The burpee. It's the humble, almost silly sounding exercise that, in reality, is one of the most effective and most efficient, but also the most feared moves, in all of fitness. A punishing full-body exercise that everyone from pro athletes and CrossFit addicts to elite military forces swear by. Here's why: the high-intensity combination involves strength training, endurance building and fat burning in one relatively simple maneuver. It fires up many large muscle groups throughout your whole body—from your glutes and quads to your abs, chest and shoulders. And they're all engaged in a very intense, very kinetic way simultaneously.
Best of all, it requires nothing but sheer will and determination. Invented in 1939 by physiologist Royal H. Burpee as a way of testing one's fitness levels, he used the exercise as his thesis for a doctorate from Columbia University. The military soon adopted it as part of its fitness test for men enlisting during World War II.
Over the past eight decades, the burpee has evolved into an intense multi-move exercise that delivers three times the benefits of standard moves like jumping jacks or pushups. And since they require a lot of energy and increase your respiration, you enjoy the "afterburner effect" long after you're finished, which continues revving your metabolism and burning calories.
There's something else too. You not only feel physically strong when you do them, but mentally powerful as well. Perhaps it's because they work the whole body, or simply because they are somewhat difficult to do, but you feel accomplished and ready to tackle anything when you're done. Plus, you don't need to do that many to see some real benefits. To get you started, here's how to master the gold standard, along with four worthy variations to work into your routine.
Bend at the knees, getting into a squat position with your hands on the floor in front of you, just outside of your feet.
Kick both feet back, assuming a pushup position.
Immediately jump your feet back to the starting squat position.
Explosively leap into the air, reaching your arms straight overhead.
Sounds fun, right? But the only thing fun about this variation is the name. Start by performing a standard burpee. Then once you're finished, jump up and rotate your body 180 degrees so that you are now facing the opposite direction. Then do another burpee rep and repeat your twisting jump, alternating directions each time so that you don't become dizzy.
Go through the standard burpee, all the way through performing a proper, classic pushup. Before you go onto the squat 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 formation). Keep your core engaged to prevent the hips from sagging. Rotate back to the pushup position before finishing the burpee. Alternate sides for your plank with each rep.
The Dead Man
Perform the standard burpee, but when you reach the down position of your pushup, lower yourself to the floor and extend your hands and arms in front of you so that your body is completely flat on the floor. Bring your arms back in, continue your pushup, and finish up the exercise like normal.
Start by performing a regular burpee, but as you descend into the pushup 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.
A Helpful Reminder
Intensive moves like a burpee are never easy, but some days they feel even harder than normal. It can be easy to get discouraged when that happens. Your body takes time to adjust to new exercises and often, outside factors like how much sleep you got or what you ate beforehand can change the way you react to an intense workout.