How to Do a Burpee for Total-Body Strength — Plus How to Modify It for Any Ability

Burpees are a full-body exercise and deliver major benefits for your strength and endurance.
Image Credit: Cavan Images/Cavan/GettyImages

If you want a full-body exercise that works both strength and endurance (and has a pretty amazing name), the burpee checks all the boxes. This popular body-weight exercise — especially in CrossFit gyms — named after its inventor Royal H. Burpee, can also be easily modified to make it easier or harder, depending on your fitness level.

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  • What are burpees?‌ To put it in simple terms, the burpee is essentially a high plank, push-up and jump squat done in succession. "Burpees are a versatile, cardiovascular-focused full-body exercise," says Grayson Wickham PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of the app and website Movement Vault.
  • What do burpees work?‌ This exercise works every major muscle group. "They work your pecs, triceps, core, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles," Wickham tells LIVESTRONG.com. "When performing numerous burpees in a row, you'll also get a muscular endurance benefit in these muscles in addition to the cardiovascular. The faster you perform your burpees, the more challenging they will be."
  • Who can do this exercise?‌ Burpees are a great exercise for people of all fitness levels, as they can be modified as needed.

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Let's take a closer look at how to do the basic burpee, as well as variations on this versatile exercise.

Warning

If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, including arthritis or back injuries, use caution. Wickham says if you have cardiovascular disease, you should talk to your doctor before performing any exercise that increases your heart rate, such as burpees. Stop if you feel pain while doing this exercise.

How to Do a Burpee With Proper Form

To gain the maximum benefits of the burpee exercise and to avoid injury, you should focus on proper form for the foundational moves that make up a burpee.

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"You should have each of these positions and movements mastered before putting them all together with a burpee," Wickham says. "Start performing your burpees at a slower cadence to ensure you're using proper form and technique. As you get better at burpees, you can increase the cadence and speed of the entire movement."

Below, we break down the five main steps of a burpee.

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1. Low Squat

Image Credit: Kim Grundy
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward or slightly outward.
  2. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your back straight, brace your core and push your hips back and down into a low squat until you can place your hands on the floor between your legs.

2. High Plank

Image Credit: Kim Grundy
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. From the squat position (above), jump your legs straight back, assuming a high plank position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  2. Keep your core tight and squeeze your glutes. Don’t let your midsection sag.
  3. Look at the floor directly below your head to keep your neck in a neutral position.

3. Push-Up

Image Credit: Kim Grundy
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Upper Body
  1. From high plank position (above), perform a push-up by bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lowering your body to the floor.
  2. Go down as far as you can while maintaining proper form, keeping your body in one straight line from the neck through the spine to the hips and down to the heels.
  3. Press into your palms and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.

4. Low Squat

Image Credit: Kim Grundy
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. From the top of your push-up/high plank position (above), jump your feet forward so they're outside of your hands.
  2. Your toes should face slightly outward. You're back in the low squat position.

5. Jump Squat

Image Credit: Kim Grundy
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. From the low squat position (above), jump straight up into the air, pushing through your legs and lifting your arms up so your biceps are by your ears.
  2. Land from your jump as softly as possible by landing on the balls of your feet.
  3. After landing from your jump, immediately go right back into a low squat and repeat this entire sequence of moves.

Watch a Full Burpee Tutorial

How to Do a Basic Burpee

JW Player placeholder image
Reps 15
Region Full Body
  1. Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward or slightly outward.
  2. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your back straight, brace your core and push your hips back and down into a low squat until you can place your hands on the floor between your legs.
  3. From the squat position, jump your legs straight back, assuming a high plank position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  4. Perform a push-up by bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lowering your body to the floor. Go down as far as you can while maintaining proper form, keeping your body in one straight line from the neck through the spine to the hips and down to the heels.
  5. Press into your palms and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.
  6. Jump your feet forward so they're outside of your hands. Your toes should face slightly outward. You're back in the low squat position.
  7. Jump straight up into the air, pushing through your legs and lifting your arms up so your biceps are by your ears.
  8. Land from your jump as softly as possible by landing on the balls of your feet.
  9. After landing from your jump, immediately go right back into a low squat and repeat this entire sequence of moves.

How to Make a Burpee Easier

There are ways to simplify burpees for beginners until you build up the strength to be able to perform it fully. These burpee modifications will also be helpful if you have back pain or joint pain due to conditions like arthritis.

