Burpees challenge many muscles in both your upper and lower body as well as your core. One of the benefits of burpees is that they do not require any extra equipment and can be part of a challenging calorie-burning cardio routine.
Burpees are a whole body workout that work your hamstrings, quads and calves in your lower body, your rectus abdominis and obliques in your abs and your pecs, triceps and deltoids in your upper body.
How to Do a Burpee
Burpees are often considered a full-body exercise. To do a burpee, start in a standing position with your arms at your side, advises ExRx.net. Then:
- Squat down and plant your hands flat on the ground a bit wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Using your hands to support your body, kick your feet back until you are in a plank position.
- Do a single push-up.
- Supporting your body with your hands and arms, jump your feet up towards your hands and land with your feet in the starting position.
- Jump upward.
- Land in the starting position.
Read more: The 30-Day Burpee Challenge
You can also make the burpee more challenging with some simple variations. For example, try an adding a clap push-up, making the jump at the end higher and more explosive or increasing the speed of your burpees.
American Fitness Magazine recommends an even more challenging variation in which at the end of the burpee, you jump up to grab a pull-up bar. After doing a push-up, drop back down to the ground and begin another burpee.
Burpees: Muscles Worked
Burpees are a high-intensity compound exercise that challenges multiple muscle groups and joints. When you kick your feet back to plank at the beginning of the exercise, you use these muscles, as described by ExRx.net:
When you jump your feet back, the muscles used include:
- Rectus abdominis and obliques to flex the thoracic and lumbar spine
- Gluteus maximus and your hamstrings to flex the hips
- Hamstrings to flex the knees
During the push-up phase of the burpee, the primary muscle activated is the pectoralis major. Other muscles that assist in the movement include the triceps brachii and the anterior deltoids. In addition to the muscles that create the movement, several muscles are activated to help stabilize your joints and body, including the biceps brachii and your quadriceps. Muscles in your torso work to keep your body straight during the movement including:
- Erector spinae
- Rectus abdominis
Finally, during the jump phase of the exercise, you are again focusing on muscles in the lower body, targeting many of the same muscles targeted in the initial phase when you jump back to plank. These include:
- Extending the thoracic and lumbar spine with the erector spinae muscles
- Extending the hips with the glutes and hamstrings
- Extending the knees with the quadriceps
- Achieving plantar flexion of the ankle with the gastrocnemius and soleus
When you jump, you will swing your arms up and reach above you. This also targets movements in the shoulder and upper back including shoulder flexion and abduction, or moving the arms out and up, using the deltoids, pectoralis major and biceps brachii.
You also elevate the scapula when you flex the shoulder, which utilizes the middle and upper trapezius muscle and the levator scapulae muscle in your upper back. With shoulder abduction and flexion there is also protraction and upward rotation of the scapula using the serratus anterior, along with the trapezius muscles.
Burpees: Calories Burned
Burpees not only work your muscles and build strength and endurance, they also get your heart pumping. Getting a great cardio workout that burns calories is one of the great benefits of burpees and mountain climbers.
The number of calories you burn is dependent on the intensity of your workout and your current body weight. The more you weigh, the more calories you will burn. Likewise, the greater the intensity of your burpees, the more calories you will burn.
Harvard Health Publishing estimates the calorie burn doing calisthenics, such as burpees at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes is:
135 calories for a 125-pound individual
167 calories for a 155-pound individual
200 calories for a 185-pound individual
If you increase your exertion to vigorous intensity, calorie burn increases to:
- 240 calories for a 125-pound individual
- 298 calories for a 155-pound individual
- 355 calories for a 185-pound individual
Burpees are a compound exercise with multiple benefits. They burn more calories because more muscle groups are activated. Using multiple muscle groups also increases the body's need for oxygen, making your respiration and heart rate increase and resulting in a good cardio workout. Compound exercises improve coordination, dynamic flexibility and improve your overall movement efficiency, advises the American Council on Exercise.
Alternative Exercises to Burpees
As with all exercises, it is important to maintain proper form throughout the exercise, both to get the full benefit for your muscles and also to avoid injury to your muscles and joints. Doing a push-up with poor form, for example, places unnecessary pressure on your shoulder and wrists and may also strain your back. When you are unable to do a burpee with proper form, stop and rest or try an easier variation or alternative exercise.
Read more: The 8 Worst Burpee Mistakes You Can Make
If the standard burpee is too challenging, you can skip the push-up in the middle of the exercise and the jump at the end. You will still work many of the same muscles, but the exercise will be at a lower intensity, allowing you to build up your strength and endurance.
You can also try breaking down the exercise and practicing the smaller components. For example, practice a squat jump or even bodyweight squats to build strength in your lower body and core. Practice planks to build up your core and push-ups to work your upper body and core. Consider push-up variations, such as a knee push-up or wall push-up to build up to a standard push-up.
- ExRx.net: "Burpee (Advanced)"
- ExRx.net: "Burpee"
- American Fitness Magazine: "Four Amazing Burpee Variations"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- ExRx.net: "Push-Up"
- American Fitness Magazine: "How to Modify Like a Pro"
- ExRx.net: "Squat Jump"
- ExRx.net: "Spine Articulations
- ExRx.net: "Hip Articulations"
- ExRx.net: "Knee Articulations"
- ExRx.net: "Ankle Articulations"
- ExRx.net: "Shoulder Articulations"
- ExRx.net: "Scapula & Clavicle Articulations"
- American Council on Exercise: "5 Benefits of Compound Exercises"