What Are Burpees?
Not to be mistaken for burpees seeds, burpees are one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises that can be performed and have been found to be an effective bodyweight cardio conditioning exercise (1). One of the best things about the burpee is that equipment is not necessary – all that is required is space.
In addition to this, it is a full body exercise which recruits muscles the length and breadth of the body. The muscles of the legs are required to powerfully shoot the legs back in the plank position and also explosively contract in the vertical jump. The upper body and core must support the body weight in the plank and also engage during the press up.
This article will look at 4 key components of the burpee and also provide a number of variations that can be performed for a burpees workout!
How To Perform A Burpee
Burpees come in a number of variations and coaches may teach the movements differently – some require a push-up during the plank phase while others do not. Others do not require a jump at the end of the movement, while others do not. The following coaching points will teach how to perform the conventional burpee from start to finish.
- Squat down and place the hands flat on the floor at approximately shoulder width apart
- From this position, jump the legs back into a full plank
- Hinge at the elbows and drop into a full push up ensuring the chest makes contact with the floor before returning to the plank position (if required, drop to the knees for the push-up)
- Jump the feet back to the start position ensuring that the feet are placed wider than the hips
- From the deep squat position, powerfully drive upwards into a vertical jump and bring the arms up and overhead
- Land safely keeping the knees out and repeat for the prescribed number of reps
Performing Perfect Burpees
Burpees are a very common exercise that often appears in HIIT or Tabata style workouts (2). Typically, the goal of these workouts is to complete as many reps as possible in a set time period which can often cause the exercise to be performed incorrectly or with the absence of good technique. The following points highlight 4 key areas that are crucial when it comes to mastering the burpee.
1) Jump Effectively
Firstly, during the burpees exercise, focus on moving effectively – specifically in the jump. Be aware that this does not necessarily mean moving as fast as possible and completing each rep in as quick a time as possible.
By failing to move effectively, it is likely that energy will be wasted and therefore the movement will become more challenging, energy stores will become depleted at a faster rate and fatigue will quickly become a major factor (3). Efficient movement helps to preserve energy, which will make it possible to exercise for a longer period of time, all while maintaining form.
The jump is often an area where energy will be wasted – either through rushing or an out of control jump. Although it’s important to gain height with each jump, it must be controlled to maximise movement efficiency.
2) A Solid Ground Position
Probably one of the most common mistakes is performed during the grounded phase. At this point, the body should be held long and straight in a plank position. Often in this position, the body either begin to sag by the dropping of the hips or the hips are lifted too high. Both of these positions are incorrect and fail to engage the core properly.
The best way to ensure that the correct position is assumed is to place the hands directly underneath the shoulders and maximally shoot the legs out behind the body. Meanwhile, the core should be braced as hard as possible – focus on squeezing the abs tightly. This will increase what is known as intra-abdominal pressure which will help to facilitate a strong plank position and additionally protect the spine and prevent lower back injury (4).
3) Maintaining A Wide Base
When jumping up to the feet from the grounded position, look to keep the feet slightly wider than the hips. Doing so will keep the body more stable and the movements controlled. A wide base of support has been found to facilitate stability (5) thus enhancing movement and preserving energy. If a narrow stance is assumed, stability decreases.
Additionally, by keeping a wide stance, the jump will become straightforward. When jumping, a wide stance is required as a narrow stance will make the movement more challenging and harder to gain height in the jump.
4) Be Powerful In The Jump
With the jump, it’s important to be as explosive as possible. It should involve a powerful drive using the big leg muscles that propels the body upwards. However, for many the jump is nothing more than a small hop which does very little and fails to recruit these muscles to their full potential.
The maximal jump in the burpee trains something known as triple extension which is simply a rapid extension of 3 joints – the hips, knees and ankles (6). Practicing triple extension regularly can help to build full body power, burn many calories and improve overall movement. Therefore, do not sacrifice the jump with the purpose of completing more reps in a short time period, instead, focus on springing up powerfully with each rep.
There are number of progressions that can be performed in order to increase the intensity and challenge of the burpee exercise. Only once proficient form for the standard burpee has been established, should these variations be attempted.
Tuck Jump Burpee
Complete a full burpee and during the jump, drive the knees up powerfully and tuck the knees into the chest in mid-air.
Hand Release Burpee
For this variation, when dropping into the push up, touch the chest to the floor and release the hands from the floor so that the body is fully in contact. Complete the rest of the movement as normal.
Burpee to Jump Lunge
Once again, complete a full burpee however, look to swap out the vertical jump for a jumping lunge. Alternate sides with each rep completed.
As the name suggests, complete the full movement on one leg ensuring that the other foot does not touch the floor at any point. Alternate leg with each rep.
Complete the first phases of the burpee as normal. In the jump, look to rotate 180 degrees and land safely keeping the knees pushed out.
Lateral Jump Burpee
Perform a standard burpee but look to jump laterally (to the side) rather than vertically. Still focus on being explosive with every jump.
When it comes to cardio conditioning, the burpee is one of the best callisthenic exercises that can be performed, providing it is executed with good form. It is also an exercise which is easy to manipulate to increase the demand placed on the body, as highlighted by the vast number of burpee variations.
1-Haddock, Christopher K.; Poston, Walker S.C.; Heinrich, Katie M.; Jahnke, Sara A.; Jitnarin, Nattinee (2016-11). “The Benefits of High Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) Fitness Programs for Military Personnel”. Military medicine. 181 (11): e1508–e1514. doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-15-00503. ISSN 0026-4075. PMC 5119748. PMID 27849484.
2-“Physiology of Fat Loss”. www.unm.edu.
3-Ament, Wim; Verkerke, Gijsbertus J. (2009). “Exercise and fatigue”. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 39 (5): 389–422. doi:10.2165/00007256-200939050-00005. ISSN 0112-1642. PMID 19402743.
4-Hodges, Paul W.; Eriksson, A. E. Martin; Shirley, Debra; Gandevia, Simon C. (2005-9). “Intra-abdominal pressure increases stiffness of the lumbar spine”. Journal of Biomechanics. 38 (9): 1873–1880. doi:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2004.08.016. ISSN 0021-9290. PMID 16023475
5-Henry, S. M.; Fung, J.; Horak, F. B. (2001-2). “Effect of stance width on multidirectional postural responses”. Journal of Neurophysiology. 85 (2): 559–570. doi:10.1152/jn.2001.85.2.559. ISSN 0022-3077. PMID 11160493.
6-Suchomel, Timothy J.; Comfort, Paul; Stone, Michael H. (2015-6). “Weightlifting pulling derivatives: rationale for implementation and application”. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 45 (6): 823–839. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0314-y. ISSN 1179-2035. PMID 25689955.