A Personal Trainer Explains How Burpees Are a Full-Body Exercise

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You’re 40 minutes into a sweaty, hour-long workout class when the instructor enthusiastically announces, “And now it’s time for burpees!” 

Can you practically hear the collective groan coming from everyone else in the room? 

There’s a reason most of us loathe burpees: They are tough! In fact, they are one of the most challenging exercises out there. But the intense compound move also works multiple muscle groups at once, making them highly effective, explains Caitlin Jones, certified personal trainer in New York City. 

Here’s a look at which muscles burpees work, how to modify them if needed, and why you should push through them, even when you’re ready to quit. 

Burpees: A Full-Body Exercise 

If you’re looking to work all your major muscle groups in one killer combo move, burpees are the way to go. “Burpees are truly one of the most beneficial full-body exercises,” Jones says. They are an effective use of your time based on how many muscle groups they work. If you don't have time to do separate sets of squats and pushups, why not marry the two? Plus, they don't require any equipment to perform, so they are great for at-home workouts or travelling.” 

With burpees, you’ll work the following muscles:

  • Glutes
  • Quads 
  • Core
  • Calves
  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Triceps 

Your heart rate will also go up, making burpees an effective cardio movement as well. 

What Are the Benefits of Doing Burpees (Even When You Don't Want To)? 

Burpees are one of the most efficient exercises to help you meet your fitness goals, says New York City-based certified personal trainer and health coach Melissa Chisholm. That’s because it’s a cardio move as well as a strength training one. 

“A burpee is a full body movement—working the legs, core and upper body, and a great way to get your heart rate up and blood pumping,” she says. In other words, you’ll not only be conditioning your body with burpees, but getting stronger as well. 

Burpees are also a functional move, Chisholm says. They improve wrist and core strength if you want to surf or perfect your chaturanga, for example. And they may even help you get up faster if you fall down. That’s because you’ll be using the same movement and muscles to push back up as you’d do with your burpee. (Just make sure to modify traditional burpees if you have wrist pain or a weakened core until you’re ready for the full movement.) 

How to Perform a Proper Burpee

There are a few different ways to perform a burpee. Chisholm recommends trying the following moves. 

Chest-to-Ground Burpee 

  1. Squat down, place hands on ground and pop back into a high plank.
  2. Lower body down to the ground in one fluid movement (avoid the pelvis lowering before the chest).
  3. Press back up to a high plank (performing a push-up from the ground). 
  4. Pop your feet out wider than your hands to land in a low squat position and come up to stand. 
  5. Add a jump and land softly. If you’re more advanced, add a tuck jump at the top.
  6. Perform 10 reps for 3 rounds. 

Push-up Burpee

  1. Squat down, place hands on ground and pop back into a high plank. 
  2. Perform a push-up and pop your feet out wider than your hands to land in a low squat position. 
  3. Come up to stand with or without adding a jump at the top. 
  4. Perform 10 reps for 3 rounds.
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Modifying Burpees 

Burpees can easily be modified so they are a non-impact exercise. In order to perform a modified burpee, you’ll skip the jump at the top, Jones explains. But rest assured, you’ll still be getting a challenging cardio workout, even without the impact. 

Modified Burpee

  1. Squat down and step one foot, then the other, from squat position to plank position and back. 
  2. Stand up and reach your arms overhead rather than giving a big jump at the top. 

Who Should Avoid Burpees? 

Although burpees can be modified to be low-impact, avoid them if you have wrist pain or low back pain, as they can add stress to these areas. Also avoid them if you have a shoulder, back or knee injury. 

During pregnancy, you’ll want to modify burpees so you aren’t going all the way down the ground on your stomach. Instead, one modification to try is squatting down and stepping back with one leg, returning to a squat position, stepping back with the other leg, then before returning to a squat position and standing up. (Always get the OK from your doctor before performing burpees during pregnancy.) 

How Often Should You Perform Burpees To See Results?

Burpees are a full-body exercise, so you’ll need to give your body time to recover from them in-between workouts. Try performing three sets of 10 reps of burpees every other day for best results, Chisholm recommends. 

And because burpees are a high-impact exercise, make sure you always warm-up and cool down after them, Jones adds.  

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