Burpees are a full-body plyometric exercise that can help you quickly improve your conditioning with nothing more than your bodyweight. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or weekend warrior, burpees will challenge you.
While burpees can be a useful exercise to add to your routine, using proper form is critical because injuries are common, especially among women. Because the burpee is a plyometric exercise, the amount of force on your joints is much higher than during an exercise that does not require you to jump up and down off the ground.
If you do high reps or take little rest in between sets, this full-body exercise can be brutal. That could explain why burpees are commonly used as punishment in the military where they are known as a “squat thrust”. In fact, I’ve seen burpees completely crush a triathlete who otherwise never gets tired.
For these reasons, if you’re a beginner or you’re just getting back into fitness, we highly recommend that you start with one of the easier variations described below. Whatever variation you opt for, make sure to do a full-body dynamic warm-up before jumping into this exercise.
This guide will teach you how to do burpees with proper form, along with common mistakes and easier variations that may work better for you.
1. Start standing tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Then bend your knees and squat down while bringing your hands to the ground.
2. With control, jump your feet back into a plank position. Don’t let your hips drop down.
3. Complete a push up with proper form, then jump your feet forward to meet your hands, and immediately jump straight up off the ground.
5. Land softly into the squat position, and repeat. Hands down, jump back, push up, jump forward, jump up.
6. Find a continuous rhythm, and remember to breathe.
As you are completing burpees, be sure to keep your elbows and knees soft so that you avoid jamming your joints. You want to feel light and athletic. Also, use your body as one piece so that your chest, shoulders, arms, core, and legs are all working synchronously to help you safely and efficiently move your body up and down.
3 Easier Burpee Variations
Burpees are an advanced plyometric exercise that requires solid pushing and core strength. Without a strong upper body and core, completing burpees may cause low back or shoulder injuries. If you are not able to do at least 10 push ups with excellent form, I recommend using one of the variations below (or avoid burpees altogether).
1. Burpee With No Push Up – You can do a burpee without doing a push up. In this variation, after you jump your feet back into the plank position, skip the push up. Instead, just jump your feet forward again, and then jump up to complete the rep.
2. Burpee Step Back – Instead of jumping your feet back and forth, you can step your feet back into a plank, then step them forward again. This variation is especially useful if you’ve ever had any knee or back injuries.
3. Reverse Burpee – After you squat down, you can walk your hands out into a plank position (keeping your feet in place), then walk your hands back towards your feet into a squat position, then jump up. In this variation, you can add a push up to the sequence if you want to.
3 Common Mistakes
1. Excessive Low Back Arch
In the jump back portion of the burpee, you’ll ideally maintain core tension and lower your body in one straight line to the ground, and then back up. If you lack pushing & core strength, you may end up excessively arching your lower back in the plank and push up positions. This can put you at risk of injuring your back or shoulders during the burpee.
If this happens to you, I recommend opting for an easier burpee variation and focusing on increasing your core and pushing strength – See How to Do a Push Up.
2. Peeling Yourself Off the Ground
When completing the push up portion of the burpee, one of your goals is to lower yourself to the ground with control, and then to strongly and plyometrically push yourself up to jump your feet forward again.
If you lack pushing & core strength, you may end up peeling yourself off the ground (like doing the worm) once you lower down to the ground in your push up. As you get tired, peeling yourself off the ground becomes more likely, so be careful that you are not losing core tension or excessively arching your lower back. When this starts to happen, switch to an easier burpee variation.
3. Folding Forward
Another common mistake is to not bend your knees enough to squat down into the burpee, and also after jumping yourself forward again. What happens instead is that you fold your torso over your legs to reach the ground. Don’t skip the squat! Over time, this form mistake can cause low back issues if it’s repeated for many reps because you end up excessively rounding your low back aggressively over and over again.
While burpees are a very common exercise, they are definitely more advanced and difficult than most people realize. If you currently are doing burpees, I hope this guide has given you some important insights on how to be safe while doing this exercise more effectively.
Do you like burpees? What do you think?
Excellent article Marc. I love and hate burpees. A couple of sets will turn any exercise routine into a ‘workout’. I am now experimenting with a variation (that I may have seen on one of your videos actually) involving dumbells where I add alternating 1 arm rows after the push up and then move from squat position to a standing biceps curl-shoulder press and repeat. Can also throw alternating lunges in for good measure. Less plio but works some alternative muscles.
Very informative, thanks for sharing
Thanks for the info Marc. I’m considering them as a part of my routine. Help me to avoid mistakes.
Because I have lower back issues, and am 61 years old, I’ve modified by doing burpees on a bosu, and instead of the jump up I lift up the bosu. It’s still a great work out especially with the push up on the boxu worked in there.
Those of us who are clumsy get along just fine with mountain climbers.
Good tips. Thanks!
Hi Marc thankyou great article, one question though, I have always been told and taught,
Hands replace feet and feet replace hands, never to jump back prior to your hands being on the ground due to the impact on a bent wrist from falling on it. Can I ask your view, am I doing these incorrectly. Thanks again Tracey ?