May 15, 2022/Exercise & Fitness

How to Correctly Do a Burpee: Step-by-Step Instructions

Seven simple movements add up to a tough cardio and strength training workout

People doing burpees while outside on a grassy field

A burpee sounds like something that should be silly. It isn’t.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Burpees are brutally efficient as a workout tool, meshing cardio and strength training into an extremely high-intensity package. In seven simple movements, the exercise works your body from top to bottom.

It’s a continuous-movement activity that uses the full musculature of your body, says exercise physiologist Griffin Nykor, RKin, CPT.

“It’s not easy,” says Nykor. “But it is worth it.”

So, let’s get started.

The benefits of burpees

The toughest exercises check a lot of workout boxes. Burpees certainly do.

From an aerobic standpoint, burpees put your ticker to the test. The exercise offers the breath-stealing effect of running in a very condensed timeframe. (Nykor recommends keeping burpee sessions between 30 seconds to 90 seconds.)

“You’re going to feel huge peaks in heart rate — and it’s going to happen quickly, given the intensity of the exercise,” explains Nykor. “You’re asking your body to use a lot of energy and a lot of oxygen.”

But there’s also a strength, or anaerobic, side to burpees.

Movements within the exercise mesh resistance training with explosive muscle action. A burpee targets your arms, chest and shoulders. It’ll work your abs and tax your leg muscles, hips and gluteus maximus, too.

“It’s all-encompassing,” says Nykor. “You’re working everything below the top of your head.”

Advertisement

How to do burpees

Burpees require no equipment and a limited amount of space. Best of all, the exercise can be broken down into seven simple and familiar movements. “There’s nothing particularly tricky about it,” encourages Nykor.

Here are step-by-step instructions. (Warm-up before starting, too.)

  1. Begin in a standing position. Position your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight, your chest out and your arms at your sides.
  2. Drop into a squat. Bend your knees, driving them out slightly past your toes, while bringing your butt down. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the floor (palms down) in front of your feet.
  3. Kick your legs back into a high plank position. Your body should be in a straight line from shoulders to heels. Lock your arms in place. Keep your head straight, eyes looking slightly ahead. (“You’re going to feel some core activation,” says Nykor.)
  4. Lower toward the ground. Bend your elbows and bring your body toward the floor. (Basically, the bottom part of a push-up.) Keep your body straight and your core tight.
  5. Rise back to high plank. Focus on keeping your body straight.
  6. Return to a squat position. Jump your legs forward. When you land, make sure your feet are flat on the floor. (Your positioning at the end of this move should be the same as in Step 2.)
  7. Jump! Reach your arms up as you launch toward the ceiling. “It should be an explosive jump,” says Nykor. Land in the original standing position and then go back to Step 1 and restart the process.

Key tips on burpee form

There are two positions — a squat and high plank — that you reach twice while doing burpees. That makes using proper form doubly important for those steps, stresses Nykor. Let’s look deeper at each.

  • When in the high plank, make sure to stack your wrists, elbows and shoulders. Don’t put your hands too far forward. “Your bones are stronger than your muscles,” says Nykor. “Use the anatomy of your body to your advantage.”
  • While squatting, keep your feet flat and resist the urge to come up on your toes. “If your feet are planted firmly, you’ll have a much more stable base,” says Nykor.

Burpee exercise variations

The instructions above outline your run-of-the-mill burpee. That’s not quite tough enough for some exercise innovators, though. “Modifications to the routine can help keep things fresh,” says Nykor.

Examples include using a weighted vest, which can put your muscles to an even greater test, or slipping another movement into the flow of the exercise.

Additions could include:

  • Adding a “jumping jack” leg split as you do your pushup or to the jump.
  • Sliding your body into a pike position while in high plank. (Your body will look like an upside-down V.)
  • Doing a “mountain climber” move from high plank. (Do this by bringing your right knee to your right elbow, then your left knee toward your left elbow.)

Search online for a seemingly endless array of burpee variations, including some that utilize equipment such as a box or a pullup bar. (A quick note: Many of these modified exercises are more advanced.)

Can you make a burpee easier?

Absolutely, says Nykor. If doing a regular burpee is more demanding than your current fitness level, make adjustments. Maybe that means not doing the jump at the end. Or not doing the push-up.

Advertisement

“Do the exercise to your abilities,” advises Nykor. “It’s OK to make changes to burpees to make them more accessible.”

Should some people avoid burpees?

Given the intensity level of the exercise, burpees aren’t ideal for everyone, says Nykor.

The heart rate spike may be a concern if you have a heart condition. Nykor recommends getting approval from your doctor or cardiologist before trying the exercise if you’ve had a cardiac event.

People with back or hip injuries also may want to avoid the exercise. Ditto for those with shoulder issues, such as a torn rotator cuff.

Fun facts about burpees

A fitness innovator named Royal H. Burpee mapped out the exercise in 1939 as a quick-and-simple way to assess a person’s fitness. He developed it as part of his PhD thesis at Columbia University. (He passed, of course.)

A few years later, the U.S. military used Burpee’s exercise to assess new soldiers and gauge whether they could handle the physical rigors of combat.

And while the exercise is usually done in short bursts, some go for the long haul. The Guinness World Record for most burpees in 24 hours is 12,003 by an Australian woman named Eva Clarke. (The male record is 10,815.)

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Hand holding cellphone with walking app, with feet walking and footprints
May 17, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Should You Aim To Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

Walking is a great goal, but how many steps are best for you depends on factors like your fitness level and age

Person walking on walking pad at home office desk
May 16, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
What’s a Walking Pad — And Do They Really Work?

A walking pad is a simplified treadmill that can fit under your desk and help you get more movement in your day

Person stretching on floor mats in their home gym area
May 8, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Strength Finder: How To Create a Home Gym You’ll Use

First, reflect on your specific workout goals, and then pick and choose your fitness equipment

Person walking on home treadmill
May 1, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Benefits of Adding a ‘Deload Week’ to Your Workout Plan

Easing up on your routine can help your body recover and get stronger

Kids running a race at the finish line ribbon
April 30, 2024/Children's Health
Is Your Child Old Enough To Run a 5K?

Let your little one’s enthusiasm and motivation fuel their interest in running, but don’t pile on miles too early

Person holding digital tablet with workout routine video playing
April 29, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Fitness on a Budget: How To Exercise on the Cheap

You don’t need to spend big money on better health

Diverse group of friends on a hike
April 25, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
How To Find ‘Joyful Movement’ in Every Day

This simple phrase encourages you to enjoy your workouts, not dread them

Seniors exercising with chairs
April 18, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
11 Chair Exercises for Seniors, Older Adults and People With Limited Mobility

Chair exercises can help people age 65+ retain independence

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad