Burpees: Techniques, benefits, variations, challenges, nutrition

Burpees have made a lasting mark on the fitness world. Their origin traces back to the 1930s when Royal H. Burpee, a physiologist, developed this full-body exercise as a quick way to measure physical fitness. 

Today, burpees stand as a staple in many workout routines, from beginner circuits to elite military training. Their enduring popularity stems from their effectiveness in building strength, endurance, and agility all at once. 

Offering both cardio and strength benefits, burpees challenge the heart, lungs, and nearly every muscle group. For those unfamiliar with this powerful move, this article offers insights into its technique, benefits, variations, and nutritional considerations. 

Whether you’re new to fitness or an experienced athlete, understanding burpees can enhance your training routine and overall physical health.

What are burpees?

Burpees stand out as one of the most dynamic exercises in fitness. At its core, a burpee is a two-part movement, beginning from a standing position, dropping into a squat, transitioning into a plank, and then reversing the action to return to the starting stance. The movement is often capped off with a jump and clap overhead [1]. 

As one moves through the sequence, the body experiences a fusion of aerobic and anaerobic exertion, pushing both the cardiovascular system and major muscle groups. 

Not limited by equipment or specialized facilities, burpees can be done virtually anywhere, making them a favorite for those seeking effective workouts with minimal constraints. 

This exercise promotes cardiovascular fitness and fortifies muscle strength, especially targeting the legs, chest, and core. Embraced by fitness enthusiasts and professionals alike, burpees offer a holistic approach to physical well-being.

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Benefits of burpees

Despite their challenging nature, the rewards burpees offer make them worth the effort. Here are some benefits of incorporating burpees into your fitness regimen:

1. Full-body workout

Burpees are a compound exercise, meaning they engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Almost every major muscle group gets activated from the legs and core to the chest and arms [2], offering a holistic workout experience in a single move.

2. Cardiovascular boost

The dynamic and intense nature of burpees gets your heart rate up in no time. Including them in your workout routine can help improve cardiovascular endurance, making daily activities feel less taxing and increasing overall stamina.

3. Burns calories

Thanks to their full-body engagement and cardiovascular component, burpees are excellent for burning calories. They help increase your metabolic rate, assisting in weight management and fat loss combined with a balanced diet.

burns calories
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4. Enhances coordination and balance

The sequence of movements in a burpee – from standing to squatting, transitioning to a plank, and then jumping back up – demands coordination. Over time, practicing burpees can improve body awareness, balance, and coordination.

5. No equipment needed

One of the undeniable perks of burpees is their simplicity. They require no special equipment or gym memberships. Whether at home, in a park, or on vacation, you can perform burpees and get a comprehensive workout.

6. Functional fitness

The movements in a burpee are not just exercises; they mirror actions we take in daily life. The squat mirrors sitting or lifting objects, the plank represents maintaining posture, and the jump is a testament to explosive power. Regularly doing burpees can make everyday activities easier and reduce the risk of injuries.

7. Improves bone density

Weight-bearing exercises, like burpees, play a crucial role in maintaining and improving bone density. By regularly performing them, you can promote bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis in the long run.

8. Flexibility

While they might not seem like a traditional flexibility exercise, burpees do incorporate a range of movements that can help improve joint mobility, especially in the hips, knees, and ankles.

9. Mental fortitude

Completing a set of burpees, especially when pushing your limits, requires mental strength. Overcoming the challenge not only builds physical resilience but also fosters mental toughness and discipline.

Incorporating burpees into your regular fitness routine can provide a balanced mix of strength training and cardio. 

While they might seem tough at the outset, the array of benefits they offer makes them an invaluable addition to any workout regimen. Stay consistent, and you’ll soon see and feel the transformative power of this dynamic exercise.

What muscles do burpees work? 

Burpees are celebrated for their comprehensive engagement of multiple muscle groups in a single, fluid movement. 

It’s no surprise that many consider them the epitome of a full-body workout. Here’s a closer look at the primary muscles activated during this powerhouse exercise [3]:

Leg muscles

  • Quadriceps (front thighs): As you drop into the squat and then push back up, your quads are hard at work. This muscle group plays a significant role in knee extension, allowing you to move fluidly through the burpee.
  • Hamstrings (back thighs): These muscles complement the quads, assisting in the squat’s descent and aiding knee flexion.
  • Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus): The explosive jump at the end of the movement demands a lot from the calves. They provide the push needed to lift off the ground.