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1. Modified Chair Burpee

If you're struggling with full burpees and are having difficulty getting all the way down to the ground or have arthritis and pain in your knees and wrists, try this modified version using a bench or chair.

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"You can make burpees easier by performing the plank and push-up portion on an elevated surface, such as a workout bench or chair. In this variation, your hands will be on the bench versus on the ground," Wickham says.

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JW Player placeholder image
Reps 15
Region Full Body
  1. Stand about 1 foot away from a chair (facing it) with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward or slightly outward.
  2. Lean forward to place both hands on the corners of the chair's seat.
  3. Jump your feet back into an elevated high plank. Your body should be at about a 45-degree angle and in one long line. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists.
  4. Tightening your glutes and quads and bracing your core, bend your elbows so they are moving in toward your ribcage — not out laterally from your shoulders — and lower yourself as close to the chair as possible while keeping your spine in one straight line.
  5. Press your hands firmly on the chair and push yourself back up into high plank position.
  6. Jump your feet in toward the chair.
  7. Reach your hands up toward the ceiling (or perform a full jump squat).
  8. Repeat.

2. Frogger Burpee

For this burpee modification, you skip the push-up and jump squat, but perform the other components of the burpee. This is a great way to still get a full-body workout. Once you nail this move, you can add in the push-up and jump squat components of the burpee.

JW Player placeholder image
Reps 15
Region Full Body
  1. Start standing, feet hip-width apart.
  2. Place your hands on the ground slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, then hop your feet back into a high plank. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  3. Hop your feet forward, then stand back up.
  4. Repeat.

3. Burpee With Modified Push-Up

If you need to build up strength in your arms to correctly perform a push-up or have wrist issues, try a modified push-up on your knees to take some stress off of your arms and wrists. After you get into the high plank position, bend your knees to rest on the floor to do a bent-knee push-up.

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JW Player placeholder image
Reps 15
Region Full Body
  1. Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward or slightly outward.
  2. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your back straight, brace your core and push your hips back and down into a low squat until you can place your hands on the floor between your legs.
  3. From the squat position, jump your legs straight back, assuming a high plank position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  4. Drop down to your knees and perform a push-up by bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lowering your body to the floor. Go down as far as you can while maintaining proper form.
  5. Press into your palms and push the floor away from you. Then lift your knees up off the ground to get into high plank position.
  6. Jump your feet forward so they're outside of your hands. Your toes should face slightly outward. You're back in the low squat position.
  7. Jump straight up into the air, pushing through your legs and lifting your arms up so your biceps are by your ears.
  8. Land from your jump as softly as possible by landing on the balls of your feet.
  9. After landing from your jump, immediately go right back into a low squat and repeat this entire sequence of moves.

How to Make a Burpee Harder

If you are ready to bump up the intensity of classic (or full) burpees, try these challenging variations.

1. Tuck Jump Burpee

Because the focus of this exercise is on a more explosive jump, it's a great way to get your heart rate up.

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JW Player placeholder image
Reps 10
Region Full Body
  1. Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward or slightly outward.
  2. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your back straight, brace your core and push your hips back and down into a low squat until you can place your hands on the floor between your legs.
  3. From the squat position, jump your legs straight back, assuming a high plank position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  4. Perform a push-up by bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lowering your body to the floor. Go down as far as you can while maintaining proper form, keeping your body in one straight line from the neck through the spine to the hips and down to the heels.
  5. Press into your palms and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.
  6. Jump your feet forward so they're outside of your hands. Your toes should face slightly outward. You're back in the low squat position.
  7. Jump straight up into the air, pushing through your legs, and tuck your knees into your chest. Lift your arms up so your biceps are by your ears.
  8. Land from your tuck jump as softly as possible by landing on the balls of your feet.
  9. After landing from your jump, immediately go right back into a low squat and repeat this entire sequence of moves.

2. Burpee With Dumbbells

Hold 3- or 5-pound dumbbells in each hand as your go through each stage of the burpee to challenge yourself and build up strength in your muscles.

