Burpees: The Ultimate Full-Body Home Workout
A Helpful Video Overview of the Burpee
Burpees: Pain Never Felt So Good
What do you do if you can't afford a gym membership and don't have room in your house or your budget for a home gym?
Easy! Do burpees. And if you have no clue what those are, just watch the video to the right and be enlightened.
For those not in the know, burpees are a highly effective, full-body, calorie-burning exercise that you can do with little space, little equipment, little time, and pretty much for free.
The Burpee: Defined
A burpee, in its basic form, is a flowing, four-step exercise which works out almost every muscle group in the body, with the exception of the back. (Though you can correct that easily. More on that later.)
Burpees are easily modifiable to make them harder, easier, or to accomplish different fitness goals.
At heart, burpees are a cardio exercise. (Pun not intended. Well, okay, maybe it's a little intended.) However, burpees can be anything from a cardiovascular endurance exercise, a high intensity interval exercise, or even an exercise to increase your muscular strength and explosive power.
Burpees can also be done in tight spaces, making them excellent for at-home exercisers who don't have a ton of room to spare. They evolved, in fact, as a prison cell workout, which gives you an idea of how little room you really need.
All you do need to do burpees is your own body and possibly a set of well-cushioned sneakers, though even those are optional. You can even do them naked, though if I were you I'd make sure I worked out well away from any windows.
Finally, burpees are a high intensity full body exercise, which means that they work out multiple muscle groups at once. What that means is that they're highly efficient, packing a full workout and a lot of calorie burn into a very short time.
When I have little or no equipment, or I have no time to spare, or I'm simply bored and looking for a fun new challenge, I do burpees.
And so should you.
Let's get started.
How To Do a Burpee
To do a basic burpee, begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart, your abs tight, and your shoulders back.
Once you're ready to begin, the four basic steps are as follows:
1. Sink into a low squat with both hands on the floor, placed just outside your feet.
2. Kick your feet straight back and land on your toes so that you're in a plank position. Keep your glutes and abs tensed and a straight line from your neck to your ankles.
3. Jump your feet back between your hands. To get the most out of this, pull through your abs to tuck your body back into your squat.
4. Reach upwards and push off into a vertical jump from the bottom of your squat, clapping your hands over your head at the very top of the jump. Get your feet off the ground and up in the air, the higher the better. (If this is too hard, don't worry. I'll tell you how to make it easier.)
To master the basic burpee, work on flowing quickly and fluidly through all of the steps. No matter how quickly you move, however, always keep your movements smooth and controlled. If you start losing control, slow down.
Most beginners should start with 6 to 8 burpees and work their way up in both speed and number. Very fit individuals can do 12 to 15 burpees in 30 seconds or less. Extremely fit individuals can do even more in less time. If you're doing twenty or more quickly and with good form, consider upgrading to a more difficult version.
Burpee Variations and Modifications
The wonderful thing about burpees is that they're easy to modify in order to make them harder, easier, or just plain different.
Here are some variations on the theme of the burpee:
No-Jump Burpee: Perform steps one, two, and three of a basic burpee. At step four, stand up from your squat instead of jumping. This is a good modification for beginners or those with knee problems.
Burpee with Tuck Jump: Perform steps one through three of a basic burpee. At step four, push off into a tuck jump. This is much harder than the standard, not to mention more high impact, so it's not for beginners. You can also substitute this any time a burpee variation ends in a squat jump. (For a short demonstration on how to do tuck jumps, see the video above.)
Burpee With Push-up: Perform steps one and two of a basic burpee. From plank position, do one push-up, making sure not to lose your straight line from neck to ankles. Then perform steps three and four as normal. This is a strongly suggested modification which works out your chest, shoulders, and triceps as well as your abs and lower body.
If you struggle with push-ups, try momentarily dropping your knees to the ground and doing a push-up in that position. Then pull yourself back up into plank with good form and finish the burpee.
