Burpees Never Get Old

DeShawn Fairbairn

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Brooklyn, New York, United States

Personal Training, Fencing, Karate


Burpees are high intensity, involve the total body, and are excruciatingly difficult to do. They also can be an easy way to injure oneself if they haven’t a clue of how to execute them.


If you’ve watched movies based on American football such as "Remember the Titans" you'll know the scene when a team of give or take 30 football players are smacking the floor, getting up into a squat, and jumping as high as they can then they repeat the process for more than five minutes at a time.



The result you ask? Uniforms drenched in sweat, grown men gasping for air, and a smug coach placing these men in a practice game to prepare for a scrimmage.


This article will break down the parts of the burpee and provide much needed insight into the efficacy of it in training. Burpees (or squat thrusts) primarily work on aerobic (with oxygen) movement by increasing the demand on the body for oxygen; producing a stamina building effect.


The burpee works as a total body movement—the upper and lower body work in tandem with the muscles of the core to move and as a result more calories are burned and cardiovascular strength is built.


How to Perform the Burpee

In the first phase of the movement, learning how to lower oneself from a standing position is crucial.


Begin by having a wider than shoulder width stance, strategically bending at the knees and hips simultaneously. As you do so, straighten the arms while keeping a slight bend at the elbow.


Ensure that your back remains straight and at an angle. Then spread your hands out. In the end of the movement you should be in a sumo squat position with your hands on the floor.


In the second phase of the movement or what is known as the kick back phase, we will begin to shift the weight of the body from being centered mid-foot to slightly forward while using the strength in our core and arms to create a stable base in which we explosively kick back the feet.


In doing so we will end up in the top portion of a push up. The back is straight and the core tight.


In the third and fourth phase, we first perform a push up then reverse the kickback movement by pulling the feet back into the sumo squat with a small hop while our hands are in contact with the ground.



The fourth phase prepares us to jump by straightening up the spine and looking ahead with a chin depressed (thus keeping the cervical spine in alignment).


In the fifth phase, we ready ourselves to jump in vertical jump position. There are two ways to accomplish this:


  1. Straighten your arms prior to jumping.
  2. Place your arms beside your body as you extend your arms back (imagine a basketball player preparing to jump to block a shot).


I will be showing the former because it its much simpler to understand for those without proprioception (spatial acuity) nor shoulder flexibility. Load your hamstrings and keep your back straight at an 45 degree angle.


To absorb the shock do not straighten your legs on the descent but begin to bend your knees as you return to the floor and return to the squat with your arms between your legs.


In the sixth phase or the resetting phase, prepare to repeat the cycle once more.



Should You Be Doing Burpees?

If you are any one of these categories of people, burpees should not be a part of your regimen if any of the following apply to you:


  • You have knee issues (i.e. bursitis, runner's knee, tendonitis, meniscus inflammation).
  • You are currently recovering from knee, shoulder, neck, back, wrist, and hip surgery or injuries.
  • You are highly sedentary. This dynamic movement with explosive phases will not make your hamstrings nor knees very happy without proper training in the aforementioned exercises
  • You have lordosis of the spine.
  • You have weak ankles. The susceptibility for sprains is higher if one is pronator and or supinator, and without proper training and adaptation the rate for injury is high in the jumping and landing portions of this movement.
  • You have pre-existing heart or cardiovascular conditions. The concern here would be orthostatic changes in blood pressure, underlying arrhythmias, and angina pectoris.
  • You experience sports or exercise induced asthma. One must work up to a proper heart rate and breathing rate to increase overall stamina before engaging in this movement for long periods of time, anything greater than three minutes.
  • You cannot perform a push up, plank, and squat.


Use Burpees As Part of Your Training

Any trainer understands the cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular heart rate ranges when initially training a client.


However, every gym patron should understand cardiovascular heart rate guidelines as well. Ideally for a sedentary male or female, no more than three minutes of burpees should be executed.


Check for signs of strain and or form degradation as you’re performing this movement. For an intermediate gym goer where strength training and aerobic training are a part of their weekly regimen burpees can be attempted anywhere from five to ten minutes.


Anything more than thirty minutes doesn’t provide much of a substantial benefit. Typically, a fifteen minute bout of burpees will more than suffice. If you’re able to perform more than thirty minutes of burpees at high frequency (in rapid succession), high intensity (little to no breaks), and with proper form each repetition, you’re probably not providing your body enough of a cardiovascular stimulus.


Burpees Can Benefit You

You should perform burpees on non-intense training days and they should be the very first thing you perform after warming up.


Another time you will benefit from burpees is at the tail end of a workout session or as a warm up for five minutes prior to power training and or plyometric training.


Burpees are a tried and true exercise. They are deceptively simple and at the same time very fun. Execute burpees with caution and care and you can take your training to the next level.

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