We Asked a Cardiologist and a Trainer How Good Burpees Are for You Really

Photo: Getty Images/Raquel Arocena Torres
Out of all the workout moves that make us sweat, burpees may be one of the hardest. The infamous exercise is a full-body challenge that offers a major return on your effort investment. Best of all, perhaps, it requires nothing but bodyweight to rev your heart rate and help you build muscle.

Given their difficulty and their benefits on so many different parts of the body, it begs the question: Can a round of burpees stand in for an entire workout? They certainly feel like they can....

From a cardio perspective, burpees do kick our hearts into high-gear, requiring much more oxygen consumption than other exercises. The head-to-toe shred is so heart-healthy that Dr. Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist and founder of Upper East Side Cardiology, says they're one of the best exercises for improving cardiovascular fitness.

"The heart and lungs are forced to work more efficiently to supply energy to the body," Dr. Bhusri says. "Studies have shown that a higher number of burpees in [a three-minute interval] indicates higher cardiorespiratory fitness, which is associated with reduced risk for heart disease. And, more specifically, those with higher cardiorespiratory fitness had a lower risk of coronary artery disease."

But the rewards for pushing yourself through a sweaty round of burpees don't stop there. Dr. Bhusri explains that each bout of burpees also produces a high-calorie burn compared to other kick-ass exercises, like squats, deadlifts, and lunges, in order to meet that higher consumption of oxygen. "Other benefits include improvement of blood flow and lowering of blood pressure," he adds. "It can also help in improving cholesterol levels in individuals."

Experts In This Article

Before you sweat, watch the right way to do a burpee below: 

So, does that mean you can swap out an entire 60-minute, high-intensity bootcamp for a few burpees? Probably not. But as Cat Kom, CEO and founder of the online fitness app Studio SWEAT onDemand, explains: A quick blast of burpees is a great substitute if you don't have time to get in a full class or even a 20-minute HIIT explosion.

"When I say quick, I mean 10-minutes or less, because they're high intensity, and if you do more than that, you'll likely start to compromise good form and could risk injury," she says. "They give you great cardio, conditioning, boost your flexibility, help you burn fat, all that good stuff."

But if you do have time for a full workout, that's probably your best bet. Kom believes burpees make a great addition—they just shouldn't replace other workouts entirely. "But definitely add them to your routine," she suggests. And if regular burpees aren't your thing, try one of Kom's favorite burpee variations below.

Jack burpee

Want to give amp up the cardio? Throw a jumping jack into the mix. Everything about performing the burpee remains the same, but when you come up into a standing position, do a jumping jack. Kom says adding this in to the top of your movement will boost your heart rate even more.

Mountain climber burpee

Yep, you guessed it: This variation plays off the core-shredding plyometric better known as mountain climbers. When you're in the plank position of the burpee, add a couple mountain climbers to fire up that core, especially your obliques and lower abs. But be prepared to feel it in your back, shoulders, glutes and, well, just about everywhere else as well.

Big kahuna burpee

"It’s basically a burpee with the works," says Kom. Here's what you do: Add two side kick-throughs when you're in your plank before going into a push-up. Then, add two reverse jumping lunges on your way up, before finishing with a knees-up tuck jump to close it out. "If you’re feeling a little burpee-boastful, this one will definitely bring you back down to Earth," Kom says. No kidding...

Make working up to a burpee its own workout with this burpees for beginners video:

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