Core muscles

  • Rectus abdominis: Commonly referred to as the “six-pack” muscle, it stabilizes the body during the plank phase and helps you maintain a straight line from head to heel.
  • Obliques (side abs): These muscles support the body’s twisting movements and stabilize the torso. In the burpee, they ensure the body remains aligned during the plank and help control the descent into and rise from the squat.
  • Transverse abdominis: This deep abdominal muscle acts as a stabilizing belt, holding your internal organs in place. During the burpee, it ensures your spine remains protected and aligned.

Upper body muscles

  • Deltoids (shoulders): They bear much of the body’s weight during the plank phase and assist in the push-up if incorporated.
  • Pectoralis Major (chest): If you add a push-up to your burpee, your chest muscles get a solid workout, controlling the descent and push-back.
  • Triceps (back of the arms): Also activated during the push-up phase, they work alongside the chest to extend the elbow and push the body upwards.
  • Latissimus Dorsi (back): These broad muscles on either side of the back help stabilize the body during the plank, ensuring the spine remains neutral and the body doesn’t sag.

Back muscles

  • Erector spinae: Running along the spine, these muscles offer stability throughout the exercise, especially during the plank and squat phases.

Given this extensive list, it’s clear that burpees provide an all-encompassing workout. While they may seem challenging, the effort pays off in the form of muscle engagement and overall functional fitness. 

How to do burpees the right way

Executing a burpee with proper form is vital to harness its full benefits while minimizing the risk of injury [4]. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown to ensure you perform this dynamic exercise correctly:

1. Starting position

Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Maintain a neutral spine, pull your shoulders back slightly, and keep your gaze forward.

2. Initiate the squat

  • Begin by bending at the hips and knees simultaneously. As you lower your body, keep your chest lifted and back straight.
  • Place your hands flat on the floor, slightly ahead of your feet. Your arms should be shoulder-width apart.

3. Jump back into plank

  • With weight on your hands, jump your feet back, extending your legs fully. You’ll now be in a plank position.
  • Ensure your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. Engage your core and avoid arching your back or letting your hips sag.

4. Push-up phase (optional)

  • Bend your elbows, keeping them close to your body, and lower yourself until your chest is just above the ground.
  • Press firmly into the ground, extending your elbows, and push your body back up to the plank position. Remember to engage your chest and triceps during this movement.

5. Return to squat

Jump your feet back towards your hands, returning to the squat position. Ensure your feet land outside your hands and your chest remains lifted.

6. Explosive finish

  • Push through your heels and use the strength of your legs to explosively jump into the air.
  • As you ascend, extend your arms overhead, reaching for the sky. Land softly, absorbing the impact with slightly bent knees.

7. Reset and repeat

After landing, quickly transition back to the starting position, ready for the next repetition.

Maintaining a consistent rhythm and focusing on each phase will ensure you get the most from each burpee. 

It’s always a good idea to practice the movement slowly at first to master the form, then gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable.

Common burpee mistakes and how to avoid them

The effectiveness of burpees lies in their execution. Here are some common mistakes and tips to sidestep them:

1. Sagging hips in the plank

  • Mistake: Allowing the hips to drop towards the ground during the plank phase.
  • Solution: Engage your core and glutes to maintain a straight line from your head to your heels. Think of your body as a solid plank of wood that doesn’t bend in the middle.

2. Arching the lower back

  • Mistake: Pushing the hips too high, creating an arch in the lower back during the plank.
  • Solution: Again, core engagement is key. Pull your belly button towards your spine and keep your glutes activated. This will help stabilize your pelvis and maintain a neutral spine.

3. Improper hand placement

  • Mistake: Placing hands too far ahead or too close during the squat phase.
  • Solution: As you enter the squat, position your hands directly under your shoulders. This ensures proper alignment and better stability for the jump back into the plank.

4. Skipping the jump

  • Mistake: Rising back to standing without the final jump.
  • Solution: For a complete burpee, add the explosive jump at the end. It adds to the cardio element and engages the leg muscles more intensely.

