Just One Exercise: The Burpee

Can a single exercise burn fat, build muscle, and increase cardiovascular endurance using no equipment and no more than a small area of floor space? There is an exercise that can do all of that and more. It has been called by many names: burpee, squat thrust, bodybuilder. Many were introduced to it in P.E. classes or basic military training. A combination exercise requiring strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, and explosiveness, the burpee is one exercise that can just about do it all. Burpees are not magic, of course, and they cannot develop every aspect of strength and fitness that might be improved with unlimited time, equipment, and training, but as an all-around, inexpensive, time efficient way to improve your fitness, burpees are in a class by themselves.

The Variations

There are many variations on the burpee. The following four variations are probably the most familiar, and their effectiveness can scarcely be outgrown.

The Classic Squat Thrust

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist until you can place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

5. Stand up.

The Modified Squat Thrust + Push-up

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist until you can place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Perform a push-up.

5. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

6. Stand up.

The Modified Squat Thrust + Squat Jump

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist until you can place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

5. Jump into the air from the squat position. Land on your feet standing as in step one.

Explosive Burpee

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist until you can place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Perform a push-up.

5. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

6. Jump into the air from the squat position. Land on your feet standing as in step one.

Most people will be able to begin training with the classic squat thrust. The following basic version offers another option for those too uncomfortable or unable to jump their feet between the squat and plank positions.

Basic Burpee Modification

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist until you can place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. Keeping your hands on the floor, step first one foot then the other foot back until you are balanced on your hands and the balls of your feet with your back flat. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Step your feet one at a time back to the squat position.

5. Stand up.

The following five advanced modifications offer additional challenges for the fittest trainees.

8-Count BodyBuilder

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist until you can place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Perform a push-up.

5. Jump with your feet and spread your legs while keeping them straight.

6. Jump with your feet again and bring your legs back together, returning to the plan position.

7. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

8. Jump into the air from the squat position. Land on your feet standing as in step one.

Burpee + Pull-up

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist until you can place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Perform a push-up.

5. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

6. Jump into the air from the squat position and grab the pull-up bar with both hands.

7. Perform a pull-up.

8. Drop from the bar and return to the standing position.

Burpee + Deck Squat

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.
2. Squat down low, tuck your tailbone in between your heels, and roll backward onto your shoulders raising your feet over your head.

3. Roll forward and squat on your heels. Place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

4. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

5. Perform a push-up.

6. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

7. Jump into the air from the squat position. Land on your feet standing as in step one.

Burpee + Deck Squat + Dive Bomber

1. Stand in a normal posture, hands by your sides.

2. Squat down low, tuck your tailbone in between your heels, and roll backward onto your shoulders raising your feet over your head.

3. Roll forward and squat on your heels. Place your hands on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

4. Keeping your hands on the floor, jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

5. Perform a push-up.

6. Raise your backside into the air until your body is in the shape of an inverted V.

7. Bending at the elbows, dip your body between your hands close to the ground and swoop your head up toward the ceiling with your body now in the shape of a U.

8. Return your body to the inverted V shape by reversing your motion and swooping back between your hands.

9. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

10. Jump into the air from the squat position. Land on your feet standing as in step one.

Man-Maker

1. Stand in a normal posture. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your side. (I wouldn’t recommend very heavy weights for this exercise. Even10or fifteen pounds will seem much heavier very quickly.)

2. Bend your knees and fold at the waist and place the dumbbells on the floor to the outside and in front of your feet.

3. While continuing to grip the dumbbells (or with your hands on the ground beside them), jump slightly and kick your legs back landing on the balls of your feet. You should now be in the top (plank) position of a push-up.

4. Perform a push-up.

5. Jump again as before quickly pulling your feet back to their original position. Your feet should move together both kicking out to the plank position and kicking back in to the squat position.

6. Stand up and quickly raise the dumbbells over your head. (Depending on the weight you may use a curl-press, snatch, or clean-and-press technique to get the dumbbells overhead.)

The Programs

Now that you know how to do a burpee (ten of them actually) we can plan our weekly training. The basic program consists of three workouts a week on non-consecutive days (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday). You may also choose to perform the workouts every other day giving you four days of training every other week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday).

Day One: 30/30 Burpees x 10-30 minutes
Alternate thirty second sets of burpees with thirty seconds of rest for ten to thirty minutes. Set a large clock with a second hand where you can see it and start cranking out burpees. If thirty seconds sets are too much at first, try alternating twenty seconds of exercise with forty seconds of rest.

