Ah, burpees. The exercise many of us love to hate. Or, if you’re like me, you actually do love them! (Seriously, I would rather do burpees over mountain climbers ANY DAY.) Regardless about how you feel about them, burpees are a highly effective exercise. One burpee uses all muscle groups in the body, from your arms to your core and of course your legs. It’s also a high intensity exercise, so it will get your heart pumping hard and can help improve your cardiovascular system. It’s an excellent choice for any type of HIIT workout. (My favorite kind of HIIT is Tabata. I’ve talked about how to create your own custom tabata workout in a previous post.)
If you’ve started exploring the world of High Intensity Interval Training, sooner or later you’re bound to come across burpees. Better accept it now, whether you love them or hate them.
The interesting thing about burpees is that they can be done a variety of ways. There are two main parts to a standard burpee. First, you squat down to the floor and jump your feet back into plank position. The second part involves jumping your feet back up and standing or jumping straight up into the air.
But every trainer might do their own version a little differently. I’ve seen so many different kinds of burpees out there and I love them all. Especially if you are doing burpees somewhat regularly in your exercise routine, it’s very good to mix things up and do something a little different so as to challenge your muscle memory.
I’ve split this burpee exercise up into the two phases below: one for when you head down to the floor and one for when you come back up. There are different ideas for all fitness levels and you can mix and match to find the perfect new burpee form for you!
Hit the Floor
As mentioned before, a standard burpee simply involves squatting down, putting your hands on the floor, and jumping your feet back into plank at the same time. One thing to keep in mind is how wide apart your feet are as you squat down. Since you’re squatting all the way to the floor, a narrow squat is basically impossible. However, you can choose to have your feet about hip width as you squat or step them apart wider. It’s a subtle difference, but does affect which muscles the exercise affects more. A wider squat will work the inner and outer thighs more, whereas a more narrow squat will keep most of the work in the booty.
If you have knee issues, back issues, or any other sort of limitation which makes jumping back to hard for you, a simple way to modify is to simply step it out. Go with a wider squat and once your hands are on the floor simply step one foot back. Then using that back leg as support step the other foot back so you are in plank. When getting to the up part of the burpee, just reverse the motion. Step one foot up, then the other before rising out of your squat.
A lot of trainers always include push ups in there burpees, but I consider this a more advanced option. After you squat down and jump into plank, perform a complete push up. The other option is to perform the push up WHILE you’re jumping your feet back. This is difficult and requires a certain amount of strength and coordination. Adding push ups to burpees can slow the motion down a little bit, so the key is to keep up form while also performing the exercise as quickly as possible.
Adding a quick plank walk while you’re down on the floor is a fun way to make this move travel. It uses your muscles in a different way so it helps make the move more effective. Basically what you do is drop down and out into plank just like you normally would. But then before you jump your feet back up, step your right hand and foot to the right and then follow with your left hand and foot. Then jump up, and when you come back down to do your next burpee, plank walk to the left.
Jump Up High
In a standard burpee, after you jump your feet from plank back into a squat, the move is to jump straight up in the air as high as you can. Lift your arms over your head to get more movement out of the whole exercise. Reach for as much height as possible. This is already a highly intense and effective option.
If you’re unable to do any jumping, standing up straight and lifting your arms over head is still an important part of the exercise. It’s the change in levels from the plank position on the floor to the standing position which works the muscles in your entire body. You can even rise up onto your toes to get a little extra work in your calf muscles.
My favorite way to intensify burpees is to add a tuck jump at the end instead of a regular jump up in the air. You could also do something like a double buttkicker (kicking both feet to your butt at the same time). Either way, you’re forced to put even more effort into the jump which makes the exercise more effective.
Another interesting way to handle the jumping part of the burpee is to jump in a certain direction. For instance, when you come up and jump your whole body to the right. Then back down into plank, and when you come up the second time jump back to the left. I call this an up and over burpee, as if you’re jumping up and over an imaginary line. You could also try jumping forward and bad. The change in direction is definitely more difficult, and causes you to concentrate more on the movement. I also think it’s a lot of fun, so even though it’s hard it seems to get over with more quickly.
Another way to take some of the impact out of the exercise but still keep it challenging is to do a quick squat hold when you come up from the floor. In this variation, you never full stand up all the way. It’s much less impact on your knees but works your legs and butt more than just coming up to stand. It’s a good way to work your legs without jumping.
Wait a second… how many burpee variations was that??!
So in all that I count… 14 different burpee variations?! This is why I love this exercise so much! It’s an effective total-body move that requires no equipment. High Intensity Interval Training has been my favorite for a long time, and as silly as it sounds burpees have been a big part of that! I hope this list helps you spice them up in your next workout.