By Matt Evans
Mention the word “burpee” to anyone who’s done a fitness class and you’ll get the same reaction. The gruelling fat-burning move carries a formidable reputation, and rightly so: it’s a cardiovascular move demanding you work your upper and lower body in quick succession.
However, if you’re looking for a great conditioning workout, learning how to do burpees properly should be on your fitness checklist.
The burpee is a combination move consisting of a push up, squat thrust and a vertical jump. Although push ups, squats and jumps all contribute to building muscle, the biggest strain while doing a burpee is on your heart. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found burpees work your cardiovascular and respiratory systems more than doing sprints on an exercise bike. Combine that with burning muscles, and you’ve got yourself one serious workout.
Because they tire you out so quickly, burpees are considered staple exercises when doing high-intensity interval training, otherwise known as HIIT. This kind of training, in which you work very hard during a set of exercises, rest and go again, is very different from low-intensity steady-state exercises such as going for a jog or long run.
Both kinds of cardio exercise function differently, but the journal PLOS One found people who did 30 minutes of HIIT exercises like burpees improved their muscles and cardiovascular fitness as much as participants who did 150 minutes of low intensity exercise. HIIT exercises like burpees allow you to do your cardio workouts in a lot less time.
How to do burpees: Where do we start?
If you’ve never done a burpee before, we’ll show you how to do a squat thrust first. Once you’ve got this movement down, we’ll go on to the main event, followed by a couple of challenging variations.
The squat thrust is ideal for those looking for dynamic, tiring exercises that test muscular endurance and provide a tough cardiovascular workout. Primarily, squat thrusts target a number of muscles in the legs, specifically those in and around your thighs, namely the glutes, quads and hamstrings.
They also provide additional benefits; as well as making the heart work hard, they also test out the muscular endurance of your arms, chest and, of course, the core. If you want to really push your body, several sets of squat thrusts at a high tempo (providing you’ve mastered the correct technique) is a great place to start.
- Get on your hands and knees, with your arms bent a little and your legs pushed forward. Your weight should be equally distributed between your hands and the balls of your feet. Raise your hips and kick your feet back.
- Keep your legs together and extend them straight as they move back. At the same time, straighten your arms to stiffen your upper body. By the time your feet land, you should be in a push-up position.
- Without pausing, quickly bring your legs back to the starting position. Think of the movement as jumping forwards, but without lifting your hands. Your upper body will move forwards slightly and your arms should bend a little.
- Once you’re back in the starting position, go back into another squat thrust. Do this until you’ve completed the required number of repetitions. Alternatively, see how many you can do without stopping – we guarantee that you’ll need a serious breather afterwards!
How to do a burpee
Burpees are about the best total body exercise around, mixing squat thrusts, push-ups and jumps. While performing burpees, you shouldn’t pause at all – one movement should naturally lead into the next. Tiring!
- Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands by your sides.
- Get down into a squat thrust starting position, with your hands placed on the ground, shoulder-width apart in front of you.
- Kick your legs out to get into the plank position. Quickly lower yourself down until your chest is just above the ground.
- Push back up to return to the plank position. Bring your legs forward so that you’re back in the squat thrust starting position.
- Regain your feet and stand up. As you’re standing up, jump up. When you’ve landed, move straight onto your next repetition.
Variation: Burpee jack
If you want to make burpees even tougher, try this variation that mimics the movements of jumping jacks. It’s a guaranteed fat burner that will get your heart pumping.
- Perform a standard burpee up to, and including, the point where you kick back into the plank position.
- As you’re lowering your body down in the push-up phase, kick your legs out to the side.
- As you push back up into the plank position, bring your legs back together.
- Continue the rest of the burpee as described on the previous page, changing the standard jump for a jumping jack. Simple!
Variation: Single-leg burpee
Burpees are tough whatever way you do them, though few make your muscles fatigue quicker than this gruelling single-leg variation.
- Stand up tall with your hands down by your side, but with your right foot raised behind you at knee height and your left foot on the floor. Keep your right foot raised as you get down into a squat thrust position and kick back into a push-up.
- Perform the push-up on one leg, holding your right leg in its raised position. Jump back into a squat-thrust position, remembering to keep your right leg raised behind you.
- As you stand up, use your standing leg to dynamically jump up in the air. Remember to throw your hands above your head to help power the jump.
- Land on your left foot to complete one repetition.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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