How To Do Burpees For A Cardio Workout (Step By Step Guide)

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Last Updated: 11th October 2016

If you are looking for a way to kick your workout into a higher gear, there is nothing that will do so like burpees. Say goodbye to that 45 minutes of cycling or elliptical workout; what you need is a killer cardio workout full of burpees. And don't forget to stay hydrated, that's why we recommend this sports water bottle.

What is a Burpee?

A burpee is the world's most hated cardio/muscle-building exercise, and yet one of the most effective at the same time. It combines basic resistance training movements (squat, push-up) with cardio movements (jumping) and core training (plank, jumping your feet back and forward). It's a beautiful blend of aerobic and anaerobic exercise that will have you gasping for breath and your muscles burning in no time!

Why do Burpees?

The fact that everyone hates burpees is actually what makes them so great for you. Here are a few reasons why burpees deserve a place in your weekly workout rotation:

  1. They're the total package -- Screw isolation moves like triceps kickbacks or leg extensions! Burpees are the real deal, and they work out most of the muscles in your body: your chest, shoulders, and triceps with a push-up, your butt, hamstrings, and quads with the squat and stand, your calves with the jump, and your back and abs with the jumping your feet back and forward. The only muscles that DON'T get worked are your "pulling" muscles (upper back and biceps).
  2. They're perfect for functional fitness -- Who cares how much you can bench press or clean and jerk if you can't play with your kids or take out the trash without getting winded? Functional fitness is all about being fit for your activities of daily life, and there are no better exercises to improve your functional fitness than burpees! Between the resistance training and cardio, it's an all-in-one exercise that will get you crazy fit.
  3. They're easy to do anywhere -- Don't have weights? No worries! Don't have space for a home gym? Big deal! Traveling around the country/world on business? Great! Burpees are a bodyweight exercise that can be done anywhere and at any time. All you need is enough space to perform a push-up, and you'll be able to do a burpee.
  4. They're versatile --Want to focus on your cardio? Burpees are the way to go! Need to develop more functional strength? Burpees can hack it! It doesn't matter whether you're doing HIIT training, regular resistance training, or a cardio workout: burpees can be adapted to suit your needs.
  5. They're good for endurance -- While most resistance training focuses on raw strength and power, this movement also adds endurance work. By doing more burpees, you'll get your body in tip-top shape regarding muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, AND flexibility.
  6. They're dynamic -- With regular weightlifting, your muscles go through the same range of motion every time. That means they grow very strong for that specific range of motion, but they're less mobile and flexible. If you change the angle or direction of the load, your muscular strength decreases drastically. With burpees, you're putting your body through the paces from all angles and directions. The fact that you're always moving means you will get a more dynamic, well-rounded workout than you would with regular weight training.

As you can see, there are A LOT of good reasons to do burpees!

How to do the Perfect Burpee

If you want to know how to do the perfect burpee, you have to understand that it's actually four movements combined as one: a push-up, a plank, a squat, and a jump. It's important to master the proper form for all four of these movements to get the burpee just right.

How to Do a Proper Plank

Photo: Shape.com

To do a proper push-up, you need first to master the "Plank position". This means:

  • Hands beneath your shoulders, arms extended, elbows bent slightly
  • Head level with your shoulders, not hanging down or drooping toward the floor
  • Glutes clenched, hips pressed down toward the ground, and back straight
  • Knees straight and feet on the floor

This is the proper form for a Plank.

How to Do a Proper Push-Up

The push-up is performed in the "plank position", which means you need to follow the steps above. However, once you are in plank:

  • Bend your elbows to lower your body to the floor. DO NOT move your head.
  • Try to keep your elbows/upper arms by your sides as you perform the push-up.
  • Keep your glutes and hips squeezed tight and your back straight as you lower to the floor.
  • Lower until your chest nearly touches the floor, then push back up until you've returned to the Plank position.

It's not the easiest exercise to do, but once you get it right, it's an AMAZING workout for your "pushing muscles".

Note: If the regular push-up is too difficult at first, try the Supported Push-Ups. Instead of being on your hands and feet, perform push-ups from your hands and knees. Same great workout, but less strain on your body!

How to Do a Proper Squat

The squat is one of the best lower body exercises, as it hits your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Doing the squat as part of the burpee is an amazing way to recruit all of your lower body muscles. To do it right:

  • Stand with your feet spread roughly shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Keep your head up, shoulders back, and back straight.
  • Bend your knees and lower into the squat, thrusting your butt and hips backward as you do so. This will help you to keep your back straight and place all the strain on your leg muscles.
  • Keep your knees in line with your feet, and don't let them go so far forward that they pass over your feet. This will cause you to lean forward, throwing off your posture and straining your lower back.
  • Lower until you have passed the 90-degree angle (thighs parallel to the floor).
  • Stand back up slowly, thrusting your hips forward as you return to your standing position.