5. Not using the full range of motion

  • Mistake: Half-hearted push-ups or not going deep enough in the squat.
  • Solution: Focus on moving through the entire range of each phase. For the push-up, aim to get your chest close to the ground, and in the squat, lower your hips until they’re at least parallel with your knees.

6. Landing heavily

  • Mistake: Landing with straight legs and heavy feet after the jump, jarring the joints.
  • Solution: Land softly with slightly bent knees. This absorbs the impact and protects the knees and ankles.

Remember, quality over quantity is crucial. It’s better to perform fewer burpees with excellent form than many with poor technique. With attention to detail and consistent practice, mastering the burpee becomes rewarding.

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Burpees safety tips

Burpees, while exceptionally beneficial, can be demanding on the body. Ensuring safety while executing this exercise is paramount to prevent undue strain or injury. Here are several safety guidelines to incorporate into your routine:

1. Warm-up

Before diving into burpees, it’s essential to warm up your body [5]. Engage in 5-10 minutes of light aerobic activity such as jogging, skipping, or dynamic stretches. This prepares your muscles and joints for the vigorous movement that follows.

2. Footwear matters

Wear shoes that provide ample support, especially in the arch and heel areas. Good traction is also vital to prevent slipping during the jump back into the plank position.

3. Use a mat

If you’re working out on a hard surface, place a fitness mat beneath you. This cushions your hands and feet, providing added comfort and reducing the impact on your joints.

4. Maintain a steady pace

While burpees can be performed at high intensity, it’s crucial to maintain a pace that matches your fitness level. Listen to your body. If you feel undue strain or fatigue, slow down.

5. Stay hydrated

Burpees can lead to quick dehydration due to their intensity. Keep a water bottle nearby and take short breaks to sip and stay hydrated.

6. Focus on breathing

Ensure you’re breathing continuously through each movement phase. A common mistake is holding one’s breath, especially during the plank or push-up. Proper breathing aids muscle function and keeps you energized.

7. Know your limits

If you’re new to burpees or returning after a break, start slow. Modifying the movement, such as omitting the push-up or jump, is okay until you build strength and endurance.

8. Cool down

After your session, spend a few minutes stretching. Focus on the major muscle groups you’ve engaged – the legs, chest, back, and core. This aids recovery and reduces muscle stiffness.

cool down
Photograph: micens/Envato

8. Check your surroundings

Ensure you have enough space around you to perform the exercise without bumping into objects or other people.

How to do burpees for beginners

If you’re a beginner, introducing burpees into your routine can seem daunting. Still, with the right approach and modifications, it becomes a manageable and effective exercise. Here’s a beginner-friendly guide to get started:

1. Start with a warm-up

Before attempting any exercise, especially one as dynamic as burpees, warming up is essential. Spend 5-10 minutes on light aerobic activities, such as brisk walking or leg swings. This prepares your muscles and gets your heart rate up gently.

2. Beginner’s modified burpee

  • Standing position: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, arms by your sides.
  • Hand placement: Instead of jumping into the squat, bend your knees and lower your body into a squat position at a controlled pace. Place your hands on the ground in front of your feet.
  • Step back: Instead of jumping, step one foot back at a time into a plank position. Make sure your body forms a straight line from head to heel.
  • Plank hold: Hold the plank position for a moment. Engage your core and ensure your back isn’t arching or sagging.
  • Step forward: Step your feet back towards your hands, one at a time.
  • Rise up: Push through your heels, extend your knees and hips, and return to standing.
  • Skip the jump: For beginners, it might be beneficial to skip the explosive jump at the end.

3. Focus on form

Even in the modified version, maintaining proper form is key. Always engage your core, ensure your back is straight during the squat and plank, and control your movements.

4. Build endurance gradually

Start with a small set. Doing even 5 well-executed burpees is a great beginning. As your strength and stamina improve, you can increase repetitions and sets.

5. Introduce elements slowly

Once you’re comfortable with the basic movement, add the jump at the end. After mastering that, try incorporating a gentle push-up in the plank position.

6. Stay consistent

Like all exercises, consistency is key with burpees. Incorporate them into your routine 2-3 times a week, gradually increasing intensity as you become more confident.

