By KYLE ARSENAULT
Trendy exercises come and go. Some have been around, and will stay around, because they’ve proven themselves effective when performed correctly and have numerous variations. Among these exercises is the burpee and for good reason. The burpee is a full-body exercise that requires strength, mobility and coordination and can enhance overall performance and fitness. While the burpee can be of benefit, it can just as quickly cause issues if it is executed incorrectly. When performed with proper technique, the burpee can be utilized anywhere and has many variations that will leave you with the good kind of soreness.
PROPER BURPEE TECHNIQUE
At its core, the burpee is a combination and transition between three exercises: a squat, push-up and jump. Before you can take advantage of the variations of the burpee, you must master the standard burpee. First, remember to engage your abs throughout the entire movement. Begin the movement by pushing your hips back and down while maintaining a flat back. When your hands hit the ground underneath your shoulders, kick both feet back and land in a proper push-up position with your shoulders, hips and ankles in a straight line. Perform a push-up, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and maintaining your body alignment. Jump your feet back underneath your hips and stand up with a flat back as you transition into a jump. Land softly with your hips back and knees in line with your feet and hips. That’s one rep!
COMMON BURPEE TECHNIQUE FLAWS
Any flaws in your burpee technique make it less effective and — even worse — possibly injurious. If you round your back as you sit into or come out of the squat or allow your hips to sag or rotate during the push-up, you’re placing your back at risk for injury. To fix this, try starting the burpee from an elevated surface, with both your hands on a bench or stair. As you feel more comfortable with your range of motion and core strength, you can progressively lower yourself to the floor. If you allow your knees to cave in or jut forward excessively during the jump and landing, you’re placing yourself at risk for ankle, knee or hip issues. Focus on keeping your knees out above your ankles/toes and landing softly by pressing your hips back with knees bent.
The following burpee variations utilize a different push-up with each burpee. Different push-up variations increase demand on the core, the stability of the shoulders and the strength of the chest and upper back. By removing or shifting an arm or leg, the core works overtime to keep the hips level and the spine neutral. Also, by placing more emphasis on one limb, working in a different direction or being more explosive, the following variations will build more strength and power in your entire body.
PUSH-UP JACK BURPEE
Begin as you would with a standard burpee. As you descend into the push-up, spread your legs like you are performing a jumping jack, making sure to keep your hips from sagging. Press yourself back up as you bring your legs back to center. Finish the exercise as you would a standard burpee by bringing your feet back underneath your shoulders and jumping explosively upwards. Land soft with your hips back before you go into the next repetition.
Start by performing a regular burpee, but as you descend into the push-up bring your right knee toward your right elbow without letting your hips sag or rotate. Press yourself back up as you bring your leg back to the starting position. Finish the exercise as you would a standard burpee. Alternate legs with each rep, making sure to hit both legs the same number of times.
RENEGADE ROW BURPEE
Begin standing, then press your hips down and back as you drop your hands straight beneath your shoulders. Kick your feet back into the push-up position with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart. Perform a proper, classic push-up. When you get back to the top position, lift one hand off the ground and row the arm back, making sure your shoulder blade moves toward your spine and your elbow does not go higher than your back. Make sure to keep the hips from sagging or rotating as you row by keeping the core engaged. Finish the exercise as you would a standard burpee, switching arms on each row. You can perform this variation with or without a dumbbell in each hand.
PIKE PUSH-UP BURPEE
Start with a regular burpee, but when you get back to the top of the push-up, pike your hips up and back toward the ceiling, focusing on keeping your back straight. Imagine pushing the floor away as you allow your shoulder blades to come up toward your ears. Keep your eyes looking in between your feet and your chin tucked as you pike. Return to the starting position of the push-up. Finish the exercise as you would a standard burpee.
SINGLE-LEG PUSH-UP BURPEE
For this variation, when you first jump back into a push-up, lift one foot about six inches off the ground, keeping your core engaged to prevent your hips from sagging or rotating and the lower back from arching. Descend into the push-up without allowing your alignment to change or your weight to shift. Return to the top of the push-up and put your foot back down before your complete the burpee. Alternate legs with each rep.
