I do not believe the burpee has any measurable benefit, beyond the fact that it is exercise. By virtue of being exercise, the burpee is going to provide some benefits, but we need to remember that we only have so much time and energy to train, and we choose what movements go into our programs. “It’s exercise” is not a sufficient justification for putting an exercise in a program. We can do better.
Although I have my preferences and beliefs about certain exercises, I generally avoid putting down a specific movement, but I do make an exception for the burpee. The burpee is particularly problematic because it is so often done poorly, and they are most often used in bootcamp or weight-loss type settings where they are done by beginners and other folks more vulnerable to injury.
And nobody likes them.
It’s fair to ask, what if they’re done properly? If a burpee is done well, then don’t it’s not going to leave a person vulnerable to injury. But what are the specific benefits of the burpee that justify putting it into the workout? That’s the root of the issue. Even if the burpee is coached and done perfectly, there’s nothing that the burpee gives you that you can’t get from other exercises that are safer, more enjoyable, or provide important benefits that the burpee doesn’t.
The fact that almost no one likes burpees is important too. I also don’t think Zumba is great exercise, but it’s very popular. Zumba gets a lot of people who might not otherwise exercise, up and moving. For that reason, Zumba has a lot of value.
I had to do some research to see what coaches who promote the burpee were identifying as its main benefits. I found four themes:
- Burpees are a total body workout
- Burpees get your heart rate up
- Burpees develop coordination
- Burpees burn calories.
Let’s go through each of these to see if we can justify including the burpee in a training program.
Burpee Benefit #1: Total Body Workout
“Total body workout” is one of those things that sounds great, but really doesn’t mean anything.
Is it important to train your whole body? Yes.
Is it important to train your whole body in one movement? No.
It’s also incorrect to say that a burpee is a total body workout. It’s not doing a lot for the adductors, glutes, tibialis anterior, lats, forearms, etc. There’s no one exercise that trains everything.
The next thing and this is the most important, although the burpee involves movement of the whole body, HOW is it training the body? Is it a good way to increase strength, become more powerful, or add muscle? No, not particularly. Just because something is work, doesn’t mean it’s making you better – and that is always the point.
Rather than the burpee, you could train each of its components separately. A circuit of squats, push-ups, and jumps is a total body workout, and by breaking the movement down into its components, people can execute each component with more, intent, focus, and better technique.
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Burpee Benefit #2: Burpees Get Your Heart Rate Up
Yes. One hundred percent. Burpees absolutely and completely get your heart rate up. But so does running. Cycling. Jumping Jacks. Swimming. A strength training circuit. Any physical activity will increase your heart rate, so it’s worth choosing a movement that’s going to develop some other physical quality at the same time.
The examples I just mentioned are all great, but a personal favorite is track and field style drills because these drills help develop good gait (running and walking) patterns, a movement skill fundamental to human existence.
Burpee Benefit #3: Burpees Develop Coordination
Burpees certainly involve a coordinated action of the lower and upper body, but are they developing coordination in a way that will help you in any context outside of the burpee?
If the goal is to develop coordination, I would prioritize the track and field drills referenced in the previous section. A coordinated efficient gait pattern improves athletic performance and reduces injury risk. That’s the sort of coordination that anyone can benefit from.
Burpee Benefit #4: Burpees Burn Calories
This is really just a different way of saying that burpees get your heart rate up. Anything that increases your heart rate will burn calories, and any physical activity can accomplish each.
It also doesn’t matter very much how many calories you burn in your workout, even if your principal goal is weight loss. A hard workout might burn 500 calories, but in the absence of a deliberate nutrition strategy, it is so easy to replace that through additional eating because intense workouts tend to make people hungrier. And since any exercise can burn calories, even if that’s your goal, we’re better off choosing exercises that develop other physical qualities at the same time. This brings up the question:
What Should We Do Instead of Burpees?
