If you want to spike your heart rate, and fast, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better exercise than the classic burpee. The complex, jack-of-all-trades exercise squeezes a full-body workout into a few seconds—and Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso says there’s nothing else quite like it. However, if you’re going to design a burpee workout, or rather a burpee-inspired workout, you need to make sure that the session as a whole is well-rounded and safe. Luckily, Godso has years of experience in doing just that.
“Burpees are a full-body exercise that doesn’t require any equipment—meaning they’re your gym on the go,” says Godso. “They’re one of the most-used bodyweight exercises and are great for building both strength and cardiovascular endurance.” Of course, burpees really make you put in the work to reap all those amazing benefits, but Godso says that makes them even more rewarding. “If you have a love/hate relationship with them, you’re not alone, and confession: I hate them too. That’s why I love to mix them up and get creative and think about the individual sections of the burpee and what I’m gaining from each piece,” she adds.
“[Burpees] are one of the most-used bodyweight exercises and are great for building both strength and cardiovascular endurance.” —Kirsty Godso, Nike Master Trainer
Like Rome, the primo burpee form can’t be built in a day; instead, you’ll master the exercise over weeks, months, and years of practice—so you might as well get started now. Whether you’re a burpee virgin or an old pro, Godso has an iteration of the move that will make you stronger. Ahead, she breaks down burpee form step-by-step and runs through three fun variations you can work into your next full-body sweat session.
How to build a burpee from the ground up
A burpee has three levels—and Godso recommends mastering each one before you graduate to the next. “I think it’s so important to break this move down for a few reasons. One, so you understand the purpose of each part; two, so you do it correctly; and three, so you understand that burpees are actually accessible to all fitness levels,” she says.
Level 1: Start standing and squat down with your feet hips’ width distance to transition toward the ground. Plant your hands, and step both of your feet back into high plank position. Make sure your shoulders are stacked over your wrists and your back is flat. “The plank usually gets totally lost in the burpee when we’re going fast so I like to make a big point of it in this stage of the build,” says Godso. Repeat the motion in reverse, stepping your feet back to your hands and coming to standing.
Level 2: “Now that we’ve got that covered, your next step would be to practice jumping both feet back at the same time to plank position, and back in towards your hands… then squat to stand. Practice this a few times and if it feels right for you. Start adding that jump in at the top, arms reaching overhead as you jump away from the ground,” says Godso.
Level 3: Last but not least, you’ll need to add the push-up after the plank step of the burpee. To do so, “keep the hands where you’ve practiced them being in high plank and hit more of a tricep push-up [by having your] elbows graze your rib cage as you lower your body with control towards the ground,” says Godso. Engage your core and use a strong exhale to come back up.
You can also perform a wider push-up or a push-up on your knees, depending on what feels right for your body. “When you start adding in the push-up, that’s where you really get to develop your strength—a lot of the other parts of the burpee really torture our heart rate mostly,” says Godso. So keep that in mind.
How to do a push-up, the right way:
How to keep your body safe in every stage of the burpee
Like any workout move, burpees need to be respected. Otherwise, your body will put up a stop sign in the form of aches or even injuries. Fortunately, Godso has an approach to keep you healthy rep after rep. “Be a little more delicate with your burpees,” she says. “So often we see people body slamming the ground in their burpees rather than controlling and owning the push-up. I’d always rather my clients and anyone in my classes moved slower through a burpee but with perfect form.”
Rather than performing the whole exercise at a breakneck pace, Godso advises giving each level of burpee your love and attention as you perform the movement. “Think about the angles of your movements. Are you doing a good push-up? Is your bodyweight distributed in the right place? Are you landing your jumps with soft knees and using your squat to absorb some of the impact? Benching your ego in your burpee is a fast track way to getting better results and less potential injury,” says Godso.
3 burpee exercises to try for an extra-sweaty, heart-healthy HIIT session
Godso’s pretty famous for her many riffs on the original burpee. Before she dives into three difficult versions of the move, consider that you’re going to want to pair them with other workouts to truly make a safe and effective program. To state it more clearly, you should not do a full burpee workout—that’s a recipe for injury.
“A classic burpee keeps you in one plane of motion: sagittal,” says Godso. “That’s why it’s important when pairing other exercises with them to add in some frontal and transverse plane movements so you’re getting strong from all directions.” That means a workout with burpees could also include side lunges, lateral shuffles, 180-degree squat jumps, or lateral bear crawls. TL;DR: You should not spend your entire workout facing the same way. That said, let’s take a look at those burpee variations.
1. “Start standing then jump back into high plank position. Push off both feet at the same time to tuck your knees towards your chest (not your butt—it’s not a donkey kick) while you transfer your weight into your hands. You can lift your hips higher than your shoulders to give you more space and time to shoot the feet back into high plank, before jumping feet outside your hands and using this setup to power up and away from the ground into a tuck jump,” she coaches. Land as softly as you can with your feet outside your hips and complete the rest of your reps.
2. “Start standing and load your weight into your left foot. Drive sideways in a skater to your right, back to the left, then back to the right, and stay here. Landing on your right foot only, knee bent and with a slight hinge at the hips, keep your left foot off the ground. Jump back into a single leg plank (yes, with your left foot is still floating in the air), lower into a push-up, then jump back in to stand with the left foot is still not touching the ground. Drive off your right foot to the left in a skater and repeat on the other side,” says Godso. You can check out the move in the video below.
3. Start (as usual) by standing up then jump back into high plank position. Drive your left knee to your left elbow while your right foot pops off the ground and your right leg, still straight, lifts to hip height. “To get up here you need to keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists and transfer your bodyweight into your hands,” says Godso. “Quickly repeat on the other side, driving right knee to the right elbow while the left leg flies. If you can’t touch the knee all the way to the elbow that’s okay: Practice is key, and working on your hip mobility will help.” Land in your plank position, tuck both of your knees into your chest, and land in plank once more. Jump your feet outside your hands, come into your tuck jump, and land your feet just outside your hips with soft knees. Congrats, you’ve completed one rep.
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