your routine. So do your clients. Get to know the form, practice it, and start building fitness with this essential move. 

Why Should I Do the Dreaded Burpee?

If you dread doing a series of burpees, you’re not alone. Many people complain about this exercise, but guess what? The fact that it’s difficult means it is effective.

You don’t have to do these every day, but for an efficient, effective workout in one move, they’re hard to beat. Here are the top reasons to learn how to do a burpee right and to stick with it.

This is a Full-Body Workout

A burpee taxes nearly every part of your body, from your ankles and calves, right up to your shoulders. It requires your entire body to complete and takes you from a completely prone position to jumping off the ground. If you want one exercise to target everything, you can hardly do better. 

Work on Strength and Cardio Together

The full-body aspect makes the burpee a highly efficient exercise. If you don’t have time to spend several hours in the gym each week, you need moves like this one. Not only does it involve most of the body, but it also provides both a strength and a cardio workout. 

The act of moving your body from the floor to airborne requires significant cardiovascular effort. You’ll also be activating big muscle groups. Both of these aspects of a burpee will get your heart pounding and give you a good cardio workout. 

Do burpees for the first time, and the next day you’ll be feeling all the muscles it works. Burpees strengthen a variety of muscles in the following areas: 

  • Legs
  • Glutes
  • Hips
  • Core
  • Chest
  • Arms
  • Shoulders 

Burn Serious Calories

The combination of cardio and muscle activation makes this a big calorie burner. Burpees are intense and get your heart racing. This helps you burn calories during your workout routine. The muscle-building aspect of the move keeps your metabolism racing hours later. If you’re looking to lose or maintain weight with a healthy diet, try adding burpees to your routine. 

You Need Zero Equipment to Do a Burpee

Finally, you get all these great benefits in an exercise that requires no gym equipment whatsoever, not even free weights. The ultimate bodyweight exercise. You can do burpees at the gym, at home, in your office during a quick break, and in hotel rooms. 

How to Do a Burpee Correctly

You’ll only get all these benefits of burpees if you do them regularly and correctly. Poor form can cause pain or injury but also makes the move less effective. Here’s a breakdown of how to do it right: 

Lower into a Squat

Start your standard burpee in a neutral standing position, feet shoulder width apart, arms down at your sides. Drop into a squat, placing your hands on the floor in front of you. Shift the hips back as you do this and avoid letting the knees track out too far over the feet. 

Jump to Plank Position 

With hands flat on the floor, jump your feet back until you are in a plank position. Your body should be in a straight line from the head and neck down to the toes. Don’t let your back or butt sink. Hold your abs in tight to maintain this position. 

The plank is just one part of this exercise, but it’s an important one. Here’s a rundown of why and how you should be perfecting plank position.  

Do a Pushup

In this position, lower your arms and chest to the floor in a pushup. Press back up. Throughout this movement, keep the back straight and avoid letting your lower back sink. 

Jump Feet Back

You’re on the backswing of this move now, so jump your feet back to the starting position. Emphasize a soft landing with your feet on the mat. This means you’re using your core and putting less pressure on your knees. As with the initial squat, watch the position of your knees over your feet. 

Stand and Jump

From the squat position, rise up to a standing position and jump into the air, arms straight up over your head. 

You may struggle to get to full extension at the end of a burpee if you have tight hip flexors. This post will help you understand if your hip flexors are tight, and if so, how to fix it

You can work through these steps slowly at first, and you should, especially with newbie clients. Break it down one step at a time to get the form right. Once you have it, you’ll be doing this move more quickly to get the heart rate pumping. 

Watch Out for These Common Mistakes 

It’s important to work on form for any exercise before adding it to your regular lineup. In terms of the burpee, those new to it may make these mistakes: 

  • Arching the back instead of doing a pushup. This can cause lower back pain. It also cheats the pushup, which is so good for arm and chest strength. 
  • Limiting range of motion. Another cheat is shortening the range of motion at the beginning and end. To get the most of each burpee, lower the chest all the way to the floor and extend the hips all the way when finishing the move. 
  • A poor landing. The landing from a jump needs to be soft and on the balls of the feet. Too hard and too much on the heels and you stress your joints. 
  • Doing too much too soon. A burpee may be simple, but it’s tough. Start slowly with these and build up strength and fitness. Begin each session with a warm-up. 

Burpee Modifications

Not everyone can do a series of full, all-out burpees immediately. There are several ways to modify a burpee for those just starting them. For advanced clients, try some more challenging variations. 

How to Do a Burpee for Beginners

One of the great things about doing burpees is how versatile they are. You can modify this at nearly every step to make it easier. As you get stronger, progress by taking away the modifications. It’s great to see the progress as you go. 

  • Instead of jumping your feet back and forth, step one foot at a time. 
  • Skip the pushup and focus on a perfect plank position. 
  • Drop your knees to the mat—gently—to do a modified pushup. 
  • Skip the jump at the end but do get to full hip extension when standing up. 

How to Make a Burpee More Challenging

Once you’ve mastered the classic burpee and can do several sets at an impressive pace, challenge yourself with modifications using one of these burpee variations.

  • Make the jump a tuck jump to really get your heart pumping. Just remember to focus on landing softly. Another gentler option is to add a jumping jack at the end. 
  • Add mountain climbers while in high plank and before the pushup to elevate your heart rate and challenge your core and arms. 
  • Add a superman when your chest hits the ground to work back muscles. 
  • Make it a box jump burpee. Jump your squat onto a box and back down, doing an elevated pushup in the middle. 
  • Hold a pair of dumbbells throughout the move to add weight to your body. 

A burpee is a deceptively challenging exercise, but so worth learning how to do it right. Learn more about the most effective workouts with the ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program, a self-paced course that will prepare you to be the expert your clients need.


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