The burpees exercise is definitely not for the faint-hearted. This bodyweight exercise combines several movements into one compound movement that works many muscles at the same time. But exactly what do burpees work out?
Anyone who has ever tried a burpee will tell you that the exercise pushes not only your muscles but your entire will to exercise. Even though the exercise has a wide range of benefits that cannot be overlooked, it’s a no brainer that to perform the burpee, you need to summon all your determination and strength.
Before we get into discussing the burpees muscles worked, how about we take you through an easy guide on what a burpee really is?
How To Do Burpees?
A burpee can be simply described as a push-up followed by a jump squat (8). To perform the exercise:
- Start in a squat position with your knees bent. Your back should be straight, and your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Lower your hands to the floor in front of you so that they are just inside your feet.
- With your weight on your hands, kick your feet back so that you are on your hands and toes and in a push-up position.
- While keeping your body straight from head to heels, do one push-up. Do not let your back sag or stick your butt in the air.
- Do a frog kick by jumping your feet back to their starting position.
- Stand and reach your arms over your head.
- Jump quickly so that you can land back where you started.
- As soon as you land with your knees bent, get into a squat position, and do another repetition.
To get your heart and lungs working, try to complete several reps quickly.
The above directions are for the standard burpee. However, there are many other modified burpee variations. For example, you could:
- add a push-up while in the plank position
- add a plank jack while in the plank position
- add a tuck jump while in the standing position
Whatever type of burpee variation you choose, the most important thing is to ensure that you maintain the proper form. Another trick to nailing the burpee is to perform it as quickly as possible. This way, you may find yourself getting breathless and sweaty after only 10 reps.
Now, onto the nitty-gritty, exactly what muscles do burpees work?
Read More: How Many Calories Do Burpees Burn? The Most Efficient Workout Move Explained
What Do Burpees Work?
Burpees is a challenging exercise that works many of the major muscle groups in the body. As described above, a burpee is essentially a two-part exercise: a push-up followed by a leap in the air.
It’s common to find yourself asking ‘what do burpees work?’. Besides, this is not an easy exercise, and you need to know what you will be getting from performing such a tasking full-body move. Luckily, the burpee is an incredible strength-building exercise worth its salt.
Burpees Challenge Multiple Muscle Groups And Joints
When you kick your feet back to plank at the beginning of the exercise, you use the following muscles:
- Erector spinae to extend the thoracic and lumbar spine
- Iliopsoas, tensor fasciae latae, and rectus femoris to extend the hips
- Quadriceps to extend the knees
- Calf muscles, including both the gastrocnemius and soleus to achieve plantar flexion of the ankle
When you jump your feet back, the muscles exercised are:
- Rectus abdominis and obliques to flex the thoracic and lumbar spine
- Gluteus maximus and your hamstrings to flex the hips
In the push-up phase of the burpee, the main muscle activated is the pectoralis major. Other muscles that assist in the exercise include the triceps brachii and the anterior deltoids. Apart from the muscles that create the movement, several muscles are activated to help stabilize your joints and body, including the biceps brachii and your quadriceps.
The Following Muscles In Your Torso Also Work To Keep Your Body Straight During The Movement:
- Erector spinae
- Rectus abdominis
During the exercise’s jump phase, you focus on muscles in the lower body, targeting many of the same muscles targeted in the initial phase when you jump back to plank. These include:
- Extending the thoracic and lumbar spine with the erector spinae muscles
- Extending the hips with the glutes and hamstrings
- Extending the knees with the quadriceps
- Achieving plantar flexion of the ankle with the gastrocnemius and soleus
When you jump, you swing your arms up and reach above you. This also targets movements in the shoulder and upper back, including shoulder flexion and abduction, or moving the arms out and up, using the deltoids, pectoralis major, and biceps brachii. You also elevate the scapula when you flex the shoulder, which utilizes the middle and upper trapezius muscle and the levator scapulae muscle in your upper back. With shoulder abduction and flexion, there is also protraction and upward rotation of the scapula using the serratus anterior, along with the trapezius muscles.
What Body Parts Do Burpees Work?
In summary, the movement works the following parts of your body:
- Your upper and lower legs: quads, hamstrings, and calves.
- Your butt: hip flexors and glutes
- Your lower and upper back: erector spinae and lats (latissimus)
- Upper body: chest and shoulders
What Muscles Do Frogger Burpees Work?
Frogger burpees mainly work your abs and butt. To do the Frogger:
- Stand with your legs wider than hip-width apart, knees bent, and upper body pitched slightly forward.
- Place your hands on the ground in front of you, then jump your straight legs back into a high plank. Ensure that you land softly on your toes.
- Jump your feet back and bring your hands toward your chest to return to the starting position.
This is 1 rep. While starting out, do 8 reps, then progress up to 20 as you get stronger. Start with 1 set and do up to 5.
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What Muscles Do Reverse Burpees Work?