7. Post-exercise stretch

After performing burpees, engage in a brief cool-down. Gentle stretches targeting the legs, arms, and back will aid recovery and flexibility.

Remember, everyone starts somewhere. Burpees are adaptable, and it’s okay to modify them until you’re ready for more challenging versions. Stay patient, prioritize form over speed, and soon you’ll find yourself performing full burpees easily and confidently.

Burpees nutrition: What to eat and when

Proper nutrition ensures that your body has the energy and resources to perform at its best and recover efficiently. Here’s a guide on how to nourish your body when incorporating burpees into your routine:

1. Pre-burpee nutrition

Carbohydrate sources for energy

Before plunging into a set of burpees, energizing your body is crucial. Carbohydrates act as your primary fuel. Consuming whole grains, fruits, or vegetables can offer sustained energy, ensuring you tackle each repetition with consistent vigor.

Protein for muscle preparation

While protein is commonly associated with recovery, having a bit before your workout can help in muscle preparation. This pre-emptive step ensures your muscles are ready for the strenuous activity ahead. 

Foods such as lean meats, fish, or legumes are advisable. For plant-based diets, tofu or tempeh are commendable options.

2. Post-burpee nutrition

Protein sources for recovery

After the intense session of burpees, your muscles are in immediate need of repair. Now, protein comes into play. 

Refuel with options like chicken, turkey, eggs, or plant-based proteins. This aids in muscle recovery, ensuring you’re ready for your next workout.

Hydration importance

As sweat drips during your burpees, you’re losing essential fluids. Rehydrating is not just about quenching thirst; it’s about aiding muscle recovery and ensuring optimal body function. 

Drinking water is essential, and for those intense sessions, consider an electrolyte-rich drink to restore lost minerals.

3. Maximizing burpee benefits through a proper diet

Macronutrient ratios

A balanced diet is more than just individual nutrients; it’s about their ratios. A mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats tailored to your body and activity levels can significantly impact the benefits you derive from burpees. 

While general advice leans towards a higher carb intake for such high-intensity workouts, it’s essential to consult with a nutritionist to tailor it to personal needs.

Supplement considerations

Sometimes, even a well-rounded diet might need a boost, especially for high-intensity workouts like burpees. Consider BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) to support muscle recovery and reduce fatigue. 

Electrolyte supplements can also be beneficial, ensuring you replace the vital minerals lost during your workout.

Closing thoughts

Burpees epitomize a comprehensive fitness routine, seamlessly merging strength, endurance, and agility. Their demanding nature is matched by the exceptional benefits they yield. 

The secret to mastering this exercise goes beyond technique—it’s about fueling your body right. Nutrition plays a pivotal role, in enhancing performance and speeding recovery. 

When you align dedicated effort in burpees with thoughtful nutrition, you set the stage for a holistic transformation. This journey, paved with dedication and knowledge, leads to a healthier, stronger, and more vibrant you.


What are benefits of burpees?

Burpees offer a full-body workout, targeting multiple major muscle groups, while also enhancing cardiovascular endurance and agility. This compound exercise promotes calorie burn, muscle strengthening, and overall functional fitness.

What is basic burpees?

A basic burpee is a bodyweight exercise that combines a squat, push-up, and vertical jump into one fluid movement. It offers a full-body workout, engaging major muscle groups from the legs to the upper body.

What is the movement pattern of a burpee?

The movement pattern of a burpee starts with a standing position, transitions into a squat, followed by a push-up position, then returns to the squat and concludes with a vertical jump. This sequence engages the whole body, moving fluidly from one phase to the next.

How many burpees should a beginner do?

A beginner should start with a manageable number, such as 3 to 5 burpees in a set, focusing on proper form. As endurance and strength improve, they can gradually increase repetitions over time.

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[1] https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-do-a-burpee 
[2] https://www.biologyofexercise.com/do-burpees-build-muscle/ 
[3] https://www.crossfitinvictus.com/blog/burpees/ 
[4] https://www.livestrong.com/article/13775738-how-to-do-a-burpee/ 
[5] https://www.livestrong.com/article/13715347-the-8-worst-burpee-mistakes-you-can-make/

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