There are probably hundreds of acceptable substitutes for the burpee that will provide greater benefit with less injury potential. One way to think about it is to break down the burpee into its various components, as referenced above.
People seem to do burpees in different ways. They may or may not include a jump, they definitely involve getting down into a pushup position, and they may or may not involve a push-up.
Push-ups are an excellent exercise. They develop your upper body, core control, and can even promote shoulder health when done right. Most people would do well including some variation of a push-up in their program.
By doing the jumps on their own, we can do them with more focus and intent and better technique. This leads to more improvements in strength and power, with less risk of injury.
If you aren’t interested in developing upper body strength or lower body power, ask yourself what physical quality you are trying to develop with the burpee so that you can choose movements and activities that specifically develop those qualities.
Other exercises aren’t particularly effective, but given the widespread use of the burpee, combined with the fact that most people do not like to do them, I thought it was important to explain why myself and many other coaches do not recommend them. Burpees: Just say no!
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The Benefits Of Doing Burpees:
Are you ever going to fail a burpee? The answer is no.
They may get ugly or a bit sloppy at times, but falling and getting up takes very little skill. I prefer to think of burpees as “fall get-ups.” They are the perfect analogy for life – you get knocked down by a challenge and you find a way to get back up and continue moving forward. Because of this, burpees are the perfect character-building movement.
With a burpee, you may start by jumping your feet back, kissing your chest to the floor, pushing up off the ground while snapping your feet forward toward your hands, and then jumping and clapping. But you can always simplify it by stepping back, touching the chest to the deck, stepping forward, and reaching overhead. This movement is incredibly beneficial for those that struggle with push-ups and core stability.
Burpees are a full-body workout and they help you gain strength in the entire body. With each repetition, you will work your arms, chest, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and core. With some volume accumulation, burpees will have your arms and legs shaking and feeling like wet noodles.
Burpees significantly differ from isolation exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions as they train the whole body as one kinetic chain. You get more bang for your buck and burn more calories in less time while doing burpees at high intensity.
Burpees require no equipment and you can do them anywhere. If you cannot make it into the gym, you are traveling, the hotel does not have a gym, or you are stuck outdoors, you can always do burpees. They are an easy movement to perform where nothing more than your body is required. They give you no excuse to not work out.
Burpees will also help improve your conditioning and respiratory endurance quickly for those with either body composition or basic performance goals. For those training for specific sports, they’ll find burpees beneficial as well.
I have used burpees to train basketball players simulating having to pop back to your feet after diving for a loose ball and with soccer athletes having to get up quickly after a collision or after a shot on goal. I have also used burpees to train volleyball athletes popping up after a dig and with baseball athletes to quickly get to their feet after fielding a grounder, and with surfers practicing a quick transition from the paddle phase to the standing phase.
Burpees are dynamic and fast-paced and can be a great addition to any training session. The rapid flexion and extension of the hips make it awesome for learning force production from core to extremity.
If you are pressed for time, burpees are a great movement to leave you feeling gassed and winded in a short amount of time. Tossing them into a Tabata interval or attacking the hundred burpee challenge are both great ways to add intensity to your workouts.
No matter what your goals are, burpees can have a positive effect on your fitness not just physically but mentally. The constant repetition and frustration of the movement build character and perseverance. It teaches you to keep going during even the toughest of times.
The Ultimate Guide to Burpees: Muscles Worked, Benefits, How-to, and Variations
Burpees are one of those exercises that most people love to hate. A challenging set of burpees can leave you feeling exhausted, but they can also produce remarkable improvements in fitness without the use of expensive gym equipment or complicated workouts.
The burpee works your entire body, and there are modifications for beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercisers. You can do burpees on their own for a simple, time-efficient workout or put them into high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or circuit training workouts.
In this in-depth guide, we’re going to discuss the origin of burpees, explain why and how to do them, and provide you with a whole lot of variations that you can use to keep your workouts fresh and interesting.
