Are burpees good for you?

They can get your heart pumping and your muscles working overtime, but are burpees really good for you?

Woman performs burpee
(Image credit: Getty)

Whether you love or hate the traditional burpee, you can't deny that it's an incredibly effective exercise. Pump out a few of these in a row and you'll find your heart rate rockets and your muscles start aching. But are they actually good for you?

We put the question to an expert trainer, who agreed that the high-energy move has a number of health benefits. It's possible that a poorly-executed burpee could result in back strain though, so here's how to do it properly and how to adapt it for injuries. 

How to do a burpee

A burpee is basically a plank-hold and push-up followed by a squat jump. When it's done correctly, the compound exercise will work multiple muscle groups found in your core, legs, arms, chest and shoulders. 

Below, personal trainer Sana Shirvani gives a demonstration and offers some tips on how to do one properly.

  • Start standing, with your feet shoulder width apart and hands by your side.
  • Squat down and extend your arms down towards the ground, then jump your feet back into a high plank position. 
  • Use your core to stabilize yourself in that plank position, you do not want your hips to sink down towards the ground. 
  • Lower yourself until your chest is just above the ground, then push back up to a high plank position. 
  • Jump your feet towards your hands, keeping your hips high. Try to jump the feet nice and wide to give you a neutral spine rather than flexing heavily through your back. 
  • Finally, explosively jump upwards, extending through your ankles, knees and hips. Land softly and safely before doing the next round.
Sana Shirvani
Sana Shirvani

Personal trainer Sana Shirvani has worked as the face of Under Armour and as a strength and conditioning coach at BXR LONDON. More recently, Sana was the film cast trainer for The Little Mermaid live action movie. 

What are burpees good for?

Burpees come with plenty of benefits, but these are the ones that Shirvani thinks are most important. 

1. Burpees involve whole body movement 

The demanding nature of a burpee means that it builds strength and endurance in both your upper and lower body. According to Shirvani, the exercise works most of the body's major muscle groups, so it's a fairly efficient move. 

Woman performs burpees in an outdoor workout

(Image credit: Getty)

2. Burpees really work out your core 

Burpees target your core as well as your shoulders and upper back. This is important, as core muscles are integral for all kinds of everyday movements. Plus, they're responsible for creating stability when you're exercising. 

“Burpees are great for engaging your core muscles,” says Shirvani. "You’ll have to keep your core engaged and braced throughout a burpee, from start to end so you’ll be working pretty hard through your trunk.”

3. Burpees are endlessly adjustable

A burpee doesn't require any equipment, but you can incorporate some dumbbells or a bench if you want to try a different challenge.

“I love burpees because there are so many different variations,” says Shirvani. “You can literally cater the burpee to your body, your limitations, and the intensity you’d like to perform at.” 

Are burpees bad for your back?

Burpee challenge

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As long as you maintain proper form and don't let your back flex when you're performing a burpee, the move shouldn't cause any spinal issues. But there are some adaptations to try if you're worried about straining a muscle. 

“If you have a history of lower back pain, or disc issues, it may be smart to elevate the platform you are using to ensure you are not hyper extending your back when trying to come off the ground, or flexing through your spine as much when bringing the legs back in from a plank position,” says Shirvani. 

“If you do not have adequate hip mobility, the lower back will have to flex, so if you know your hips are tight, this might be another reason to elevate the burpee.”

Burpee variations to try

If you want to increase or decrease the intensity of the burpee, or you're working with some limitations, Shirvani recommends these variations.

Elevated platform

Instead of squatting down all the way to the floor, try performing the plank and push-up portion of the burpee on an elevated platform like a bench. This will take some of the strain away from your shoulders and make it harder for you to accidentally hyper extend your back. 

BOSU ball

Want to make your burpees even more difficult? Perform them against a BOSU ball, to really fire up your core and challenge your balance. 

Person performing burpee on BOSU ball

(Image credit: Getty)

Box jump

Another way to increase the intensity of the burpee is by adding in an extra move. Instead of simply doing a squat jump, try doing a box jump at the top of a burpee, to really fire up the leg muscles.

Increase your load

Try adding some free weights to your burpees, which will make the squat jump element feel a bit harder. Balancing on dumbbells or kettlebells during the plank portion of a burpee will also make your core work harder and challenge your balance.

Abby Driver

Abby Driver is a freelance health writer and qualified fitness instructor based in Cornwall. Away from her desk she enjoys exploring the Cornish coast path, sea swimming and experimenting with new recipes.