The Truth About Burpees, Are They Worth It?

Burpees - Read This, And You Will Never Have To Do Them Again! - WELLFITandFED

Here’s a great idea. Let’s squat, as though we were on the toilet, then bend over and place our hands on the floor (while in the squat), then unceremoniously fling our legs into the air behind us, only to land in a push-up/plank position, and then oops – change our minds, fling our legs upwards towards our firmly planted hands, and then lurch back to a standing position. And, if we don’t want to be considered a total dweeb by our trainer, also add a “jump up” at the end and a full push-up during the plank portion.

Who thought of this moronic combination of movements, and why do people agree to do them?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term, “Burpee,” actually originated in the 1930s, by Royal H. Burpee, an American physiologist. It was originally used as a “Burpees test.” This test consisted of a series of “Burpees” (movements) executed in rapid succession. It was designed to measure agility and coordination.


The Truth About Burpees, Are They Worth It

The only time I would voluntarily throw my body to the ground from a standing position would be during an unscheduled airstrike. So, when I first learned about “Burpees” from a trainer many years ago, I thought he had lost his mind. He suggested that we try ten repetitions. I flat out refused.


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As a chiropractor, I can identify potentially injurious exercises that others may not. These filters allow me to perceive when something, albeit popular, may be hazardous to your spinal health (Do you remember The Abomatic?).

“Burpees” are exercises that promise to yield exceptional returns, but in reality, they can land you with a high chiropractic bill, and a hefty stock of ice-packs stacked in your freezer.

So, here is the problem with universally despised “Burpees.”

The “Burpee” consists of a series of large body movements: Jump, Squat, Sprawl, and Push-up. The intent of the “Burpee” is to go through the series of movements, with some haste.

I frequently watch people, in the gym, as they perform “Burpees” in their boot camp classes, or during personal training sessions. I can confidently tell you that “Burpees,” as a type of exercise, have horrible stats when it comes to form and execution.

Put simply; MOST people perform at least one part of the chain of movements (comprising a “Burpee”) inappropriately. Doing this exercise incorrectly can spell disaster.


Here lies the issue – the “Burpee” is an extremely complicated, and challenging movement. If they are performed correctly, the benefits are immense. In other words, the “Burpee” is a full-body, functional movement that challenges flexibility, strength, balance, core, intensity, and coordination. I’m not a total hater. However, at the risk of grossly understating a global problem, a significant portion of the population has a weak core. (Anyone spend more than two hours a day sitting?)

So, “Burpees” should be good for that weak core, right?  Wrong.

Performing a traditional “Burpee,” with a crappy core can result in an undue force on your spine and nervous system, and recruitment of muscles that are not adequately prepared to carry such a load. So, as you propel “your load” through the facets of the exercise, your spinal disks scream profanities at you through their little “disk-mouths.” That is if you perform the “Burpee” correctly! Heaven forbid you squat with your back too far forward because of inflexibility in your hips, or if you have a saggy spine, during the plank. Poor form, combined with a weak core, is a police escort to the emergency room.

So, are you off the hook for “Burpees?”

Absolutely. Tell your trainer “Hells No!” There are many other ways to challenge your fitness, without performing advanced movements like the “Burpee.”


BUT, if you like the idea of a challenge, and the “impress factor” for the hotties watching you from the cardio equipment, let’s talk through the steps that you will need to take to become a “Burpee Master.”

  • Practice a “perfect” squat. Bend at the hips, not the back.
  • After you have “perfected” your squat, practice slowly by placing your hands on the ground and then return to the squat position.
  • From the “hands on the ground” position, deeply engage your core, and gently step back into a plank position, one leg at a time. Watch yourself in the mirror to ensure that your butt is not sagging, and you are perpendicular to the ground.
  • Once you have held the plank for a few seconds, gently step back toward your hands, one leg at a time. Check your gut to make sure it is tight! 
  • Slowly, and with control, return to the squat position and stand up.
  • Practice this modified “Burpee” for a couple of weeks. Slowly perform 10 to 15 repetitions. Increase your speed slightly, a little at a time. If your form is being sacrificed (i.e. speed or fatigue), slow down or stop!
  • Always watch yourself in a mirror to make sure your form is stellar.
  • When you feel ready, try 1 of these three modifications. Implement only one at a time:
    • The Jump (jump at the beginning)
    • The Sprawl (instead of the “step back”, throw your legs backward into the plank position)
    • The Full Push-Up (instead of just the plank).
  • Immediately eliminate the modifications, if you start to feel pain. If pain occurs, return to the basics.
  • Start these modifications slowly, and once you are confident that your form is superb – accelerate your pace.

