Burpees For The Win

All About Burpees: Variations, Scaling & More

BY Lily Frei

Many athletes have a love-hate relationship with burpees. They're a full-body movement designed to get your heart pumping and there's no denying their effectiveness.

Burpees originated in the 1930s, thanks to U.S. physiologist Royal Huddleston Burpee Sr. He used them to assess physical fitness, and soon the U.S. Army adopted them to test new recruits. Going from face down on the floor to jumping vertically with your arms overhead is a challenge for every major muscle group in your body.

They’re simple, functional, and adaptable. Whether you’re a beginner or an elite athlete, burpees can be scaled to fit your needs. Let’s dive into the details.

The Right Way to Burpee

Like all exercises, doing burpees correctly is key. Most calisthenic movements are highly technical, but the burpee is uncomplicated and great for beginners. Here’s a step-by-step guide to perfect your form.

  1. Crouch to the floor: From standing, hinge at the waist and crouch down, placing your hands on the floor in front of you.
  2. Jump back to plank: Kick your legs back to a plank position, keeping your feet hip-width apart and pressing into the floor with your hands.
  3. Pushup: Lower your chest to touch the floor. Some prefer a strict push up, but touching your chest and thighs to the floor is sufficient for most workouts, especially if you’re moving fast.
  4. Jump forward to crouch: Jump your feet forward to your hands, returning to the crouching position.
  5. Get vertical: In one fluid motion, jump up so your feet leave the ground in a small hop, reaching your arms overhead.

Master the flow from one step to the next to keep it smooth and efficient. Speed will come with practice.

How to Make Burpees Easier for Beginners

If this movement is challenging, try scaling down to what your body is capable of. Because burpees involve a hip-hinge, pushup, jump, and reach, they might be difficult if you’re dealing with any injuries. Here are some ways to make them more manageable:

  • Step back and forth

Instead of kicking your legs back or jumping your feet forward, step one foot at a time to slow things down.

  • Ball your fists if you have wrist issues

Balling your hands into fists or using a pair of push up grips helps keep your wrists straight. 

  • Try nurpees (no-pushup burpees)

To shorten the burpee or avoid shoulder strain, skip step 3 above. After jumping back to plank, jump forward again into your crouch.

  • Try adding ankle weights! 

To get more corework out of your burpees and increase the intensity, try using a pair of ankle weights. Not for the faint of heart!

Advanced Burpee Variations

These are the spiciest versions of the best/worst movement to test your limits. Adding weight, plyometrics or gymnastic elements to the burpee  

Burpee Pullup

This one is easy in theory: perform a burpee under a pullup bar, then jump up to the bar and do a pullup. You can do whatever pullup variation you want to get the job done. The trick is keeping your feet placement in the right spot to hit the pullup bar. This movement is the perfect way to include the only muscles not really used in a regular burpee: your back and biceps. Advanced athletes can work up to burpee muscle ups.


This movement deviates the most from a traditional burpee, but I wanted to include it here as an advanced variation. With a dumbbell in each hand, follow steps 1-2 above: bend down and place the dumbbells on the floor, then kick your legs back into a plank position. From plank, perform a row with each dumbbell one at a time. Jump forward to meet the dumbbells and perform a squat clean thruster. Pull yourself down into a front squat with the dumbbells resting on your shoulders, then press the dumbbells overhead as you stand.

Devil’s Press

Similar to the manmaker with a dumbbell in each hand, perform a burpee up to step 4 above. As you stand from the crouch, hinge at the hips and swing the dumbbells through your legs like you would a kettlebell swing. Finish with both dumbbells overhead, shoulders active, and elbows locked.

Bar-Facing & Lateral Burpees Over the Bar

These variations need a barbell setup with standard sized plates on both sides, but you can scale the difficulty when it comes to the jumping. For bar-facing burpees, your head must be facing the barbell upon each pushup (step 3), but for lateral burpees, you can just jump left or right with each rep. Practice jumping over a line on the floor to work on the technical stepping/turning elements. 

Burpee Box Jump (over)

Some of the longest burpee variations out there involve jumping onto a box. For the burpee box jump, perform a burpee while facing a Plyo box. Once you step or hop forward (step 4), jump onto the box, then step back down on the same side. The burpee box jump over (BBJO) involves a pivot to step down on the other side of the box. You’ll need some practice and technical proficiency when stringing together multiple BBJ(O), so do your best not to miss a jump when you get tired.

Burpee Broad Jumps 

Are you noticing a theme? Basically any movement that requires jumping can be linked to a burpee. For burpee broad jumps, the key is to land in the perfect athletic crouch position to leap forward as far as you can. Use your arms to generate power and throw yourself forward in space. 

Programming Burpees in Workouts

Burpees are a versatile cardio movement that test your aerobic capacity and help improve your overall conditioning. When you see them in a workout, be ready to breathe a little harder. They can also work your mental toughness — your body can almost always do one more burpee when your mind is ready to give up. 

Here’s how to include burpees in workouts depending on your goals.

For Warmups:

Get your heart rate up and your body warm by hitting a few burpees before a workout. Try a couple sets of quick sprints to get your blood flowing and coordination gears turning. 

For Metcons (metabolic conditioning):

One rule of thumb for programming burpees into HIIT or timed workouts is to put a fixed number of them wherever you would be rowing, running, biking, or using another cardio machine. Even 5 burpees or another target rep range can break up a monotonous workout. 

For Strength:

Your body can only carry as much muscle as your heart will allow, so we want it to be strong. Keep your blood pumping by mixing in 3-5 sets of burpees (try intervals!) twice a week at the end of your sessions.  

For Skill:

You’ll always benefit as an athlete from leveling up your skills. If you can master all the burpee variations listed above, you can consider yourself well prepared for any kind of general strength programming thrown at you. 

Love to hate them, burpees are one of the most functional full-body movements out there. They’re efficient, convenient, and perfect for working on overall fitness for weight loss, cardio endurance, and strength/skill development. 

Don’t forget to include burpee variations in your training regularly, if for no other reason than this: everyone wants to be able to get up off the floor by themselves as they age. And after all, practice makes permanent. 

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About Lily Frei

Lily is TrainingPeaks’ Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She’s been a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry, specializing in strength and conditioning. An uncommon combo of bookish nerd and athlete, Lily is devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics.

Visit Lily Frei's Coach Profile

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