Add Burpees to Your Workouts for Full-Body Activation—Here's How to Do Them Perfectly

Learn proper burpee form and reap all the healthy benefits of this tough-but-worth-it exercise.

woman outside doing a squat in workout clothes
Photo: LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

If you've ever been in a fitness class when an instructor calls for burpees, you've definitely heard the collective groans that follow. Burpees are undoubtedly a challenging exercise (dreaded by most, if not all, who've done them), but their full-body health benefits are more than worth the effort. And, really, they're not so scary once you know the proper form and build up some stamina and familiarity. The burpee is a fantastic move that engages the entire body—aerobic exercise included—and makes a great stand-alone workout or an energizing addition to your exercise program. Here's how to do a burpee the right away for full-body activation.

The Benefits of Burpees

One of the biggest benefits of burpees is that they target almost every muscle in your body, says Mike Matthews, certified personal trainer in Clearwater, Fla., founder of Legion Athletics and author of Bigger, Leaner, Stronger. Another reason to do burpees? "Because you don't rest between each rep, they're good cardiovascular training," he says. That means you're getting strength and cardio benefits in one move, with no special equipment and not much space needed.

The burpee consists of multiple moves and can seem fairly complex, so it's easy to make mistakes, cut corners, or overdo it. One of the most common mistakes is simply trying to do too many burpees in one set. "Most people aren't [ready] to do more than five or 10 burpees in one go without a break," Matthews says. That is OK! We're not all Olympic athletes. Instead, start with something reasonable and achievable by doing as many burpees as you can—with proper form—and then catch your breath.

Many people also land too hard and/or flat on their feet during the jumping portion of the burpee. To avoid this, gently bend your knees and land on the balls of your feet first to cushion the landing. And if you're not using a full range of motion when doing the push-up portion, you're missing out. "You need to lower your torso all the way to the ground until your chest or nose touches the ground or comes close," Matthews recommends.

How to Do a Burpee

Here's exactly how to do a burpee workout and reap all the healthy benefits. Think of one burpee as a fluid sequence of familiar steps: a squat into a plank into a push-up into a jump squat. Once you get the hang of each step, there should be no pauses between them.

Burpee workout illustration
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  1. The squat: Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees, lowering into a squat position. (Thighs should be almost parallel to ground, weight is in your heels, and your knees are over your toes.)
  2. The plank: Place your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders and hop your feet straight back behind you into a straight-arm plank position. Your body should form one long line from head to toe.
  3. The push-up: Bend your elbows and lower down into a push-up so your chest almost touches the ground before pushing back up into a plank. Keeping your hands on the ground, jump your feet back under your hips and stand back up.
  4. The jump squat: From this squatting position, propel off the floor and jump straight up, swinging your arms above you at the same time to build momentum. As you land, bend your knees and hips to absorb the impact and keep lowering yourself back into a squat.

One burpee, complete!

Pro tips: If you're new to working out, aim to do a set of five burpees at a time, and let yourself catch your breath before doing another set. Once doing five burpees with good form is no longer as challenging, add a few more per set—as many as you can while maintaining proper form. And don't procrastinate: "Because burpees are a challenging, fairly complex exercise, do them early in your workouts when you're feeling fresh," Matthews says.

Burpee Variations and Modifications

Traditional burpees may not be for everybody, since they are a higher-impact workout than other body weight exercises. "Anyone with knee, hip, ankle, wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain should ease into them slowly," Matthews suggests. If you have a heart condition, check with your doctor before doing them, as they're taxing on the cardiovascular system.

To build comfort and stamina, there are tons of great ways to modify burpees. One basic modification is to do them slowly at first. Another is to eliminate some of the higher-impact elements:

In step 2: Instead of jumping both feet out and back in from a plank, walk or step each foot out into a plank and then back in.

In step 3: Skip or modify the push-up. Instead of lowering into a push-up, jump or walk your feet out into a plank then immediately back in before returning to squat and jump, Matthews says. Another option is to lower your knees to the floor for a modified push-up.

In step 4: Skip the squat to airborne jump. Instead, go from a squat to standing, reaching your arms straight up with intention.

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