Go through the standard burpee first steps. When you get to the top position of the push-up, perform a mountain climber, alternating the legs twice per side. Keep the hips flat and keep them from sagging or rotating by keeping the core engaged. Return to the start position of the push-up before completing the burpee.
Go through the standard first steps all the way through performing a proper, classic push-up. When you get back to the top position, lift one hand and rotate your hips and shoulder into a side plank, raising your top hand to the ceiling so that your body is in a T shape. Make sure to keep your core engaged to prevent the hips from sagging. Rotate back to the push-up position before rotating to the other side. Complete a standard burpee, alternating sides for your plank with each rep.
POWER PUSH-UP BURPEE
This variation is almost identical to a standard burpee, but instead of coming back to a squat after the push-up, you’ll push yourself up from the floor as explosively as possible, leaving the ground as you simultaneously bring your feet back under your hips. Note: This is a very advanced variation and requires an adequate amount of strength and power to complete. It may not be right for you — yet — but if you want to give it a try, consider elevating your hands to start.
These next few burpee variations employ a different jump with each one. Jump variations create a different stress on the lower body, requiring the muscles that control the hips, knees and ankles to do more work. By jumping in different directions and utilizing only one leg (depending on the variation), you will be working on strength, power and stability in different planes of motion, which will enhance overall performance.
Complete a burpee all the way through the push-up. Then bring your feet back under the hips and jump up as explosively as possible as you tuck your knees in toward your chest. Make sure to land softly with your hips back and knees out before you go into the next rep.
Again, you’ll complete a burpee up through the push-up. Next, bring the feet back under the hips and jump up as you rotate your body 180 degrees in one direction so you land facing the opposite way. Land softly with your hips back and knees out before you go into the next rep, where you’ll rotate the opposite direction from the previous rep 180 degrees. Continue to alternate directions with each rep.
For this jump variation, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of space. Perform a standard burpee, but when you jump, go forward, covering as much distance as possible. Land softly with your hips back and knees a little more bent than usual before you go into the next rep. If you don’t have a long runway, you can turn to face the other direction with each rep.
SINGLE-LEG JUMP BURPEE
Perform the burpee as you did with the single-leg push-up burpee from the previous slide. But this time you’ll jump back into the push-up position with only one leg in addition to performing a one-legged burpee. Make sure to keep the hips back and the knee soft during the landing. Focus on not allowing the knee of the working leg to cave in toward the big toe at any point during the movement.
You can also incorporate equipment into your burpee reps to create some variety as well as increase the intensity. While there are numerous pieces of equipment that can be thrown into the mix, you’ll want to keep safety and stability as your first goals.
Perform the burpee as you normally would with a plyometric box about a foot in front of you. When you get to the jumping portion of the burpee, explosively jump onto the box, landing softly with your hips back and your knees out. Step off the box and repeat. Note: Make sure that you can complete a standard box jump with the box you are using before performing a box-jump burpee. To increase the intensity of the exercise, you can jump back off the box as long as you make sure you land softly and with good technique.
For the weighted burpee, you’re applying more resistance to the standard burpee, which increases the challenge. The best way to do so is with a weight vest. Don’t overload the movement with a large amount of weight. For most individuals, 10 to 30 pounds of extra resistance will be sufficient. The safety of your joints is paramount here. Make sure that you are not sacrificing technique for extra resistance and that you are still able to be explosive throughout the entire movement, especially the jump portion.
Using a medicine ball, perform a regular burpee holding the ball. Perform the push-up of the exercise with your hands on the ball. This will increase the demand on the core as well as the shoulders. During the jump, you will have two options. Option 1: Jump as you would with a regular burpee, bringing the ball overhead. Option 2: Do not jump but instead explosively “fake toss” the ball towards the sky (i.e., do not let go of the ball). Both options provide an additional challenge to the core as you work to prevent your lower back from arching as the ball goes overhead. If you really want to take it up a notch, try performing a slam between each rep.