Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Love ’em or hate ’em, burpees are an incredible exercise, working nearly every muscle in your body to build strength, power, endurance, coordination and agility. At their foundation, they require no equipment, and as for fat burning? They kick ass. Use these eight variations to shred up for summer and rock those short shorts with confidence.
Nothing spells nausea more than a workout riddled with burpees. And though you might think it was created by an evil masochist, the burpee was actually invented in the 1930s by an unassuming American physiologist and Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University named Royal Huddleston Burpee. He designed an exercise he called a “squat thrust”— place your hands on the ground, jump your feet back into plank, jump your feet back underneath you and stand up — as part of a fitness test he created for the YMCA: The assessor would take an individual’s heart rate four times both before and after performing four squat thrusts in a row. Those results would be plugged into an equation to determine the heart’s efficiency at pumping blood.
Little did Burpee know that his simple mark of fitness would soon assume his surname and go on to become one of the most hated exercises on the planet. Today, everyone from the military to CrossFit to heartless trainers worldwide use the burpee as an unremitting way to elevate heart rate, impart punishment for slacking and produce lasting metabolic change.
Regardless of your opinion, the burpee is an incredibly efficient exercise, delivering essentially six bodyweight movements in a row at its simplest and incorporating equipment, plyometrics, weights and even inversions — depending on your penchant for punishment — at its most complex. The eight burpee variations in this article demonstrate just a sampling of the sweet agony the burpee can impart. Try them for yourself, and see if you can refrain from cursing poor Royal Huddleston at the end.
This version is the modern standard, having added a push-up and a jump to the original move designed by Mr. Burpee. This will be the template you’ll use as a starting point for the burpees in this article, as well as most burpee variations around today.
1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides.
2. Crouch and place your hands on the floor, then hop your feet behind you so you’re in plank — head, hips and heels aligned, spine and head neutral.
3. Bend your elbows to do a push-up, lowering until your chest touches or nearly touches down.
4. Extend your arms to return to plank and hop your feet back underneath you.
5. Extend your legs and hips explosively, jumping into the air and clapping your hands over your head. Land softly and repeat right away.
Trying to develop explosive power and speed? Then try this version, which requires coordination and concentration as well as athletic capacity.
Perform the Standard Burpee through Step 4. Then as you leap into the air, quickly open your arms and legs out into an X-shape, bringing them back together before you land.
Burpee Over Barbell
This version requires coordination and agility, and it can either be done laterally or bar-facing. Either way, you should take off and land with both feet, and the bar should be loaded with plates to give it a little elevation — there’s not much challenge in jumping over a 2-inch bar.
Stand next to a loaded barbell, then perform the Standard Burpee through Step 4 parallel to the bar. For Step 5, leap laterally over the bar to the other side and drop right down into your next rep. Note that you do not have to stand all the way up before you jump; stay low and quick to power through your reps like a ninja.
Stand facing a loaded barbell and perform a Standard Burpee through Step 4 perpendicular to the bar. Hop your feet back underneath you, and try to get them as close to your hands as possible so you don’t have to take a step forward before jumping over the bar to the other side. Turn around and repeat the other direction. Feeling badass? Turn 180 degrees midair so you land facing the bar and drop right down into your next burpee.
Core strength and balance are key with this variety, which also trains each side of your body separately to promote balance and kinesthetic awareness. Switch things up and try it one-handed instead!
Stand on one foot with the other lifted behind you, knee bent. Crouch and place your hands on the floor, then hop your standing foot back into plank, keeping your other leg raised. Do your push-up, then hop your foot back underneath you. Leap into the air on one leg and lift your non-working knee to the front. Land softly and repeat. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Adding some ballast to a burpee changes the dynamics of the exercise and spikes your heart rate, since you’re essentially making yourself heavier. Using a medicine ball adds another level of difficulty by incorporating elements of balance and core control.
