How can you train your whole body with one movement that can build muscle and burn fat?

Enter the dreaded burpee.

Never has an exercise been bastardised more than this gem.

The army use it to test mental fortitude, personal trainers use it to beast their clients in boot camps, CrossFit workouts which include it are feared and if you have never tried it then you are probably wondering what the big deal is with a simple bodyweight exercise. Notice I said ‘simple’ and not ‘easy’.

The burpee is a simple straight forward exercise to perform that you can do almost ANYWHERE. Many of my holiday workouts have used only this one exercise and have left me gasping for air or curled up in a ball on the floor. As the burpee is a full body workout in itself it will build both your strength and endurance. The variety of movements involved in performing the burpee causes an elevation in your heart rate, tons of calories being burnt and improvements in both your balance and co-ordination.

So, how do you do a burpee?

The ‘classic’ burpee is a five-point move.

1) From a standing position, drop into a squat and then place your hands on the floor just in front of your feet.
2) Then kick your feet back behind you, keeping your arms extended so you finish in the top of a press up position.
3) Lower your body towards the floor until both your chest and thighs are in contact with the floor.
4) Press your body weight upwards from the floor and jump your feet in towards your hands.
5) Round of the manoeuvre by leaping into the air with your arms extended above you and clap your hands together. That’s one rep. All you have to do now is do it all over again, and again, and again….

That seems like a complex move and I don’t think I’m ready for it.

No problem. As the burpee includes a variety of movements you can break it up and practice each individual part of the exercise. Once you are happy that you have perfected these individual exercises you can give the full burpee variation a go.

1. The Press Up:
As simple an exercise that the press up is, having enough upper body and core strength is integral to complete a full burpee. You should be able to complete at least 10 chest to floor press ups with perfect form and control before giving burpee workouts a go. Ensure that you are able to control both the decent and ascent of the press up with a strong and stable core. This means that your hips do not drop below your chest as you move up and down whilst pressing.

2. The Squat Thrust:
Start the squat thrust in the upwards position of the press up – arms extended, legs straight and core engaged (tight). Jump or thrust your feet in towards your hands and then back out into your starting position. Ensure you keep your shoulders directly over your hands during this jump and don’t let your hips ‘drop’ once you jump your feet back to the starting press up position.

3. The Squat Jump:
For the squat jump you’ll need to sit your hips backwards whilst keeping the pressure on your heels as you descend downwards into the squat. As you explode upwards from this position try to keep your chest as upright as possible. As you land, gently cushion the impact by bending your knees and returning straight into your next squat.

Once you feel confident that you can perform 10-12 repetitions of each exercise then starting piecing the parts of the puzzle together. Start with a press up, then add a squat thrust before moving into a squat jump. Re-set the position and start again.

That’s all well and good but I actually find burpees easy to perform. Got any progressions for me?

I’m glad you asked. You see there are many ways to make this lung burner of an exercise even harder. Here are a few of my favourite variations listed in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest:

1. Burpee Broad Jump:
This variation is performed the same as a normal burpee but instead of jumping upwards and clapping your hands above your head, you jump forwards as far as you can. You will then land and continue straight into the next rep so you’ll need a bit of space for this exercise to work well.

2. Burpee Bar Jumps:
Load up a barbell as if you were about to perform a deadlift with it. Lie next to the barbell so that your body is parallel with the barbell. Perform a ‘classic’ burpee but instead of jumping straight upwards you will jump laterally over the barbell. Once you’ve jumped over the bar drop down and begin your next rep continually jumping over the barbell for the desired amount of reps of for the schedule duration of time.

3. Single Leg Burpee:
This is as obvious as it sounds. Perform the ‘classic’ burpee but do it all on one leg. You can alternate legs each repetition or make it harder by working all of your set reps on one leg and then doing them all over again on the opposite leg. To make this exercise military level in difficulty you can add additional weights by either holding on to dumbbells throughout the exercise or wearing a weight vest.

4. Burpee Box Jump:
Place a box that you are able to jump onto in front of you. Complete a ‘classic’ burpee and instead of jumping straight upwards you will jump onto the box. STEP back down of the box before starting your next rep. A few points on this variation; fatigue will be a factor to increasing the chances of injury here so steer well clear of that. Complete a MAXIMUM of 6 reps per set and try to make sure that you are able to safely jump onto the box each repetition. Allow enough rest between sets so that form is not inhibited. This burpee variation is particularly good for individuals who participate in sports such as rugby, where being able to get up from the floor quickly is a necessity.

5. Burpee Pull Up:
Start by standing under a pull up bar. From here begin performing the ‘classic’ burpee. As you reach the jumping point of the ‘classic’ burpee jump up to the pull up bar and perform a pull/chin up. Once your chin is above the bar you’ve completed one rep. Drop back to the floor and continue onto the next repetitions.

6. Burpee Renegade Row:
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand by your side. Squat down and place the dumbbells on the floor outside of your feet. Keep a hold of the dumbbells as you jump your feet backwards into the top of a press up position. Brace your core and keep your hips static as you row one dumbbell up towards your armpit and then back to the floor. Repeat this on the other arm. Next, jump your feet back towards your hands and, whilst keeping hold of the dumbbells, drive up through your heels and jump off the floor with the weights held by your side.

Great! Now I have all of the variations nailed down, how do I put them into a workout?

Burpees are a very versatile exercise and can be included in almost any circuit session that your heart desires. Here is a simple (once again simple not easy) circuit session you can try that will build strength, stamina and body fat:

Complete 5 rounds of the following exercises (1 min rest between rounds):
– 5 Pull Ups (or Ring Rows)
– 10 Medicine Ball Slams
– 15 Kettlebell Swings
– 20 Burpees

Outside of circuit training the burpee can be used by itself for an awesome workout that will get you in the shape of your life. Pick one of the burpee varieties that we have mentioned earlier and complete one of these scenarios:

1. The 100-burpee challenge:
As simple as it sounds. Complete 100 burpees as quickly as you can. If you’ve never tried this before then start with the ‘classic’ burpee and make sure you pace yourself. Anything under 10 minutes is considered good here. If you get under 7 minutes you’re doing really well. And if you get under 5 minutes then you are a burpee machine!

2. EMOM (Each Minute On the Minute) Burpee Hell:
You’ll need a timer for this one. Each minute on the minute you will complete an increasing number of burpees. Start with 1 burpee on minute 1 and then each minute there after add a burpee. So, you only have to do 1 burpee in the first minute, two in the second minute, three in the third and so on until you can’t get the needed number of burpees in the minute. If you can make it past 12 minutes here, you are doing well!

3. The Burpee Ladder:
Pick your burpee variation and complete 10 repetitions of them. Have as much rest as you need before doing 9 more. Then 8 and so on until you have no more burpees to perform. Time yourself and try to beat your time whenever you tackle this workout. Increase the difficulty of this workout by adding in additional exercises (like kettlebell swings, pull ups etc.) in the same rep format. So, you’d perform 10 burpees, 10 kettlebell swings and 10 pull ups before a quick rest and working down the rep ladder until there are no more reps to be performed.

As you can see from the workouts above the burpee really is a special exercise. It can help you to build full body strength and stamina and can be performed, without any equipment, anywhere. Use your body as your gym and just make sure you don’t eat too close to trying any of the workouts listed above as you’ll more than likely burp your food back up! Enjoy!

Written by: Adam Wakefield

I have been working as a personal trainer for over 9 years. I began my career in the fitness industry after completing a degree in Sport Science where I graduated with Upper Class Honours. I have always had a thirst for all things related to health, fitness and nutrition and it wasn’t before long that I owned my own gym.

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