Intimidated by burpees? That's understandable. Burpees are notoriously challenging. That's because they combine cardio, strength and mobility all into one complex string of moves. But it makes things a bit easier to break the exercise down into its essential elements — a plank, push up, squat and jump.
If you can master these moves, you can build on them to perfect your burpee. There are also a few extra exercises and some stretches that will enable you to do better burpees. Here, Geoff Tripp, CSCS, certified personal trainer and head of fitness at Trainiac, explains how to boost your burpee skills.
Stretches and Exercises to Prepare You for Burpees
Before you jump into burpees (literally and figuratively), use these stretches and exercises to prepare your muscles for the body-weight movements you'll encounter in burpees.
Move 1: Lateral Squat Stretch
Improving groin and adductor mobility will be helpful when mastering the perfect squat in your burpees, says Tripp. This stretch, which is similar to a lateral lunge, is his go-to move for warming up tight hips.
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart with your toes pointing straight ahead.
- Hinge at your hips and bend forward, reaching your hands toward the ground.
- Keep your legs straight and feel the stretch in your hamstrings and inner thighs.
- Shift to your right side and bend your right knee, keeping your left leg straight as you lower.
- Push through your heels and return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side side.
Move 2: Lying Pectoral Stretch
"Not only is a good push-up important for the burpee, but having mobility to do the range of motion is key," says Tripp. This stretch is great for the pectoralis minor (a small, triangular-shaped chest muscle) and shoulder mobility, which you'll need to perform a proper push-up.
- Lie face down on the ground.
- Bring your right arm out to the side, making a 90-degree angle with your body.
- At chest level, place your left hand flat against the ground.
- Slowly rotate your hips and body to your right side, pushing your left hand into the ground for support.
- You should feel a stretch in your pectoral muscles and the shoulder of your right (straight) arm.
- Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
Move 3: Squat and Squat Jump
Since your squat sets up your jump in the burpee, you need to nail proper form first. And once you've conquered that, you're ready to advance to squat jumps, which will help you feel comfortable jumping like you do in burpees, says Tripp.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly bend your knees, lower your butt and sit back as far as you can.
- Push through your heels and drive out of your squat into a standing position.
- When you're warmed up and ready, add a jump.
- From the bottom of the squat, push through your heels and drive out of your squat as you jump off the ground.
- Land lightly with bent knees to absorb the impact.
Move 4: Plank Hold Push-Up
Performing a proper plank is essential to conquering the more complex burpee movement. That's because it helps set up a stable push-up position as well as the correct placement for your feet that enable you to push off the ground into an explosive jump, Tripp says.
- Plant your hands directly beneath your shoulders and position them slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keep a neutral neck by looking at a spot on the floor just beyond your hands.
- Ground your toes into the floor and keep your whole body tight.
- Your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Stop when your elbows bend to 90 degrees, flaring out to the sides of your body at 45 degrees.
- Without dropping your hips, push back up to your starting position in high plank.
If full push-ups are too challenging, start slowly. Tripp recommends building up to a full push-up by doing a worm push-up, which involves breaking the movement into two parts: extending your arms first (like a knee/modified push-up), then lifting your knees off the floor into a high plank.
Move 5: Plank Up-Down
Just like the plank hold push-up above, this move challenges your upper-body endurance, which is exactly what you'll need for the more advanced movement of the burpee. Plus, since you need to engage lots of supporting muscles, it's a killer way to build core strength too, says Tripp.
- From a high plank position, slowly lower onto your right forearm. Don't let your hips rock or sag.
- Next, lower onto your left forearm, so that you're in a forearm plank.
- Now, place your right hand on the floor directly beneath your shoulders, followed by your left hand, and push up to return to a high plank.
Move 6: Spider Climber
This mountain climber variation not only works your hips like a burpee, but it also strengthens your core and provides conditioning since it's a dynamic movement, says Tripp.
- Start in a high plank position, keeping your core tight.
- Bring your right foot to the floor on outside of your right hand and let your hips drop slightly toward the floor.
- Pause briefly, then return your right foot to meet your left.
- Repeat on your left side.
Move 7: High Knees
This simple-yet-effective conditioning drill is the perfect warm-up for burpees, says Tripp. But if you'd rather start with a low-impact move to loosen up those hip and leg muscles, try a stationary march instead.
- In an athletic stance, begin to jog lightly in place.
- Slowly increase your range of motion and drive your knees higher until they're at a 90-degree angle.
- Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.