The Squat isn't the easiest exercise to master, but once you've got it right, you're in for some serious lower body muscle growth!

How to Do a Proper Jump

Do I really need to teach you how to jump? Probably not, but just for the sake of a proper burpee, I'll give you a few tips on how to finish your burpee properly:

  • Come up from the squat explosively, leaping off the floor without pausing at the standing position. This will make the movement even harder for your legs.
  • Raise your arms as high as possible. This will give your back and arms a stretch, and will add more height to your jump.
  • Jump as high as you can. This will enhance the aerobic element of the movement.

So, now that you know how to do each of these separate movements properly, it's time to bring them all together in the single glorious movement known as the Burpee.

How to do a Proper Burpee

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  • Step 1: Start with your feet spread shoulder-width apart, head up, shoulders back, and back straight.
  • Step 2: Squat and place your hands on the floor.
  • Step 3: Place all of your weight on your hands as you jump your feet back to Plank position.
  • Step 4: Perform one push-up.
  • Step 5: Jump your feet forward until they are beside your hands.
  • Step 6: Straighten and jump as high as you can into the air.
  • Step 7: As you land, drop straight into your squat.

Congratulations, you've completed ONE burpee.

How to do a Beginner-Friendly Burpee

"Wait a minute," you may be thinking. "That sounds like a lot! There's no way I, a newbie to the gym, can do all of that 10, 15, or 20 times per set for 3-6 sets. Hell no!"

Yep, that's something we've all thought at some point or another. Face it: Burpees are bloody hard! They're draining on your upper body, core, and lower body, and they push your cardiovascular system until you're gasping for breath and sweating like it's 150 degrees in the gym.

Well, you're in luck: burpees can be a forgiving master. There are a few ways to make the burpee a bit easier for those who are just starting out.

  • Ditch the Jump -- Until you get in better shape, you're going to give your body a killer cardio workout even without the jump at the end. For beginners, try ending your burpee after standing from the squat--no jump at the end. It's a bit easier and will help you focus on the other components of the exercise.
  • Nix the Push-Up -- Push-ups are tough, for guys and gals alike. You should always try to do a push-up in the burpee, but if you can't, don't sweat it! After the transition from squat to plank, hold the plank position for a 2-count before jumping your hands forward to stand again. It will hit your core without overworking your "pushing muscles". Or, try doing a Supported Push-up on your knees, or only doing one push-up every second or third burpee.
  • Step Forward/Back -- You have no idea how hard it is to JUMP your feet backward and forward until you're actually doing a burpee! If your core isn't as strong as you'd like, give your body a break by simply stepping your feet forward and back (no jump). It will be easier on your core and cardiovascular system. You can always add the jump later!

These beginner-friendly options will help you to start doing the burpee NOW, and you'll work your way up to the classic and more advanced burpees in time.

How to do Advanced Burpees

If you've mastered the classic burpee, don't rest on your laurels! Try one of the following burpee variations to kick things really into high gear:

  • Burpee Mountain Climbers -- After completing your push-up, stay in the plank position and perform mountain climbers: alternating bringing your knees to your chest. Do one or two mountain climbers before jumping your hands forward to continue the burpee.
  • Pull-Up Burpees -- To make this a truly full-body workout, throw in pull-ups. As you stand up from the squat (after completing the push-up), jump into the air, grab a pull-up bar and perform a pull-up.
  • Rapid Fire Hurpees -- Hurpees, or half-burpees, are all cardio without the push-up. To really make them a challenge, try to fit as many as possible into 60 seconds. Keep working to beat your record!
  • Star Jump Burpee -- Instead of jumping straight into the air, perform a Star Jump: spread your arms and legs to form the letter "X" as you jump into the air, but land with your feet together and arms by your side.
  • Side Burpee -- To push your core harder, add this slight twist: instead of jumping your feet directly backward, jump them to one side and perform a push-up with your hands uneven. Switch sides with every repetition to hit your obliques.
  • Mountain Climber Jump Tuck Burpee -- This is the real killer! Throw in Mountain Climbers after each Push-up, and when you jump into the air, tuck your knees to your chest. You'll be gasping for breath in no time!

The Killer: 100 Burpee Challenge

Think you're an uber-fit bad-ass? Take the 100 Burpee Challenge:

See how long it takes you to complete 100 Burpees.

Be warned: not everyone can reach 100. Even if you do reach 100, how long did it take you? Under 20 minutes, and you're in amazing shape. Under 10 minutes, and you are truly as bad-ass as you think you are!

The burpee is an amazing movement, but not an easy one. Be ready to push yourself as hard as you can, and it will help you get in the best shape of your life!

When you feel like giving up, think of the benefits this movement can give you. The effects could last for the rest of your life not only on your physique but also on your overall health.

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