The reverse burpee is a calisthenics exercise that primarily targets the shoulders and to a lesser degree also targets the chest, middle back, quads, triceps, glutes, and hamstrings. To do the reverse burpee:
- Stand with your feet just outside shoulder-width apart.
- Begin the exercise by squatting down partially.
- Lean forward with your arms out in front of you.
- Place your hands on the ground just outside shoulder-width apart (just as if you were going to do a push-up).
- Assume the standard push-up position with your body in a straight line.
- Drop your chest and body down to the ground by bending at your elbows.
- Reverse movement back to starting position by pushing yourself back up out of the push-up position.
Burpees are a full-body calisthenics workout that focuses on building muscle strength. The exercise improves strength and endurance as part of a regular workout routine and may have other benefits.
For example, in a 2014 community-based study, scientists found that bodyweight exercises, such as burpees, reduced blood pressure in healthy adult women significantly (3). And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of this exercise.
Burpees are a great strength-building exercise, but they can also be performed as part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) regimen. HIIT focuses on bursts of intense exercise alternated with periods of recovery (9, 6). The benefits of HIIT have been extensively studied for a variety of conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart health. In fact, in one study, researchers found that HIIT could positively impact mitochondrial function and fiber type in muscle cells (10).
A study in PLoS One found that participants who did a total of 30 minutes of high-intensity interval exercise each week improved their fitness and muscle function just as much as participants who did 150 minutes of steady, moderate-intensity exercise each week (15). Furthermore, vigorous exercises like burpees may also decrease your risk of early death, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine study (4).
Here are some more benefits of burpees that will convince you to stop whining and just do the exercise!
Convenient And Versatile
Unlike many other exercises, you do not need any equipment to do burpees. All you need is some space and motivation. Even if you live in a small apartment, you can still manage to do the exercise. When it comes to versatility, you can easily make some modifications to the standard burpee if you want to. You can include extra weights, or even add an extra push-up or jump to the move. It’s all up to you!
Burns An Impressive Amount Of Calories
Most people can do about 20 burpees in a minute. A 155-pound person, for example, can burn around 250 calories by doing burpees for 20 minutes.
Offers A Full-Body Workout
Burpees are a calisthenics exercise. This means they use your body weight for resistance. Calisthenics are defined as exercises that don’t really rely on anything but a person’s own body weight. These kinds of exercises are performed with differing levels of intensity and rhythm. Sometimes they are done with light handheld tools like rings and wands.
These exercises allow for the development of strength, endurance, flexibility, and coordination.
Calisthenics was developed in ancient Greece and became popular again in the early 19th century. Today, athletes, military personnel, law enforcement officers, and people trying to keep in shape use these exercises to warm up for strenuous sports or help build up their bodies.
Scientists are also now studying the use of calisthenics to help treat various health conditions, from obesity to COPD (1,5).
With burpees, the focus is on a full-body calisthenics workout whose aim is to build muscle strength and endurance in both your lower and upper body. A standard burpee exercise works to strengthen the muscles in your legs, hips, buttocks, abdomen, arms, chest, and shoulders. Isolation exercises like dumbbell curls and crunches don’t allow your body to work in the way it is designed to do.
Full-body exercises, on the other hand, work for many muscle groups at once. Full-body exercises like the burpee allow all of the major muscle groups in your body to work together, which is exactly what they have to do in real life. This means that you are actually training your body to meet everyday challenges more naturally and realistically by doing such exercise.
Improves Your Endurance
The better your endurance is, the better prepared you are to deal with periods of prolonged stress. Burpees are a wonderful method for improving endurance. This is because they give you a cardio challenge and the strength-building aspect that is essential to enhancing endurance. When you include burpees in your fitness routine, the chances are that you will see your performance increase in other areas, like your ability to run long distances, as well.
Read More: Why Am I Not Getting Stronger: Reasons And Proven Ways To Bust Those Plateaus
Boosts Cardio Fitness And Burns Fat
Burpees can be performed as part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) regimen, a type of cardio workout that requires you to do short bursts of intense exercise, followed by a short rest period.
Past research has shown that HIIT may be an effective way of burning body fat, especially around the abdomen and stomach area (13, 14). Furthermore, according to a study done in 2015, researchers found that doing more vigorous forms of exercise seemed to be associated with living a longer life (4).
Apart from burning fat, including burpees in your workout routine can also help you enjoy many other cardio benefits, such as (3):
- stronger heart and lungs
- improved blood flow
- lower risk of heart disease and diabetes
- lower blood pressure
- improved cholesterol levels
- improved brain function
There are many variations of the movement, depending on whether you want to make it easier or more challenging (if this is you, kudos, by the way!).
How To Make It Easier?
If the standard burpee is too challenging for you at first, you can make some adjustments to make it a bit easier. Some of the variations you can add to the movement include:
- Start with a squat thrust. This movement starts out just like a burpee, but instead of doing a push-up and then jumping up, you begin in a squatting position, kick your legs back so that you are in a push-up position, and then return to your starting stance.