Burpee With Dive Bomber Push-up: As above, only with a dive bomber push-up in the place of a standard push-up. This will put a little more emphasis on your shoulders and triceps. For a quick demonstration of a dive bomber push-up, see the video above. Be aware that if you have low back problems, you may want to avoid this type of push-up.
Burpee With Pull-up: You will need a pull-up bar or a set of gymnastics rings for this. Perform steps one to four of the basic burpee. Then, after you land but before going into your squat for the next repetition, jump or reach up to the bar and perform a pull-up or chin-up. Then drop back to the floor and sink fluidly into the squat, starting the next repetition. This will work out your back in addition to your abs and lower body.
If you can't perform a pull-up on your own, consider having a stool or sturdy chair nearby and keeping one or both feet on the stool. This will take some weight off the move, making it that much easier.
Full Body Burpee/Burpee with Push-up and Pull-up: This is the ultimate full-body exercise, working out your lower body, abs, chest, shoulders, triceps, back, and biceps. To put even more emphasis on your biceps, turn the pull-up into a chin-up.
To do this version, simply combine the two preceding exercises into one move, performing a push-up from plank position and a pull-up once you reach standing again. This will be harder than the basic burpee by far, but I strongly advise working towards it as soon as possible, since it works out every major muscle group in your body and is therefore much, much more effective overall. With this one, you almost don't need anything else.
Full Plyometrics Burpee: Perform steps one and two of a basic burpee. From plank position, lower yourself into the first half of a push-up, then push yourself up explosively such that your hands briefly leave the floor, clapping them together at the top of the move. When your hands return to the floor, perform steps three and four as normal. This is a very challenging move, requiring a lot of coordination and explosive strength, but will burn calories like no other. Don't try it unless you can already do plyo push-ups effectively and without bashing your face into the floor. Just in case, try to do it on a cushioned surface anyway. Face bashing doesn't burn calories or build muscle, so try not to make it a part of your daily workout.
For a demonstration of a plyometric or clap push-up with perfect form, as well as proof that being a woman doesn't mean you have to be weak, see the video just above.
Weighted Burpee: To turn the burpee into a strength training exercise, just add weight and remove the jump. In this case, add a pair of dumbbells. Choose a weight that allows you to perform anywhere from six to twelve repetitions. To do it, hold the dumbbells at your sides and perform step one, sinking into a squat. Then, if you're using hexagonal dumbbells, place them on either side of your feet, continuing to hold on to the handles. If you're using dumbbells with rounded heads, put them slightly ahead of your feet, slightly more than shoulder width apart, and let go of them. You don't want to support your weight on round-headed dumbbells, since they'll roll right out from under you.
Perform steps two and three. With tight abs and a straight back, keep hold of or pick up your dumbbells and come out of your squat. Repeat.
Weighted Burpee With Push-up: As above, but with a push-up as per the Burpee With Push-up. If you're using hexagonal dumbbells, you can use them as push-up stands and keep a hold of them at all times. If you're using dumbbells with rounded heads, let go and grab them only when you're ready to come out of your squat.
Weighted Burpee With Push-up and Overhead Press: As above, but as you prepare to come up from your squat, first bring the weights to your shoulders, palms facing front. Then, as you come out of the squat, keep your abs tight and back straight and push the dumbbells up into an overhead shoulder press, reaching full arm extension as you reach the top of the squat. This is good for core strengthening and stability, but be careful to pay attention to your core and your form. The move won't do you any good if you're flopping around with poor form. (For instruction on the overhead dumbbell press, once again, see the above video.)
Weighted Burpee With Push-up and Curl: Perform this the same way as the Weighted Burpee with Push-up, but add a bicep curl at the top of your squat. Make sure to keep your elbows back. Don't let them rock forward or you won't get the full benefit of the curl.