How do you know if your core is engaged effectively and correctly?

Have you ever had to “shhhh” someone from a distance? Try it. Say “shhhhh” as loud and hard as you can for at least 10 seconds. Now, put your hand on your abdomen, and feel what happens when you say “shhhh” vigorously. It tightens, right? Rightyour abdominal muscles don’t stick out, or suck in – they just tighten. This is the proper way to tighten your core. Practice tightening your core in this manner, before beginning the “Burpee.” Practice the “shhhh” tightening by standing, sitting, lying down, and resuming a plank and squat position, to make sure that you can engage effectively.


 This video is an excellent tutorial for the modified “Burpee.”


Now watch this video. This second video is “touted” as a “How-To” instructional video on performing the “Burpee,” but is loaded with bad form and poor execution!


Now that you know what the “perfect” Burpee form looks like point out the “improper techniques” in this video, and list them in WELLFITandFED’s comments section.


This weeks FIRST STEPS are to tell your trainer. “No, come up with something else.” Okay, more seriously during your workout this week eliminate the burpees and do a combination of, ten squat jumps and then ten push-ups. Repeat the cycle three times. Perform the push us very slowly with excellent control and make sure your squat jumps are explosive but safe. 





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57 Responses

  1. The only thing good about burpees, in my opinion, is that they don’t include pull-ups. They are definitely gut-busting hard if done correctly. The two videos were very informative. Getting the form right is so important, especially before taxing the body, and something that I’ve tried to communicate to people about using kettlebells.

    The fact that the “trainer” in the 2nd video could let his “better half” (as he stated) perform the movement with such horrible form is appalling. And then he posted it for the world to see! Yikes! Notice how her knees are inside her elbows on the squat instead of outside where they belong, not to mention her rounded back?

    I might add that kettlebell goblet squats help learning the proper technique for that part of the movement. Still, they’re probably not advisable for most people.

    1. I found this post very useful. With my exercise studio in my house I’m exploring new avenues of workouts! I always felt burpees were r too severe, now I understand why. The modified version works well! Thanks!

      1. SO glad you enjoyed this post. It is one of my most popular exactly for the reasons you mention!

    1. Just. Say. No!!! Ha ha! Or if you do do them make sure you are in front of a mirror so you can really watch your form!

  2. If it doesnt challenge you, it doesnt change you – but its SOOO important to do them correctly and if your body is able to handle it!

  3. Great info! I just can’t do them anymore with my bad knees now, I could probably do one and end up in bed for the rest of the week in screeching pain!

  4. I’ve never done a burpee and this makes me tired just thinking about it. I’m more of a yoga girl. Thanks for sharing the info!

    1. Yup. Holly, no need. Stick with yoga. It’s killer awesome for your strength and mind. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. You have given a very informative perspective about Burpees. I agree, if Burpees or any other exercise if not done properly runs the risk of doing more harm than good. You have not only drawn attention to an issue but have also provided a solution, which is great.

    1. What a nice comment Vyjay. I had hoped it might be a solution and an opportunity for people to look in a different direction for training. xo.

    1. I know, right? Jill, there are plenty of things you can do instead of the dreaded burpee. But, I think you know that. 🙂 Squats and push-ups anyone?