- Skip the jump. Instead of jumping into the air after the push-up, just return to the squat position.
- Skip the push-up. If your chest muscles or shoulders are not yet ready for push-ups, hold the plank position for a couple of seconds instead of doing a push-up. You could also do a partial push up until you build up more strength.
How To Make It More Challenging?
To make the exercise more challenging, you could try the following variations.
Burpee With Dumbbells
- Start in a squat position holding a 5-pound dumbbell in each of your hands.
- Lower yourself to the ground, with the dumbbells beneath your shoulders.
- Hold onto the dumbbells while you do the push-up.
- Instead of jumping, stand and raise both dumbbells above your head.
- Lower the dumbbells to your side and return to the starting position.
- If you want to challenge yourself even more, jump while holding the dumbbells. Only do this if you can easily control the weights.
Burpee Box Jump
For this one, you will need a plyo box or a bench, or any other solid object that will support your weight. For this one, follow these steps:
- Stand in front of the box in your usual squat position. However, instead of dropping down to the floor for a push-up, place your hands on the box or bench, and do a modified push-up.
- Instead of jumping into the air, jump on the box instead.
- Land gently on the floor, with your knees bent.
- Move straight into the next repetition.
Burpee With A Bosu Ball
For this variation, you will use a Bosu ball with the flat side up.
- Start in a squat position with your knees bent, holding the outer edges of the Bosu ball.
- Lower your hands to the floor, still holding the Bosu ball.
- Place the Bosu ball directly beneath you, and place your hands on the flat surface while you do a push-up.
- Grab the opposite edges of the Bosu ball and lift it above your head as you stand straight up.
- Lower it to the floor and repeat
Safety Tips While Performing Burpees
- As it is with any exercise, start slowly and do a few reps at first. After you get used to the move and can do it easily with no pain, try adding more reps.
- Try to work up to doing 8 or 10 reps in a row before pausing, then doing another set.
- Because you need to do a push-up, burpees can put extra stress on your wrists and shoulders. As such, be careful not to do the movement so fast that you twist your wrist when you land.
- Before you start making modifications to the exercise (by adding weights etc.), make sure you have the basic components of the exercise down.
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Tips On The Correct Burpee Form
Use this guide to performing burpees the right way:
- Do a thorough warm-up before you begin the exercise. Also, do some mobility work such as press-ups, lunges, and squats to loosen up the joints before actually doing the burpee.
- Split the move into two parts: a squat thrust and a deep squat jump. Ensure that you are comfortable with each phase of the exercise before you combine the two.
- For the squat thrust, ensure that your shoulders are directly over your hands and that your legs are extended into a press-up position.
- When jumping your feet in and out, keep your shoulders above your hands. Do not let them move backward or forwards.
- For the deep squat, ensure that your hips are sitting back and try to keep your chest as upright as possible. Ensure that you cushion your landing by bending your knees as you make contact with the floor.
- As you transition from the squat thrust to the squat jump, swing your arms forwards and above your head for maximum height.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Doing The Burpee
- Skipping steps. Apply the correct level of intensity to the burpee at all times to ensure that you reap all the benefits of the move.
- Arching your back. This negates the burpee’s positive effects on the abs while also risking injury. Ensure your shoulders are parallel to your wrists, keep your core contracted and engaged, and your back straight, neutrally aligned with your glutes.
- Doing more reps for days. Doing more reps does not necessarily correspond to a successful workout. Just focus on getting the technique right.
How Many Calories Do Burpees Burn?
The number of calories burned during any exercise varies with weight, intensity, and other factors. For the burpee, you can burn roughly 160 calories doing 17 minutes of the exercise.
This can be broken down as follows:
- About 9.4 calories are burned for every minute of burpees performed.
- It takes most people around 3 seconds to do a single burpee.
- Three seconds per burpee equals 20 burpees per minute, depending on speed and frequency.
It takes roughly 20 burpees to burn around 10 calories. However, weight can affect the number of calories burned during exercise as well.
According to Harvard Medical School, when performing 30 minutes of vigorous calisthenics:
- A 155-pound person will burn about 1.25 times more calories than a 125-pound person.
- A 185-pound person will burn about 1.5 times more calories than a 125-pound person (3).
Thus, the average person can burn anywhere from 10 to 15 calories for every 20 burpees.
How Many Burpees Should You Do?
Do you really need to do 100 burpees a day to reap the benefits of the move? To be honest, not really.
As mentioned above, burpees are a calisthenics move, so it’s important to take your time and perform them in proper form to avoid injury rather than focus on how many burpees you can do.
The Bottom Line
The answer to the ‘what do burpees work?’ question is a rather complex one, as the move is a full-body calisthenics workout that focuses on building muscle strength. As such, it works with various parts of your body simultaneously. Full-body exercises like the burpee allow all of the major muscle groups in your body to work together, which is exactly what they have to do in real life. This is why the burpee is one move you should definitely add to your workout routine. Besides this, the move also has more benefits, such as burning fat and boosting cardio fitness.