In fitness terms, a burpee is complex as it’s several exercises done back-to-back to create a sequence. Those exercises are:
- Squat thrust
- Squat jump
The burpee has since become a firm favorite with anyone looking to develop a high level of fitness. They’re a common exercise in CrossFit, and people in the military and special forces, MMA fighters and other athletes, and hardcore workout enthusiasts use burpees to improve their fitness and endurance, and for weight control.
Burpee Muscles Worked
Burpees work virtually every muscle in your body, the most notable exceptions being your biceps and latissimus dorsi muscles. As for your other muscles – they are guaranteed to get a great workout with burpees.
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Burpees work the following major muscles:
Quadriceps – the muscles on the front of your thighs that are responsible for knee extension.
Hamstrings – located on the back of your thighs, the hamstrings are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.
Gluteus maximum – known as the glutes for short, this large butt muscle is another hip extender.
Erector spinae – the collective term for the muscles of your lower back.
Core – the collective term for the muscles of your midsection.
Triceps brachii – known as the triceps for short, this muscle is located on the back of your upper arm and is responsible for extending your elbow.
Pectoralis major – located on the front of your chest, the pecs flex your shoulder horizontally.
Deltoids – There are three deltoid muscles; anterior, medial, and posterior. All three work together during burpees, but the anterior or front deltoid is the most active. The deltoids are your main shoulder muscles.
Iliopsoas – located at the top of the front of your hips, the iliopsoas is your main hip flexor. It’s two muscles; the iliacus and the psoas major.
Triceps surae – the collective term for your two calf muscles. The triceps surae consists of the gastrocnemius, which is the larger, uppermost muscle, and the smaller, lowermost soleus.
In addition to these muscles, a high-rep set of burpees will leave you huffing and puffing like an old steam train, so your heart and lungs will get a great workout too.
The Benefits and Advantages of Burpees
If you’ve ever done burpees, you already know how tough this exercise can be. The good news is that every rep you perform is doing you good!
The main benefits and advantages of burpees include:
Total-body conditioning – burpees work with almost every major muscle in your body. As such, they’re very functional because they train your body as it works in nature. Whether you play sports or just want to work your whole body in one straightforward exercise, burpees can help.
Do them anywhere – with no equipment required, you can do burpees almost anywhere and anytime. You can do them at a commercial or garage gym, at home in your bed or living room, in a hotel room, at the park…they’re the ultimate excuse-free exercise.
Burpees can be modified to suit most fitness levels – there are many ways to make burpees easier or harder. For example, dropping the final squat jump from the sequence makes them more manageable, while variations like box-jump and muscle-up burpees are much harder.
Burn fat – a high-rep set of burpees will burn lots of calories while you are doing them and also increase your metabolism afterward. If you want to get lean or just avoid weight gain, burpees can help.
Increase leg power – power is your ability to generate force quickly. Most burpee variations involve a squat jump. Jumping exercises like burpees are an excellent way to increase muscle power.
Build your cardiovascular fitness – because burpees involve so many muscles, doing them will increase your heart and breathing rate, delivering a useful cardiovascular workout in the process. They’re a good fitness builder and a handy alternative to things like jump rope, jumping jacks and jogging.
Time-efficient – short on time? Ten minutes of burpees will provide a decent workout that you can do almost anywhere. There is no need to work your legs, core, arms, and shoulders separately; burpees train all of these muscles at the same time!
Burpees – Wrapping up
Burpees are a very low-tech exercise, but that does not mean they aren’t effective. Very few exercises can come close to the total conditioning effect of this (un)popular movement! Not many people enjoy doing burpees, but even the haters love the effect and benefit of doing this calisthenic classic. Burpees will strengthen your body AND your mind.
Whether you add them to your next circuit training session or HIIT workout or do one of our tried-and-tested burpee-only workouts, the humble burpee will help you burn fat and get fit, even if you’ve only got a jail cell to train in.