Day Two: Descending Sets
Pick a number of burpees you know you can perform fairly easily and do a set. Rest briefly then do another set with one fewer repetitions. Continue reducing each set by one until you have completed a set of just one. For example, perform 10 burpees, rest, 9 burpees, rest, 8 burpees, rest, etc. Try to reduce rest time as your grow fitter. Eventually you want your rest times to last 1-2 seconds times the number of reps you just completed (e.g. 10 burpees, rest 10-20 seconds) or rest one breath for every rep in your last set (e.g. 10 burpees, rest for 10 breaths). Add another set to this workout every one to three weeks until you are starting with a set of twenty burpees or more.

Day Three: Fastest Time / Single Set
Your third workout will change every other week (unless you are working out four days a week, in which case you can do both options).

  • Week One: Fastest Time to # Burpees
    Select a goal of 50, 100, 150, 200 or more burpees and try to complete your goal as fast as possible, resting as necessary. Use a stopwatch to record your time. Once a particular challenge becomes fairly easy, begin working on a larger goal.
  • Week Two: Single Set
    Perform a single set of as many burpees as you can without resting. Use a relaxed, rhythmic pace rather than high speed and high intensity. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do as many as you hoped. Your single set maximum will increase over time.

Burpees are a fun and effective way to increase your fitness. One of the most challenging and effective forms of bodyweight exercise, the burpee can help you achieve maximize results with a minimal investment of time. -JME

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think 10 minutes of that is a little bit high intensity for the first time doing it


id say maybe like 5 minutes

Anonymous said...

An excellent article on one of the best exercises you can do! And the beauty of the burpee is that it can be modified to suit just about anyone from beginner to uber athlete!

The Prisoner Burpee challenge is a blast BTW, 20,19,18,17,16,15,14,13,12,11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 burpees (push up and jump) in as short a time as possible. Sub 30 minutes = good, sub 25 minutes = great, sub 20 minutes = excellent.

Thanks very much.

MikeB said...

I love/hate burpees. They should be a part of everyones workout routine. Great Blog site.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of yoga?
Check out the sun salutations.

CLIONÁUTICA said...

The Sun salutation is the "bright brother" and burpees "the dark brother", both are very good exercises; I use to do both three times a week

Chris said...

Burpees are the devils way of telling you your unfit.......no matter how fit you are!

currently I'm a fat slob getting fit again, so i did the prison burpee challenge, took 37mins 42 secs.....thought i was going to die from half way through to the end.

oh and that was proper burpees with a squat jump...anything else is cheating

David Harms said...

Modified Push Ups -As I read your blog post, I couldn’t help but think of the Push-Up Bench as the most effective way for people who struggle with push ups , to be able to do them correctly (with full range of motion). Most modified push-ups make them easier but only allow one or two variations. The Push Up Bench has 11 different levels to work through on the way to a full push-up.

Kelly Ulm said...

Burpees are an intense workout. I currently just do a couple sets one or 2 days a week during my workouts, but I am looking forward to trying out the programs you listed here.

Jin@Combat Sports Fitness said...

Great tips on the burpees variations. But I think 10 mins will probably kill me! 5 mins might be a safer bet until I get fitter...

Anonymous said...

Greetings gentlemen first and foremost the prison burpee challenge is more intense compared to the 20 descending set from 20,19,18 down too 1 however the real test is 100 22 count burpees which consists of five kicks and five pushups and back up do that 100 times and your in great shape!

Anonymous said...

Right now i can only handle 5 min 30 second intervals, burpees are brutal, but extemely effective.

Anonymous said...

I am so out shape that I did 30 burpees in 3 sets of 10 with about 5 minutes rest in between... My abs hurt so bad for two days. So I am slowly working my way up by doing 10 in the morning, 10 in the afternoon, and 10 in the evening. It seems to get the job done without being unbearably uncomfortable.

Jason D'Oro said...

I love burpees, but 10 mins of intervals might be a little too much of a muchness for beginners. Also, be careful to NOT do them on recovery days. Good luck lifting the next day….

Anonymous said...

After all the holiday weight I gained, I did a search and found this advice about the burpee. I hadn't exercised for three weeks, and the only exercise I did before that was stationary bike for about 30-45 minutes 4-5 days a week and some very light weight lifting.

I was able to do 30 minutes of burpees with 30 second rest in between as recommended. I think my form wasn't always the best, but wasn't to intense for me at least. I do have background in dance and yoga, but haven't done either of those for a year.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I' m a gentlewoman...