JW Player placeholder image
Reps 15
Region Full Body
  1. Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward or slightly outward, holding a dumbbell in each hand (palms facing in), arms at your sides.
  2. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your back straight, brace your core and push your hips back and down into a low squat until you can place the dumbbells on the floor between your legs.
  3. From the squat position, jump your legs straight back, assuming a high plank position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  4. Perform a push-up by bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lowering your body to the floor. Go down as far as you can while maintaining proper form, keeping your body in one straight line from the neck through the spine to the hips and down to the heels.
  5. Press into the dumbbells and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.
  6. Jump your feet forward so they're outside of your hands. Your toes should face slightly outward. You're back in the low squat position.
  7. Jump straight up into the air, pushing through your legs and swinging the dumbbells up so your biceps are by your ears.
  8. Land from your jump as softly as possible by landing on the balls of your feet.
  9. After landing from your jump, immediately go right back into a low squat and repeat this entire sequence of moves.

3. Box Jump Burpee

Use a box or stair step to bump up the intensity of your burpee. Instead of a regular jump squat, you will do a box jump. Start with a lower height and you can work your way up.

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JW Player placeholder image
Reps 14
Region Full Body
  1. Stand about 1 foot away in front of a box or step with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward or slightly outward.
  2. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your back straight, brace your core and push your hips back and down into a low squat until you can place your hands on the floor between your legs.
  3. From the squat position, jump your legs straight back, assuming a high plank position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  4. Perform a push-up by bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lowering your body to the floor. Go down as far as you can while maintaining proper form, keeping your body in one straight line from the neck through the spine to the hips and down to the heels.
  5. Press into your palms and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.
  6. Jump your feet forward so they're outside of your hands. Your toes should face slightly outward. You're back in the low squat position.
  7. Jump up onto the box or step in front of you, pushing through your legs and lifting your arms up so your biceps are by your ears.
  8. Jump or step off the box or step, landing as softly as possible by landing on the balls of your feet.
  9. After landing from your jump, immediately go right back into a low squat and repeat this entire sequence of moves.

Wickham says other ways to increase the intensity include performing each portion in a full range of motion. "An example of a full range of motion in the burpee is allowing your chest to touch the ground [during the push-up], and making sure your hips are below parallel at the bottom of your jump squat," he says.

Other ideas to increase the intensity of the burpee include:

  • Wear a weighted vest
  • Try a single-leg burpee
  • Add jump turns, in which you jump to face the other direction during the jump squat portion
  • Add in an extra move after the jump squat, such as lunge jumps

How Many Burpees Should You Do?

Now that you know how to correctly perform a burpee, as well as variations to make it easier or more difficult, it's time to dive into how many burpees you should do and how to incorporate them into your exercise routine.

Burpees are an excellent exercise to use in your warm-up routine. They can also be incorporated into a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout or can be done as a stand-alone exercise. They not only build strength and endurance, but they also burn calories if your goal is weight loss. You'll burn about 10 calories for every minute of doing burpees — or you'll burn around 50 calories for every 100 burpees.

The number of sets and reps you do depends on how you are using them in your exercise routine. You can include them in a circuit training routine, in which you do three different exercises — such as burpees, lunges and heel taps — for five rounds. "In this scenario, you would be performing five sets of 20 burpees," Wickham says. "Another example is you could be performing 100 burpees as fast as you can for time. In this case, you would only perform one set."

A general starting point is four sets of 15 reps with a 60-second rest in between sets, according to Wickham, if using burpees as a stand-alone exercise. If you need some help getting motivated, you can also try LIVESTRONG.com's 30-day burpee challenge.

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How Fast Should You Do the Burpee?

If you're using the burpee as a warm-up or are new to the exercise, you can perform the burpee at a slower pace, and it should take you 4 to 5 seconds to perform. "In another situation, you may want to perform an intense workout in which your heart rate is maximally elevated. In this case, a burpee can take 1 to 2 seconds to perform," he says.

The burpee is also used as a way to evaluate strength and endurance with the 3-minute burpee test. With this, you do as many burpees as you can in 3 minutes.

An October 2019 study in ‌The Journal of Human Kinetics‌ found that the average number that people assigned male at birth (AMAB) could do in 3 minutes is 56 burpees and the average number that people assigned female at birth (AFAB) could do in 3 minutes was 48.

It's important to note that the burpees in this study were done without the push-up. It was also a younger population studied, as the participants were all between the ages of 18 to 25.

But you can still use the burpee test to see a general starting point for you and as a way to monitor your progress. You don't have to do a full 3 minutes of burpees either. Time yourself for 1 minute and try to beat your score each week.

No matter if you use the burpee as a warm-up, part of your circuit training, as a fitness test or as a stand-alone exercise, you're sure to reap the benefits of this versatile exercise.

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