Between the popularity of CrossFit, bootcamp and HIIT workouts, more fitness enthusiasts than ever are doing (and possibly dreading) burpees. There’s a good reason they’re so commonplace these days: They’re an efficient way to get your heart rate up. But because of their intensity, they’re also one of the hardest moves to master.
“Burpees tax our muscular and cardiovascular systems, but they also fatigue us,” explains Kari Woodall, owner of BLAZE. Why does that matter? “High fatigue can lead to poor form and possibly injury.” The best remedy for sloppy burpees that could hurt you, she says, is to give yourself form checkpoints to focus on along the way.
Here, five trainer-approved cues to up your burpee game:
FOCUS ON QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
“Too often, the burpee is looked at only for cardiovascular conditioning,” says Shana Verstegen, fitness director at Supreme Health and Fitness in Wisconsin. Most people are trying to do as many burpees as they can in a short period of time.
“In reality, the burpee was first created to monitor movement patterns during a fitness test in which only 4 reps were required,” Verstegen says. So one of the best ways to get better at them is to “take a deep breath, take your time and think about the individual parts to this complicated movement: a plank, a pushup, a squat and a jump.”
ROCK THE PLANK
“Check yourself at the beginning and end of the pushup,” Woodall recommends. “Is your body in a long line? Are your hips piked or is your pelvis dropping toward the floor? Stop for a second and do a slight hold to tighten your plank before you lower yourself down to the floor.”
It can help to think of the lowering portion of the pushup as a controlled crash versus a crash landing, she adds. “This sets you up for a powerful pushup to pop up off the floor. Stop again at the top of the pushup and make sure you’re rocking the plank again.”
PUSH THE FLOOR AWAY
When the going gets tough, people tend to sag into their plank and pushup, which can make it tough to generate enough energy to get back to the top of the burpee. “Pretend you are doing your burpees on a giant scale,” suggests Brian Nguyen, CEO of Elementally Strong. “You want the number on that scale to go up and stay up when your hands and feet touch the floor.”
The reasoning behind this is simple. By pushing the floor away, you create extra tension. “Remember, for every action there is an opposite reaction,” Nguyen says. “So when you push the floor harder, that floor pushes you back up harder as well.”
MASTER THE “POP”
For many people, getting up off the ground after the pushup when they’re starting to tire is the hardest part of burpees. Woodall has a trick for that: “From the plank, think of popping your hands and feet off the floor to land in a squat.” People tend to round their backs and stand up with their feet close together, but if you separate them and land in a squat, you’ll have an easier time getting up. “Be sure to pop the chest up at the same time, so your back stays flat and your spine is tall in the squat,” she adds.
FIND YOUR PROGRESSION
Not everyone can do regular burpees and maintain good form, and that’s OK. “If proper pushup form is lacking, your knees buckle before the jump or your back can’t stay straight when the feet shoot out to the plank, simply select a modified version,” Verstegen advises.
“Options include removing the pushup, removing the jump or stepping in and out of the plank position.” You’ll still get a killer workout and can rest assured you’re not going to tweak something in the process.