In the world of exercise, there are few words as negatively charged as “burpee” — but despite the dread they induce, they do have a lot of benefits. And since this is FitOn trainer Danielle Pascente’s signature addition to a workout — we’re guessing this community already relates.
That said, burpees are not for everyone; because of the impact, this exercise can be a tad tough on the joints, so if you’re sensitive, injury-prone, recovering, or just not ready for a burpee, there are alternatives.
What is a Burpee?
If you’ve never done a burpee before (or have never even heard this odd word in your life), here’s a quick 101. For starters, it’s not a word — it’s a name!
A physiologist named Royal H. Burpee created the original burpee exercise, a much more low-key (and low-impact) version of the one most commonly implemented today by trainers around the globe. The purpose of the burpee? It was a physical fitness test! (Cue: P.E. flashbacks) He developed a four-count exercise during his Ph.D. candidacy, and it’s lasted almost a century.
The Original Burpee
Here’s the original four-count burpee (note: there’s no push-up and no jump-up at the end!) — if you’ve ever done a Frogger exercise or Squat Thrust, this will feel familiar.
Step #1: Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you.
Step #2: Jump feet back into plank position.
Step #3: Jump feet forward (back to the original squat).
Step #4: Stand.
How to Do a Burpee
Today’s burpee — like most things this day and age — is the original, turned WAY up. A HIIT burpee, if you will. Here’s how that one goes (there’s a lot of jumping):
Step #1 Squat: Same beginning — lower into a squat with your hands on the floor (like a Frogger).
Step #2 Plank: Jump your feet back into a plank position.
Step #3 Push-Up: While holding a high plank, do a basic push-up — bend the elbows and straighten back to high plank.
Step #4 Squat: Back to Frogger. Jump your feet back to the hands, coming back into a hands-on-floor squat.
Step #5 Jump: From that squat position, jump straight up, reaching your hands overhead.
Step #6 Repeat: As fast as you can. HIIT!
A Burpee Demonstration Including Modifications
FitOn trainer Danielle Pascente breaks down how to do a burpee, including a beginner, intermediate, and more advanced option.
Why Are Burpees So Hard?
So many of us struggle with burpees — and that’s natural given the intensity of this powerful bodyweight exercise. Here’s why they feel like a lot of work.
Burpees work almost all the muscle groups in the body, thanks to the dynamic mix of movement. You’ll be working the lower body (hamstrings and glutes), core (abdominals), and upper body (chest, shoulders, and arms), all with one quick set of movements. You are really exhausting every muscle (even possibly your facial muscles, as you grimace through it), so it makes sense that these feel so insane sometimes.
As you gathered, these are high intensity! They get our heart rate up, causing us to break a sweat, feel winded, and fatigue quickly. This is a good thing, as it improves our stamina and our cardiovascular health.
The Benefits of Burpees
As we said, there are so many benefits to working your cardiovascular system and your muscles all at once. Burpees are a high-intensity calisthenics (bodyweight) exercise, so the scientific research on HIIT applies to them, too. One study even found that athletes benefit more from burpees than they do from sprinting exercises, and another showed that they’re mega calorie burners.
Why You May Want to Try a Burpee Alternative
If you’re still unconvinced (or you have personal beef with Royal H. Burpee), there are definitely burpee alternatives and modifications that will still work the same muscle groups and provide those cardio benefits you’re looking for.
Consider modifying or changing things up if you’re injured, you’re pregnant, you have sensitive joints or are injury-prone, you’re looking for something lower impact, or you … just don’t like them (FAIR!)
How to Do Modified Burpees
Burpee modifications are simple, easy ways to make the exercise work for you, your body, and your needs.
Do The Original Move
The way Royal intended! Skip the push-up and the explosive jump at the end of the exercise — this is now typically referred to as a Squat Thrust exercise.
Skip The Jumping
Step backward and forward instead of jumping into (and out of) that plank position.
Do a Knee Push-up
When it comes to the plank-to-push-up part, lower your knees to the ground while keeping your core muscles locked in and your spine straight. This will help you build your push-up strength without compromising your form.
You don’t need to be a speed demon, especially while you’re mastering form and building strength.
If You Really Hate Burpees, Try These Burpee Alternatives
If you want nothing to do with anything related to a burpee, burpee alternatives are an option, too! Consider these exercises instead.
Not down with all that jumping around? Try a kettlebell swing — this exercise uses your glutes and thighs, core, and upper body muscles while elevating your heart rate.
Walkout Push-up to Frogger
For this one, let Danielle Pasciante, the burpee queen, break it down in this workout.
Medicine Ball Slams
If you’ve got a medicine ball handy, this powerful exercise also uses the aforementioned muscle groups while skipping the jumping and impact.
Form is Always Key
Form is the most important part of this — whether you’re doing a standard burpee or a burpee alternative. Without proper form, not only will you not get the benefits of the exercise, but you’re setting yourself up for injury as well. Avoid a sidelining snafu with your joints and muscles, and emphasize form before speed. Go slowly while you master each muscle group (think: locking in your core while you jump to a plank, using your lats during the push-up, squeezing your glutes at the top after you stand… you get it).
Be Safe, Have Fun, Get Healthy
Now that you know your options, the importance of form, and the benefits of burpees (and HIIT), keep in mind that the best exercise is one that works for your body and one that is sustainable. If you hate burpees so much that you never want to exercise, then please — by all means — skip them. If you’ve learned about the benefits of burpees and are now feeling inspired and energized, then go get on it!
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