For me, it’s the Spartan Race at Fenway Park in mid-November. I’m looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time.
Why? For most of this year, I’ve dealt with minor injuries and tweaks that I’ve had to structure my training around. They weren’t major pains, but enough to have to modify and scale back workouts: a hip flexor micro-tear, a hamstring pull and rotator cuff tweak. I anticipate having to do many burpees in a few weeks.
In prep for all the burpees I can handle (thanks to having to tap out from a few obstacles) I’ve tried several different variations of this OCR training staple.
I started with the July issue of Mud & Obstacle magazine in which I wrote an article on the burpee. (Ironically, I wrote the article weeks before hurting my hip flexor.)
Here are 9, starting with the standard burpee. Some are regressions — good for beginners or anyone recovering from a minor hip or leg injury. Some are modifications that will make sure you’re not working your muscles the same way every time, hopefully preventing injury from overuse. Others are progressions from the traditional burpee to keep you challenged.
As much as possible, I tried to include a photo or short video of each iteration.
1. The Standard Bread & Butter Burpee
Many of us have a distinct definition for the standard burpee.
Some say it includes both a push-up and jump, some a straight-arm plank and jump, some a straight arm plank to stand with no jump.
For the purpose of this post and the Spartan masochists, the standard burpee involves BOTH a push-up and a jump. Here’s how to do it right:
- Stand tall, squeeze your abs and glutes.
- Squat as low as you can while keeping your back straight and reach your hands in front of you to touch the ground.
- Kick your feet back so that you are in a straight-arm plank. Remember to keep your abs and glutes engaged.
- Do a push-up.
- Tuck your knees back in so you are in a low squat like you were in step 2.
- Jump and land strong with your knees soft.
For those of us who are more visual learners, here are burpees in picture and video format.
The Burpee In Slow-Mo
A short one-minute video.
The Burpee in Real Time
A 20-second demo.
In training jargon, a regression is a fancy way of saying modifications for beginners, those post-recovery from injury or anyone else otherwise unable to do the standard form of an exercise.
We already touched on some of the common regressions:
2. Burpees without push-up
Sounds straight forward enough, right? Instead of doing a push-up, you get into a straight arm plank, tuck your knees back into a low squat, and jump.
3. Burpees without push-up and jump
Again, pretty self-explanatory. Instead of all six steps for the standard burpee, you omit step 4 – the push up – and instead of step 6 – jump – you stand tall.
4. Burpees without push-up and jump and walk-out instead of knee-tuck
This video shows the traditional burpee (with tuck, push-up, and jump) and modified version with a walk-out instead of knee tuck.
After thinking about the walk-out burpee and playing around with it as my hip flexor improved, I realized this variation reminded me of yoga sun salutations.
5. Sun Salutations: The Burpee in Disguise
Although it wasn’t planned by the pioneers of yoga, sun salutations are a very good way to train for traditional and advanced burpees.
Rather than focusing on the quickness and explosiveness of the move, you are emphasizing the flexibility and mobility aspects of the movement. You’re also mindfully engaging your breath with each segment of the asana.
Here’s a video on how to do it right – you can fast-forward to the 0:32 mark for instruction and probably hit stop around the first-minute mark. (The pond – or lake if you are from the West Coast – in the background is optional.)
The great thing about the sun salutation is that it can be both a movement prep and recovery from burpees.
If you’re a beginner or recovering from a leg injury, the sun salutation will strengthen and stretch your arms, legs, abs — your total body — in efforts to work up to a standard burpee. And if you feel a little sore from a burpee challenge, you can stretch out all the muscles you engaged with a few cycles of sun salutations.
Burpee Modifications & Progressions
On to modifications and progressions. Like I mentioned earlier, modifications are slight variations of the traditional exercise that will help you train similar muscles at a different angle, helping prevent injury from overuse while keeping you challenged. Progressions are advanced varieties of an exercise.
6. Side Crunch to Burpee
The side crunch to burpee is an intermediate-level progression to the standard. It still works your total body, and the added side crunch especially targets your abs, particularly the muscle fibers in your lower abdominals and obliques.
Here’s a 35-second video on how to do a Side Crunch to Burpee:
7. Burpees with Side Jumps Over a Hurdle
Burpees with side jumps can be a great way to liven up the traditional iteration and work on lateral agility.
To make burpees with side jumps a little more challenging, you can try leaping over a low-height barrier like a short cone, hurdle, stack of books or in the case of the 20-second video below, the bar to a barbell set.
But please, put on some training shoes.
8. Leapfrog Burpees
(i.e. with bounding) (advanced)
The Leapfrog Burpee, like the side-to-side jump variety, adds a fun tweak.
Instead of jumping straight up at the end, you leap forward into a squat and then do the other steps: plank, push up and squat followed by a leap and repeat. This progression helps you work on speed as well as total body power.
Check out this 13-second demo.
9. Burpees with Pull-ups
If you struggle with a pull-up this progression is one to work up to. If you this is you, mystep by step guide to doing a pull-up may help.
But if you can crank out a few pull-ups with no problem, try this variation. The steps are similar to a regular burpee, but on the jump, you reach up and hold onto a sturdy bar for a pull-up. Then you land strong on your feet and repeat the burpee sequence.
This may sound harder than it actually is. If you can do several pull-ups, the first few reps of these burpees may actually be easier than pull-ups all by themselves. You have some momentum from the jump that will help you haul yourself up. But after the first few reps, don’t be surprised if fatigue sets in quickly! This is a challenging total body exercise that works just about every single muscle fiber in your body.
Check out this one-minute video of a CrossFit class segment where participants do burpees with pull-ups. Get inspired by everyone of all shapes, ages and fitness levels doing full on burpees with pull-ups as well as modifications.
So there you have 9 different variations to try next time you have burpees planned for your training routine. Go get it!
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