How to Do Burpees Without Hurting Myself?

How Do I Do Burpees Without Hurting Myself?

How Do I Do Burpees Without Hurting Myself?

This week on Instagram, thePTDC wrote a post called, ”Why I Don’t Like Burpees”. While Ben Bruno, the original author of the post, made some decent points, there were some major things he failed to take into consideration. But the reality is, people hate burpees.

Burpees are a terrific dynamic exercise that can help improve the conditioning and cardiovascular fitness throughout your entire body.

But in order to perform a basic burpee correctly, you have to already be physically fit. That means a person have to be able to do the individual moves before putting them together into one dynamic move. If you do not have enough strength and conditioning to do the exercise properly, then you risk doing it incorrectly. That could result in an injury that could range from a minor sprain to a herniated disk.

So, how can you do them if you are not at your fittest and still stay healthy?

In this article, I’ll cover:

  • history

  • assessment

  • advanced burpee options

  • how to progress

  • common mistakes

History

Royal H. Burpee.jpg

The exercise was named after Royal Huddleston Burpee, a physiologist who developed the burpee test in the 1930’s. Burpee had a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Teachers College, Columbia University and created the "burpee" exercise while writing his Ph.D. thesis. He created this test to assess the fitness of your average American, like the folks that went to the Bronx YMCA where he worked, therefore the original version of his fitness test was done just four times in a row. Somehow word got around and the exercise became popular during WWII, when the United States Armed Services began using it as away to measure the strength, coordination, and agility level of the recruits.

Today, while still incredibly popular, most people have a love/hate (more like hate/hate) relationship with the burpee. But that hatred really is unearned.

Here is the original burpee:

  1. Begin in a standing position.

  2. Move into a squat position with your hands on the ground.

  3. Kick your feet back into a plank position, while keeping your arms extended.

  4. Immediately return your feet into squat position.

  5. Stand up from the squat position.

And here is today’s basic burpee:

  1. Begin in a standing position.

  2. Move into a squat position with your hands on the ground.

  3. Kick your feet back into a plank position and perform one pushup.

  4. Immediately return your feet into squat position.

  5. Squat jump from the squatted position with your hands at your side.

Assessment

The best way to ensure that you are doing burpees correctly is to evaluate your form for basic mistakes. And this is not something you will only do once, but at regular intervals (once every 6 months).

If you are unable to get a qualified personal trainer to evaluate your burpee performance, you can do them yourself, although it is harder. To do this, set up a camera (your cell phone camera will work just fine), and record your burpees for 60 seconds. Is your form good from go? When you get tired, what changes occur in your form? Do your knees turn in or out? Are your hands placed properly? Do you jump out with your whole feet, or just your toes?

These are just some of the things you need to worry about when performing a burpee, so understandably it can be kind of stressful to think about. The best way to perfect the move is to become an expert at the individual moves before combining them into one smooth exercise.

What happens when you perform modern burpees incorrectly?

Now, why let’s discuss why burpees are so dangerous when done improperly.

To put it plainly, doing your burpees wrong can and will injure your lower back, hips, knees, ankles and even your shoulders.

The number one reason that so many people hurt themselves while doing burpees is from improper form. Your knees not only take a lot of load during the squat jump at the end, but if you turn your feet in or out when jumping your feet back into plank, you can cause unnatural rotation and hurt your hips. Body alignment is really important in order to keep your lower back healthy while jumping feet into plank. Additionally, the jumping back into plank while performing a push up can increase the amount of stress on your shoulders when doing these moves at high intensity combined with high volume.

The Perfect Burpee

In order to get things right from the start, we will begin with the standard burpee.

There are over 2 dozen (or more) types of burpees you can try and while I will share common modifications (regressions) and progressions in a bit, right now I am going to discuss doing the perfect standard burpee. So here are the six movements of your typical burpee:

  1. Begin in a standing position.

  2. Bend over or squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you, just outside of your feet.

  3. Jump both feet back so that you’re now in plank position.

  4. Drop to a push-up

  5. Push up to return to plank position 5. Jump the feet back in toward the hands.

  6. Explosively jump into the air, reaching your arms straight overhead.

Before you do anything else, try it this way. If the amount of difficulty you experience is a bit too much for you, then move to one of the beginner variations (regressions) below.

The Burpee Made Easy(er) - Regressions

The ‘No Push-Up’ Burpee

The ‘No Push-Up’ Burpee

To make the burpee more accessible to all, there are several things you can to regress to a simpler version.

  1. Instead of jumping back/in, step into & out of the plank position.

  2. Instead of doing a jump squat, simply stand up at the end.

  3. Do the plank at the end of a bench or bed instead of on the floor.

  4. Don’t do the push-up.

  5. Drop to your knees to do the push-up.

  6. Keep your hips slightly higher than usual in plank.

  7. Widen your legs and bring your arms farther in front of you when going into the squat.

You can do as many of these modifications as you want in order to get through the burpee. Eventually, with lots of practice, you will be able to start eliminating these modifications one by one and you’ll be able to do a standard burpee in no time.

Because the Regular Burpee Isn’t  Hard Enough - Progressions

The Tuck Jump Burpee

The Tuck Jump Burpee

For those of you who think the burpee doesn’t offer enough of a challenge for your advanced condition, do not worry. We have some options for you that even Spider-man himself would probably say ‘NO’ to. But if you are so inclined, here are some options to make your burpee even harder.

  • Box Jump Burpee

  • One Leg Burpee

  • Long Jump Burpee

  • Jumping Jack Burpee

  • Tuck Jump Burpee

  • Plank Jack Burpee

These are just a few of the more than a dozen options for upping your burpee game.

Common Burpee Mistakes:

The area of your body you want to protect the most is your lower back (otherwise known as the lumbar spine). If you hurt that, its GAME OVER! You could be out for weeks, or even months. Additionally, you want to protect your knees, ankles, and hips. Listed below are just a few things you can do that can cause a various number of injuries, which obviously, can be avoided if you just make sure not to do any of them.

  1. Hands placed too far apart

  2. Hands placed too far in front

  3. Core not active and tight

  4. Hips high in the air

  5. Hips too low

Use proper form:

1. Incorrect shoulder positioning

While in plank position keep your shoulders square, with your wrists directly beneath them and your elbows locked in place. Do not soften your elbows or allow your shoulder to roll forward.

2. Sagging your hips

When you jump your feet back during burpees, do your hips sag?

Bad! Sagging Hips

Bad! Sagging Hips

Perfect! Straight Back Alignment

Perfect! Straight Back Alignment

NO! NO! NO! This mistake can put a terrible amount of stress on your back, so much so, it can cause permanent damage. Instead, engage your abs and keep your back straight from your neck through to your feet.

3. Jumping Straight Up

If you are doing the burpee with the squat jump, then if is imperative that you jump not from the souls of your feet. Too many people just hop up from their toes and don’t consider where the power to jump is supposed to come from. To get height, the power must come from your feet being solidly on the ground and hopping up through your quads and into your hips.

Keep your body erect as you jump straight up into the air, not forward or sideways.

Conclusion

While the burpee can be your best friend, it can also be your worst enemy, if, like almost anything else, you do it wrong. So, focus on perfecting your form, starting a version that works for your fitness level, and slowly progressing as you better stronger. Don’t be like some people who try to do too much from the get to and wind up in traction because of their pride.

Remember, make the gym your “no injury” zone.