Love them or hate them, burpees are a staple of HIIT, strength, bootcamp, and even some Pilates-style mat classes. Which means when you encounter them in the wild and are gearing up for a burpee burst, having a level of familiarity with the move can be helpful since it quite literally involves multiple moving parts (of your body). Luckily, a burpee workout for beginners can help you build the foundation to tackle this compound cardio-strength exercise with confidence.
What is a burpee?
When you see people alternating between jumping up high and pushing down low on the ground over and over again, you might have a burpee in your sights.
"Burpees are a full-body exercise that doesn't require any equipment—meaning they're your gym on the go," Nike global trainer Kirsty Godso previously told Well+Good about burpee workouts. "They're one of the most-used bodyweight exercises and are great for building both strength and cardiovascular endurance."
A burpee is a compound exercise, meaning it involves multiple actions and muscle groups.
That's a lot, and can be understandably intimidating for beginners. The combination of plyometrics when you jump up, as well as the bodyweight strength when you squat, plank, and push up, makes it “an advanced move,” Bradford Shreve, a certified personal trainer at Daily Burn, previously told Well+Good about burpee modifications.
"The burpee requires some advanced athletic control when you do it safely, but at its most basic form it is simply a way to get from the floor to standing in the most efficient way possible," Shreve says.
The benefits of burpees
Burpees are great for your heart and other components of your overall health, for building muscle endurance, and for their efficiency.
"The heart and lungs are forced to work more efficiently to supply energy to the body," Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist and founder of Upper East Side Cardiology previously told Well+Good about the health benefits of burpees. "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."
Burpees can also improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels, says Dr. Bhusri.
On the strength side, all of the components involved in a burpee means that the full move works multiple muscle groups. You’ll hit your quads, glutes, and hamstrings in the squat, your core in the plank, and your back and chest in the push-up.
"Burpees, when done with proper form, are one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises,” Sam Tooley, elite performance coach and founder of Alpha Fit Club in New Jersey, previously told Well+Good about how to do a burpee. “They're an awesome combination of strength and cardiovascular work."
The flip side? The fact that burpees are so challenging means you really only can do them for a little while. (We’re gonna put that in the “pro” column.)
How to do a burpee
Mastering a burpee is all about first learning its component parts.
"I’m always an advocate of breaking most movements down piece by piece in order to learn them properly,” Tooley says. “Full burpees have a lot going on."
The burpee starts and finishes with a strong jump. According to Atkins, this means you want to keep your head in line with your heels and bend your knees out wide as you come down. Then, jump straight up to the sky, and land softly in your squat.
You'll do another jump after the push-up portion of the move, too. This time you'll simply bring your feet to the outsides of your hands so that your knees are tracking over your toes, then jump straight up to the sky the same way you did the first time around. If you want to modify the move to make it low-impact, simply skip out on the jump altogether.
Next comes the squat. Think about keeping your head in line with your tailbone, pushing your knees out in line with your toes, and dropping your butt straight down to the ground while keeping your chest proud. (Looking straight out in front of you, instead of at the floor, can help.)
Now for the core work: From the lowest point of your squat, place your hands on the ground in front of you with your knees wider than your elbows. Keep your back flat, and kick your feet back to a plank position. Once there, be sure to keep your shoulders in line with your wrists, and engage your core and glutes to create a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. For a modified version of the move, you can step your feet back instead of jumping, or take the plank from your knees.
Finally, the push-up. Really, a push-up is just a moving plank, so try to maintain that same engagement through your core and glutes. Bend your elbows to lower your body down, then straighten them to push back up.
5. Reverse back to the start
To complete your burpee, from the top of your push-up, jump (or step) your feet back to your hands. Release your hands from the ground as you raise your torso into the bottom of the squat. Push your feet into the ground as you jump up again, starting another burpee.
A burpee workout for beginners
It’s possible to make working up to a burpee the whole workout itself. In this video from New York City-based trainer Sara DeBerry for Well+Good's Trainer of the Month Club, you’ll ladder up to doing a full burpee by starting with bursts that involve burpee variations.
For example, the first burpee working set involves moving from standing into a squat, then walking out to a plank, then walking back to the squat, then returning to standing. Not a jump or a push-up in sight!
DeBerry intersperses burpee intervals with plank holds, and the burpee intervals start to involve jumps and push-ups as you go along. In the final set, you’ll put all the components together for the whole burpee enchilada. And don't worry, there's a mobilizing warm-up and rejuvenating cool down to get you ready and recover from your burpee bonanza.
Check out the 13-minute burpee workout for beginners to build up to that burpee:
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