Weighted Burpee with Push-up, Curl, and Press: As above again, but this time, as you curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, turn your hands palm-out and push the dumbbells up into a shoulder press, keeping your core tight and posture stable. Then lower the weights, finish your bicep curl, and go into your next squat. The only issue with this is that, while it trains every other muscle group (and then some), it doesn't train the back, and it's hard to make it do so, since it's hard to perform a pull-up with weights in hand. If your goal is a full body workout, I would recommend adding in three to five sets of pull-ups afterwards.
Weighted Full Body Burpee With a Medicine Ball: This is a really fun one, albeit challenging. It trains coordination and balance as well as strength. To do it, make sure you're working out on a non-slippery surface. Then hold a medicine ball (3 to 5 pounds will be plenty to start with) in both hands and perform steps one and two of the basic burpee, holding on to the medicine ball so that you're balancing in plank position with your hands on the ball.
Once in plank position, do a push-up while balanced on the medicine ball. This is not a standard push-up, but is better defined as a close-grip push-up. It's okay to go more slowly with this one.
Then perform steps three and four, only on step four, throw the medicine ball into the air as you jump up, and catch it as it falls. Follow its downward motion into your next, controlled squat.
Oh, and don't let the ball hit you on the head. That's about as bad as face-mashing.
All of these are just a few of the possible ways you can adapt the basic burpee to suit your needs.
Notes on the Sample Workouts
All of these sample workouts have been designed with the goal of taking thirty minutes or less.
The only exception to this rule is a high number Burpee Challenge, because I don't think anyone can do 200 burpees in thirty minutes or less without needing medical intervention at or around the thirty-first minute mark.
If you'd like to do multiple burpee workouts a week, don't do more than three, since they are a strenuous full body workout and shouldn't be done without 48 hours of rest between each workout. If you like, try doing three different workouts during the week - one for strength, one for time, and one challenge just for fun.
When doing multiple sets of burpees, always try to keep moving in between sets. This may just mean walking around and wheezing, and that's fine. As long as you're not standing still, you're golden. The goal is to keep moving so that you don't cool down and your muscles don't cramp up on you.
Sample Burpee Workouts
Now that we know what kinds of burpees we can do, let's put it all together and make a workout.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
The Burpee Ladder:
Determine the maximum number of burpees you can do in one set with good form. Perform one set, rest for thirty to sixty seconds, then repeat, reducing the number of repetitions with each new set until you get down to 1. For example, if you can do 10 burpees before your legs start to fall off, do one set of 10, then one set of 9, one set of 8, and so on down the line.
The Burpee Challenge:
Set a goal in your head of how many burpees you'd like to do, start the timer, and get going. It doesn't matter whether your goal is 20, or 50, or 100, or even 200. Just set it and match it.
Burpees For Time:
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Set a timer for however long you'd like to work out, whether that's fifteen minutes or thirty. Then start doing the burpee of your choice. Do as many as you can in each set so that you're able to get by with resting for no more than sixty seconds between sets.
Count how many you manage to do, and keep a record! Then, the next time you go to tackle this workout, make it a goal to beat your previous high number. It's amazing what a little competitive spirit can do for your motivation, even if you're just competing against yourself.
Weighted Full-Body Burpee Workout:
To turn your burpee session into a strength training workout, first warm up with three sets of basic burpees. Then perform any variation of weighted burpees for five sets of six to twelve repetitions. For a thorough full-body workout, I would strongly recommend doing a variation which includes push-ups, if not the full push-up/curl/press combo. I would also recommend that you do three to five sets of pull-ups or chin-ups after your burpees, as well as three to five sets of crunches. This will allow you to exercise every major muscle group in a very short time.
Intimidated by Burpees? Don't be.
Some of this may seem imposing, and to be honest with you, it is. Burpees are challenging, and the more you add to them, the harder they get.
However, you won't find a full body exercise more effective in less time than a burpee, because in just thirty minutes a burpee workout will tire everything out, work every muscle group, and leave you feeling as if you've just spent a solid two hours in the gym. I know from personal experience, because I've done both, and I've been amazed at how effective they really are.
And all of this without ever having to leave your home. Or, for that matter, get dressed.
Really, what's not to like?