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You’re Doing Burpees Totally Wrong
It’s the workout move you love to hate—but are you even doing burpees the right way? Check out these common mistakes (and fast fixes).
Burpees: a two-syllable word that inspires dread in most fitness enthusiasts’ hearts. The notorious exercise move has become synonymous with hard AF workouts, sweat-dripping cross-training bootcamps, and instructors who are more like drill sergeants.
Whether your relationship with burpees is “love to hate ’em” or “hate to love ’em,” chances are your form could use some corrections—and those small adjustments might help you get way more out of the move. These are the most common mistakes a top fitness trainer sees clients making with burpees and her tips on doing a burpee the right way.
Benefits of Burpees
If you’re wondering why people willingly torture themselves with high-impact moves like burpees in their routines in the first place, it’s the total-body aspect, says Courtney Belcastro, a Chicago HIIT instructor and boxing trainer who’s known for her burpee-heavy workouts.
Burpees are a complex move involving a plank, a push-up, a thruster and a jump, so they work pretty much every major muscle group you can think of. At the same time, burpees drive up your heart rate and improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance, leading to a higher calorie burn. “You realize that the intensity of the movement has you immediately feeling your heart pumping. The cardiovascular benefits are pretty instant—but it also works almost every muscle in your body,” she says.
In addition to the physical benefits of doing burpees the right way, Belcastro thinks the mental benefits of the move are equally important. “For some reason, burpees intimidate people and they doubt their ability to complete the reps,” she says. “So when you finally work up the strength and courage to include burpees in your workout, it builds confidence in what your body can do. There’s something about the mental feat of burpees that just makes you tougher and more powerful in the end.” The attitude boost experienced exercisers gets from burpees is similar to the emotional lift that exercise provides when sedentary people get off the couch and move.
Common Burpee Mistakes
“Unfortunately, I see a ton of clients make mistakes with form, which is why burpees can be controversial,” says Belcastro. “I see arched backs, uneven wrists, hard landings as people hop in and out and a total lack of body control throughout the movement.”
The main problem with burpees comes when people prioritize the speed of the movement over proper core engagement. That raises injury risk (your core stabilizes and protects your back) and also means you’re not strengthening an entire muscle group. Sure, the goal of a burpee is to get down to the floor and then up into a jump as quickly as possible, but if your movements are so loose that you’re flopping to the ground in a puddle of limbs, you’re not really reaping the benefits.
Other burpee errors, like landing on unevenly positioned wrists, can put pressure on your arms and shoulders. And if you hop in and out from the squat position without properly tucking your hips under and engaging your glutes, your lower back is vulnerable to strains.
Doing a Burpee Right
“For such a famous move, it’s surprising how few people know the proper form,” says Belcastro. The three keys: core engagement, a long spine and soft landing. “On the way down, your hips should ‘hinge’ back, keeping your core tight and your spine long, eliminating any arch in your back,” she says.
Next, wrists should stack directly under the shoulders as you hop or step back into a plank. Remove any arch from your back in the plank position and engage your abs so that the small of your back is perfectly flat. Keep those cross-training leggings in one long, straight line—no bending your knees. Engage your core as you complete a push-up, either on your toes or on your knees.
After the push-up, gently hop or step your shoes to the outside of your hands. “The focus whenever hopping or jumping should be landing softly on the balls of your feet, to avoid that harsh impact on your joints,” Belcastro says.
Finally, stand up or go directly into a jump squat—bonus points if you can hit a tuck jump and land quietly without your shoes making a sound. Throughout the entire movement, focus on control. “It’s easy to get caught up in the intensity of the class or workout, but take the time to break down the movement and only do the reps you feel that you can perform safely,” says Belcastro.
Best Burpee Modifications
The next time you do a burpee, check that you are maintaining the level of control necessary to do the move the right way. If you are flopping around like you’re hitting The Worm on a dance floor, you need to break it down, go slower and consider making a few modifications to keep your form on point and protect yourself from injury.
“My favorite modification is performing the exercise off of an elevated surface, like a bench or low box,” says Belcastro. “You can do the push-up part with your hands on the bench or box, and your low back will be protected as you hop or step your feet in and out.” As you do this, make sure to keep your hips tucked and your neck neutral (imagine it as an elongation of your spine).
If you have knee or lower back issues, consider taking the plyometric hop or jump out of the burpee entirely. “Stepping instead of hopping lessens the impact. It may slow down the pace for the cardiovascular benefit, but it will help you perfect the move without causing any injury,” Belcastro advises.
Now that you know the right way to do a burpee, go ahead—drop and give us 10.