- The health benefits of burpees include strengthening major muscle groups, burning lots of calories, and improving cardiovascular fitness.
- Burpees are one of the most beneficial exercises for your health, as long as you do them with proper form.
- Here’s how to do a safe and effective burpee and incorporate it into your workouts to achieve the most health benefits.
- This article was medically reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based fitness expert and MYX Fitness coach.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Burpees – the exercise that involves dropping down into a push-up position, springing back up to standing and leaping into the air – can cause even the most fit people to groan.
The exercise was first developed by an exercise physiologist named Royal Burpee, who used the move to evaluate fitness at Columbia University back in the 1930s.
And even though the burpee is about 90 years old, it’s still as challenging and beneficial as ever, says Ally McKinney, a fitness coach at Gold’s Gym in Austin, Texas.
“It is a total body movement that can really drive up your heart rate,” McKinney says. “This provides plenty of health benefits like high calorie burn, mobility, body awareness, and cardiovascular endurance.”
Here’s what you should know about the health benefits of burpees and how to properly incorporate them into your workout.
Burpees work a range of muscles
Burpees target some of the largest muscle groups in the body, such as:
“A burpee is a full body, compound movement where you are required to get on the ground and get all the way back up,” McKinney says. “Nearly every muscle has to contract to make this happen.”
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports compared burpees to sprint running. Twenty-four people participated in a HIIT workout made up of burpees or sprints; with the sessions completed one week apart. The burpee workout produced more fatigue in the upper body and the participants rated it as more difficult.
Burpees burn lots of calories
“Burpees are fantastic calorie burners,” McKinney says. “As your muscles are lengthening and extending through your burpee reps, they require lots of energy to make that happen.”
For example, a 2015 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that participants consumed more oxygen while doing burpees compared to squats, deadlifts, and lunges. And to meet that higher consumption, the body burns more calories.
Burpees are an example of vigorous calisthenics, or intense whole-body exercises. Harvard Health estimates that a 155-pound person will burn the following amount of calories in 30 minutes of these exercises:
- Vigorous calisthenics: 298 calories
- Weight lifting: 223 calories
- Walking (15 min/mile): 167 calories
- Hatha yoga: 149 calories
Burpees improve cardiovascular fitness
Because burpees require higher oxygen consumption than other exercises, it is one of the best exercises for improving cardiovascular fitness, says McKinney. “Your heart and lungs are forced to work more efficiently to supply energy to those muscles.”
In fact, burpees are such a good indicator of cardiovascular fitness that they have become an international standard commonly used by scientists for evaluating endurance. During the test, people do as many burpees as they can for 3 minutes.
A higher number of burpees in the 3 minutes indicates higher cardiorespiratory fitness, which is associated with reduced risk for heart disease. For example, a 2016 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings the cardiorespiratory fitness of more than 29,000 men. It found that those with higher cardiorespiratory fitness had a lower risk of coronary heart disease.
For reference, a 2019 study on the test published in the Journal of Human Kinetics analysed thousands of participants and found that the average man can do 47 to 66 burpees in 3 minutes, while the average woman can do 37 to 60.
How to do a burpee
The basic burpee outlined by Royal Burpee was a four-step movement, McKinney says. That still forms the basis of the burpee today. Here’s how to do a classic burpee:
- Start in a standing position. Bend your knees to a squatting position and place your hands flat on the ground in front of you.
- Jump your legs straight out behind you and leave them there. You’ll be in a push-up position at this point. Make sure you bring your chest to the ground.
- Jump your legs back in so you’re in a squatting position again.
- Then, stand back up.
Modern fitness experts look for burpees that follow this basic pattern, but are a bit more fluid.
For example, McKinney tells her clients to place their hands on the ground, jump their feet back and lower their chest to the ground in one controlled movement. “I like to call it falling with style,” she says.
From there, she advises people to jump in with their feet wide (outside the hands, if possible) and then, from the squat position, leap into the air to complete the rep.
Although burpees might seem simple, they’re a difficult move, and one that exercise beginners should work up to, not dive right into, McKinney says.
“The bottom of the burpee, before you kick your legs back, requires maximal flexion in the knees, hips, and ankles,” McKinney says. “If you are lacking in any of those areas, your knees are going to hurt. Combine that with a weak core, you are in for pain and possibly injury. Don’t feel like this movement is necessary when you are just getting started.”
It’s important that when you jump back in the burpee, your spine stays straight, not dropped down or rounded, she says. If you’re unable to do that, modify the move by stepping your feet back one at a time in order to maintain control and tension in your core.
“Remember, a successful and efficient burpee means no sharp pain, and you are in control 100% of the time,” McKinney says.
How to incorporate burpees into your workouts
Burpees can be done any time, anywhere, since they require no equipment. McKinney recommends starting by doing 3 to 5 burpees each time you work out, focusing on form.
As you get more comfortable with the move, you can try these advanced burpee exercises:
- Challenge yourself. Give yourself the three-minute burpee test, or try to complete 100 burpees. You can split these into 10 sets of 10.
- Side burpees. Instead of jumping your feet straight back, you can jump them to the side, alternating with each rep for a great oblique workout.
- Try a one-legged burpee. When you jump back, hold one leg in the air and let the other support you.
Burpees are difficult, and it’s important to learn the proper form in order to have a safe workout. But once you know how to do them correctly, burpees are one of the best exercises you can do to improve your fitness.
“They are demanding, require lots of effort, and very much burn,” McKinney says. “But at the end of the day, they will always be there to help you achieve your fitness goals.”
Related articles from Health Reference:
- The 3 best types of exercise for heart health and how to create a heart-healthy workout plan
- 5 health benefits of jumping rope and helpful tips for beginners from celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels
- The health benefits of push-ups and how to do them correctly to get the most out of your workout
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