The Many Benefits of Burpees

By on May 5, 2021

Often, it seems, we don’t appreciate what’s right under our noses. So it is with burpees. In a bid to find exotic, exciting new exercises and training methods, it’s easy to overlook such a classic.

See also: Why You Should be Doing the Bodyweight Row

Indeed, the burpee has a bit of trouble fitting in. Calisthenics guys that want to learn moves like handstands and planche will often focus more on slow, controlled movements. People interested in building strength or explosiveness often turn to external resistance.

Where does the burpee fit in?

But there’s a reason that burpees have been a mainstay of military training. It’s because they build actual fitness. They make you better at doing physically challenging stuff for long periods. The benefits of burpees are far-reaching. Add them back into your own workouts and you can see amazing results.

How to Burpee

Before we get into the benefits of burpees, let’s first take a look at how to perform them.

benefits of burpees

It goes something like this:

  • Start off standing up
  • Drop down to touch the ground
  • Kick your legs out behind you into a push up position
  • Perform a push up
  • Jump your feet back up to your hands
  • Stand up and jump
  • Land and repeat

An easier variation of this movement can be performed without the push up.

I’ve seen people make a fuss about whether the feet land between the hands, outside the hands, or where the hands were as you bring them forward. It really doesn’t matter.

Those concerned about impact can easily adjust the burpee to remove this element: by not jumping as high, or walking the legs out. Those who want to build explosiveness and power can aim to jump as high as possible, conversely.

The Benefits of Burpees

So, what makes burpees so great?

When it comes to the benefits of burpees, the most obvious point is that they are ideal for conditioning. Unlike a push up or a bench press, burpees keep the entire body in almost constant motion. Because burpees have multiple phases, the heart needs to work extra hard to send the blood to the upper body and then the lower body.

They are ideal for conditioning.

This makes it perfect for a type of training called “peripheral heart action.” This is a technique that was used by Bruce Lee and essentially involves alternating between different parts of the body in order to keep the blood circulating. Peripheral heart action usually means using a set number of reps on an exercise before moving to the next body part (Bruce did this with a Marcy Circuit Trainer) but moves like the Burpee do this in a single exercise.

To put this simply, burpees drive the heart rate up fast and keep it there. And they do that in a small amount of space, which is ideal if you don’t have room to run around. Burpees are perfect for high intensity function training and can be used similarly to exercises like the kettlebell swing.

Burpees: A Full-Body Exercise

Another of the clear benefits of burpees, is that they are as close to a full-body movement as you’re likely to find. Of course, you hit the shoulders, pecs, and abs from the push-up at the bottom. Those abs get an extra hit too when you jump the legs forward and bring the feet forward to meet your hands. This also places more pressure on the shoulders, particularly the anterior delts.

Then there’s the legs, which get the benefits of a spring off the calves, a deep lunge, and then an explosive jump. You’ll also be

Press ups

What’s surprising though, is that this is also a pulling movement. When you pull your legs toward your hands using your arms, you’re actually hitting the lats. It’s not a lot of resistance, but the high reps and explosive manner are enough to provide a decent stimulus!

And if you’re jumping in an explosive manner, then you’ll also be using a triple extension: in other words, there’s also a hip hinge in there. Again, there’s no resistance other than your upper body, but you’re still practicing and strengthening this movement pattern. More importantly, you’re building up endurance, which can help to fortify you against back injuries in the long-term.

Burpees Benefits for Building Muscle

I’ve seen people bash the burpee because it doesn’t offer enough resistance or time-under-tension to build muscle. It’s true that if you rush through these movements, you will be unlikely to see much benefit in terms of hypertrophy or strength gains.

See also: Quadrupedal Movement: The Bear Crawl Exercise Explained

This is missing the point: the burpee builds work capacity and strength endurance. It trains you to move powerfully and explosively even when fatigued. Sure, a single pseudo-planche push up offers a lot more resistance on specific muscle groups, but that’s entirely at the opposite end of the spectrum.

And if you slow down the push, and really power through the jump, then you absolutely will make some strength gains. Then there are all the variations, which we will see in a moment.

Of course it’s not really full body. There’s no rotation in here, for example, and the biceps are unlikely to burn much after a round of burpees. But as bang-for-your-buck goes, they’re pretty darn good!

benefits of burpees and man makers

If you want to add resistance using a very similar movement pattern, then you could try a clean and press. This similarly incorporates a hip hinge, a pull, and a press. Alternatively, you could lower the weight and perform the devil press – essentially a burpee while holding two dumbbells and adding an overhead press.

Or, of course, you could just throw on a weighted vest.

Benefits of Burpees: Hybrid Exercise

What’s more, is that burpees are a type of “hybrid exercise.” This means they combine multiple different movements into a single combined exercise. Other examples include things like the renegade row and the devil press.

Hybrid training

What is the advantage of the hybrid exercise? Other than the fact that it lets you train multiple things all at once, there is also the fact that hybrid exercises train you to move between positions. These strengthen you at angles that don’t get hit with fixed repetitions. And this prepares you for real life: because rarely in real life are we asked to perform the same precise movement over and over again without variation!

Benefits of Burpees Variations

Whatever shortcomings the burpees have can largely be addressed by the countless variations out there.

For example, if you wanted to put a bit more focus on the lats, then you could throw in a loaded beast (from Animal Flow) instead of a push up. Now you can drag yourself up into that position, emphasizing the role of the lats and arms as you do. This also makes it a mobility exercise for the shoulders. Or do a burpee pull up: perform the burpee under a branch or bar and then pull up instead of jumping.

Kickthrough Burpee

If you want to add in some rotation, then how about performing a kickthrough (or kicksit or sit through, depending on who you listen to?). Or how about a man maker, which combines a renegade row with a devil press? That adds an anti-rotation portion.

See also: Movement Highlight: The Broad Jump

Want to work more on the shoulders? Pike burpee. Want to improve running form and burn calories? Combine burpees with high-knees or 100-ups (running on the spot, essentially). Want to practice your punches? Try landing in stance and throwing a jab and a cross. Or throw a high kick as you jump/instead of jumping. The Navy SEAL burpee involves performing three push ups between your jumps, and bringing alternating knees up to your chest between the second two.

Medicine ball burpees

Want something more ballistic? Bring a medicine ball up with you and slam it on the ground. You can also use sideways jumps, skater hops, broad jumps, and more to work more in the frontal plane and improve your horizontal leap, respectively.

You get the picture.

But if you want to go one step further, then why not switch between these? You can write yourself a set routine, you can have someone call out names, or you can just freestyle. Intersperse it with multiple consecutive air squats or push ups for more hypertrophy, and enjoy a form of training that’s dynamic, brutal, but never boring. It’s like movement training, but fast and explosive with a great emphasis on conditioning!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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