Hold a medicine ball in front of you with both hands, arms extended. Crouch and place the ball on the floor, centering your hands on top. Jump your legs behind you into plank and do your push-up, keeping your elbows close to your sides and touching your chest to the ball. Jump your feet back underneath you, grab the ball and jump into the air, reaching it overhead. Land softly and repeat.
Barbell Burpee Deadlift
Combining a strength move with a burpee is the ultimate timesaver. This version uses a barbell to get the job done, hitting your posterior chain hard with high-volume deadlifts. Remember not to rush during any weighted burpee, however, because you need time to set up for your lifts to ensure correct form.
Load a barbell with a light to moderate weight and hold it in front of your legs with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Push your hips back and bend your knees while keeping your weight in your heels to lower the bar straight toward the floor. When it touches down, hop your feet behind you into plank, keeping your hands on the bar and bracing your core to keep you steady. Hop your feet back underneath you, assume your deadlift stance (feet hip-width apart, shoulders over the bar, hips higher than your knees), then stand all the way up, pulling the bar straight up along the front of your body.
Nothing says biliousness more than this burpee version, which combines six compound exercises into one move: a plank, a push-up, a renegade row, a clean, a front squat and an overhead press.
Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides, then crouch and place them parallel to one another on the floor. With your hands on the dumbbells, jump your feet back into plank and do a push-up. Hold at the top and perform a one-arm row on each side, hips square. Do another push-up, then hop your feet underneath you outside the dumbbells. As you stand, clean the dumbbells by pulling them along the front of your body in an upward rowing motion, then do a shrug and flip your elbows underneath to catch them lightly on your shoulders. Hold them here as you squat down as low as you can, then drive up explosively, using that momentum to help you press the weights overhead to complete one rep.
Lateral Plank Walk
As if your core didn’t have enough to do during a Standard Burpee, this one hammers it with some sustained time under tension. Increase the difficulty here by adding more steps in each direction.
Perform a Standard Burpee through Step 3. Stay in the top of your push-up/plank, brace your core, then move laterally by stepping your hands and feet in unison several steps to one side. Do another push-up, then finish out your burpee as with the Standard (steps 4 and 5). Repeat, alternating directions with each round.
Plug and Program
Incorporating burpees into your workout is simple — use them as a warm-up, as a finisher, or as part of a daily metcon or WOD. Or, if you want to get creative, here are a few programming ideas:
- Start with one, then add a burpee every day for 100 days.
- Do burpee broad jumps around a track for distance.
- Do 20 burpees unbroken, rest, then do 19 unbroken, rest, and so on, down to one.
- Death by burpee: Start with one burpee, then every minute on the minute add another burpee, continuing until you can’t complete that number within the minute.
- Establish a set number of burpees — for example, 50 — then perform them as fast as possible using good form, for time.
Join the #OxygenBadassBurpees Challenge!
Want to shape up for summer in short shrift? Then join the exclusive 15-day #OxygenBadassBurpees Challenge. Beginning on May 15, 2018, you’ll be given two burpees every day for 15 days to incorporate into your routine as best you can. Watch each video carefully, read the descriptions for form and instruction tips, then get to work. Beginners can do one to two sets of five to 10 reps apiece; more advanced participants can shoot for three sets of 15, 20 or more reps. You also can blend the burpees into your existing programming, WOD, circuit or metcon of the day. Feeling like a total badass? Pair your daily duo into a Tabata — just be sure to have a bucket nearby.
If getting into great shape isn’t reason enough to enter, now hear this: All participants will have a chance to win great prizes and schwag — everything from limited-edition tank tops to protein powder to free entry into the Oxygen Challenge 4! Sign up now for more details.
Boost the Badassedness
Add one or more of these variables to a Standard Burpee or existing variation to amp the physical intensity and mental challenge:
- Weighted vest
- Battle ropes
- Medicine ball
- Incline/decline angle
- Weights (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, plates)
- Rig/pull-up bar
- Direction/distance (lateral, backward, forward)
- Gymnastics (flips, rolls, etc.)