When it comes to health and fitness, there really are no true shortcuts. Oh, plenty of people try to find them, and usually they’re either ineffective, unhealthy, or both.
But the truth is, if you want to reach your fitness goals — whether that’s losing weight, building muscle, or becoming the world’s next great finger jouster (yeah, that’s a sport apparently) — it’s going to take dedication and hard work.
Now, even though there are no shortcuts in fitness, that’s not to say there aren’t strategies for optimizing your time. After all, what is the number one excuse people have for not getting in shape? That’s right … tacos.
No, just kidding. It’s not having enough time. Tacos are probably up there though. So, the question becomes, how can you get the most out of your workout in the shortest amount of time?
Option #1: Exercise as fast as possible, no matter how much you look like a fish out of water
Option #2: Take over a spin class
Option #3: Do exercises that utilize the whole body
As you probably guessed, the best answer is Option #3, performing exercises that activates the entire body. The other two, we’ll gently set aside for a rainy day, then hope it never rains again. And we’ve got an exercise that not only activates most of your body in one way or another, but it can be done without having to use one piece of gym equipment.
We’re talking about burpees. This oddly named exercise has got it all: it tests your strength, endurance, coordination, and willingness to resist curling up in a ball when you’re done with them.
The creation of the burpee is credited to Royal H. Burpee, an American psychologist. Developed in 1939 and originally called squat thrusts, they were intended to test a subject’s agility and coordination. The original maneuver (and the basis for its many variations) was performed like this:
- Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you
- Jump feet back into plank position
- Jump feet forward
- Return to standing
And by WWII, the military required a 20-second test of the exercise for all men hoping to enlist. By 1946, it was a one-minute test, with 41 burpees considered excellent.
If you’ve served any time in the armed forces, you’re probably all too familiar with them. And same goes for just about anyone that played high school or college sports and showed up late to practice. You’ll also see people cranking them out every now and then at gyms or fitness centers.
Well, as we stated, the best part about burpees is that they will work out your entire body in just about every way. Yes, there are different variations which we’ll cover in a minute, but you’re going to get a full workout in less time, no matter your particular method.
And what do we mean by full workout? We mean you’re working your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, calves, chest, shoulders, and arms. You’re also going to be building your endurance, and without needing to dedicate big chunks of your workout to boring cardio.
And, as we mentioned, you increase your balance and coordination as well. So when we say “complete workout,” we mean it! Plus, like most bodyweight exercises, they can be done anywhere — living room, backyard, beach — pick your poison.
Let’s say you’ve reached the end of your workout, and you’ve either got a surplus of time or energy. Burpees are a great way to put an exclamation point on your workout. They’re going to work every part of your body and leave you feeling completely drained. That’s why they’re the exercise that everyone loves to hate — they’re equal parts effective and exhausting.
Apparently Dr. Burpee took umbrage with his exercise being performed at such high volumes. But there are a lot of different forms of the burpee to choose from, and you can take them slowly and build up the reps if you’re a beginner. We’re going to take the original formula and build from there.
Most burpees these days include a push-up after your feet kick out to the plank position. If you are just beginning, you may want to opt out of this part until you’ve got more practice.
1) Standard Burpee
To perform the standard burpee, squat down and place your hands on the ground. Kick your feet straight out behind you into plank position (you can perform a push-up here if you’re ready), and on the return to start, jump straight up with your hands in the air.
2) Travelling Burpee
This variation is slightly different from the standard in that you’re jumping forward on the return to start position. So make sure you have some space in front of you.
3) Burpee Jack
Love jumping jacks? Well then try this jumping jack/burpee hybrid. When you kick your legs back to the plank position, kick them outward as you would a standard jumping jack. Then, on the jump return to start, clap your hands above your head.
4) One-Legged Burpee
In this variation, you’ll be isolating each leg throughout the entire exercise. You don’t need to perform a full pistol squat for this (though if you can, go for it!). Simply drop down, perform the push-up, and on the return to start, explode through the one leg. Switch legs after 5-8 reps.
5) Mountain Climber Burpee
You’re really going to be working your core with this one. When you lower for the push-up portion, bring your left knee up to your left elbow. Return to start and repeat with your right knee.
6) Tuck Jump Burpee
This one is going to get you tired fast. It’s a standard burpee, except on your jump, pull your legs into your chest. Remember to breathe!
7) Burpee with Clap Push-Up
If you’re feeling like you’d like to challenge your upper body more, try adding a clap push-up to the mix. That’ll kick your burpees into overdrive!
8) Burpee Pull-Up
You’ll need a pull-up bar for this variation. It’s a standard burpee until the end, when instead of jumping to the start position, you grab the pull-up bar and perform one rep. Let go and land safely on the ground.
9) Side Arm Balance Burpee
For an extra emphasis on your shoulders, try turning and balancing on each arm following the push-up. This will not only improve shoulder strength, but adds another element of balance to the mix.
10) Burpee Back Tuck
OK, so this one is obviously pretty advanced. That’s why it’s on our list of 100 hardest bodyweight exercises of all time. Here, a standard burpee is performed, but since apparently a standard jump is too dull, a backflip is added.
11) Special Burpees
Speaking of advanced, these are called special because they take a special kind of athlete to handle them. The push-up is a flying press-up, and when you get back on your feet, you perform alternating forward lunges before returning to start.
IMPORTANT: Burpees are some of the most exhaustive bodyweight workouts there are, so make sure to stay within your experience level. And of course, don’t neglect technique. Make sure you’re not hunching forward as you drop down and keep your back straight during the push-ups. Lower yourself on the push-up until your chest touches the ground. And no resting between movements. Constant movement is what will build your strength and endurance.
There are plenty more variations out there, so if there’s another kind of burpee you think we should know about, please let us know in the comments!