    1. Ha ha. So true of a lot of what we eat! It is shocking what we have to do to burn of my poison….a martini!

  6. My son does Burpees with his BBall trainer and I am happy to say I have never done them.(they would kill me;I have bad knees ) But I have to say I have seen what they can do when done consistently. But I am happy to read I can do this and get the same awesome looking BUTT:)

    1. Totally, Andrea. There are so many things you can do instead. Let me know if you need a personal training program!

    1. Ha ha. I am not sure of the photo you ar talking about but pretty sure it i not me. xo Ha ha.

    1. Let’s just say….this never has to be an aspiration. Lots you can do before you tackle this!

  7. Wow, I didn’t know Burpees are actually not good for you. My back was aching a little just reading this. 🙂 I hurt my back a few months ago from Zumba. I think I jumped into the workout too soon after having my baby. That experience alone has taught me I need to really research the workouts and make sure it is safe for my body. Your article just confirms my thoughts on this.

  8. Very good article! I agree with the post about doing not only burpees correctly, but any exercise. I truly believe the biggest set back to fitness in the last 10 to 15 years is Cross-Fit! That whole fad has replaced technique with the craziness of how many reps can you do, compared to the next person! I was a 110 High Hurdler all through out school including College & after College, and the word technique was used all the time. Track Coaches understand that without technique training is basically futile. Folks must look at working-out Holistically. Who cares about 6 pack abs, if you are destroying your lower back with senseless mundane sit-ups/crunches. Quality over Quantity should be the Fitness Worlds Moto! It seems like once Fitness became an industry sensibility and transparency went out the Dog-Gone Window!

    1. J. Stingley, you could not be more accurate. I too think the Cross-Fit craze is a big issue. As a chiropractor, I have seen more patients in my office from form injuries than I care to share. With your track background I can believe you probably still hear those coaches yelling in your ear! Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  9. I started doing burpees when reading about them last week. I started 15 on the 21st November 2018 and did them for 4 days.

    After the first day my body ached all over but I thought that was just me being out of shape so I continued for the next three days. My body is hurting today (24th Nov) to the degree that I stayed in bed all day and can barely get to the toilet. Thinking there must be something wrong with doing these I did a search and came across your site. Thanks for the info. I haven’t watched the videos yet but what you have said validates what I thought – that I was doing something wrong. I will take on board what you have said. Thanks for the info.

    I am just wondering how the world record can be 980 (or so) in an hour! They are brutal.

    1. I love this feedback, and it is not unlike a lot of other feedback I have received on the BURPEE!! Glad to hear you have identified and adapted. No need to continue with so many other exercises available to you. Let me know if you need additional coaching. xox. And thank you for commenting.

      1. Hi Heather,

        Thanks for the response. To give a little bit more background I started doing them because I understood that they took only a couple of minutes or so to do. I didn’t realize how much impact they would have on my body if not done correctly.

        I have not done any burpees since I stopped due to the bodily pain and because I still have not recovered fully. I suspect it will be weeks before I am pain free.

        Can you recommend anything to replace them that could be done a few minutes a day, that would give good results but in a more gentle way?

        Thanks in advance.

        1. I would recommend the APP 7-Minute Workout. Full body workout in just seven minutes. Make sure to keep varying what you do. Overdoing repetition is not good! I would be happy to consult with you individually if you would like a more specific workout program. Thanks for reading!

  10. Why would a psychologist invent the Burpee? Mr. B. was a physiologist, not a psychologist? Right?

    1. I think you are correct! My spell correct got the best of me. I will send it to the team to correct. 🙂

  11. We did hundreds and thousands of of push-up / jump style burpees in boot camp ( infantry ) and while in the service and no one I know ever received any injuries from them. Of course, we were all young men in good shape or becoming in great shape and had excellent guidance as the instructors would constantly berate us into proper form. In fact, If you don’ t use proper form, then you will not be able to do a lot. This exercise requires time for your body to adapt and is in my opinion, one of the very best total body movements one can do. I have personally witnessed many whom have persevered thru the hardship of doing these every workout profit immensely, and be rewarded with a great physique using these for cardio and strength training in a body-weight routine. Its very hard. Most do not have the mental fortitude to learn and do these with discipline on a regular basis.

    1. John! I love this response! You are right on the money. Proper form and give your body time to adapt. I love it.

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About Dr. Denniston

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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