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19 May

15 Alternatives to Burpees for When You’re Tired of Doing Burpees

Whenever I’m strapped for time and equipment and still need a solid workout, I turn to the burpee. Burpees are bodyweight exercises, and thus require no equipment or weights. They are full body movements that employ every muscle group, require only as much space as you need to do a pushup, can be done anywhere, can be done slowly and methodically or quick for a sprint-like workout. If you’re ever outdoors and need to warm up fast, a set of 15-20 burpees performed as quickly as possible will get your body temperature up faster than anything. The pros go on and on.

Now, I don’t typically bake burpees into my week to week workouts. Instead, I resort to a burpee workout when I’m crunched for time, don’t have access to a gym or nice outdoor experience, or am feeling too lazy to do a “proper” gym workout but still want to train. And the way I usually do them is to go all out for the first 20. Catch my breath (maybe 10-20 second break). Go all out for another 10. Catch my breath. And repeat in sets of 10 reps, until I reach 100 or 150 or 200, whatever I’m feeling. So for me, burpee workouts are very intuitive. Rather than go for predetermined reps or rest periods, I let my body determine that stuff in real time. Give it a try. You’ll like it, or hate it, or both.

While burpees are great for all the reasons I listed above, there are some reasons you might want an alternative:

Burpees are demanding and relatively complex. Many people start making technique mistakes toward the end of a burpee workout because they’re so fatigued and that can lead to injuries. A crisp, clean burpee is beautiful and safe and effective, but if your knees start caving in on the landing or your lower back starts dipping toward the ground and your elbows start flaring out on the pushups, you’re not just selling your own training short — you’re putting yourself at risk.

Burpees involve three movements people might simply not be able to do. Squats, even bodyweight ones, take a reasonable amount of mobility, flexibility, and coordination. Pushups can be a surprisingly demanding strength exercise when performed with correct form, and many people haven’t jumped in years. Stringing them all together for reps as a conditioning workout is asking a lot.

Burpees get old. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is another regular-old burpee, but you still like the training effect they offer.

So, here are 15 alternative movements (with links to videos when available) that have similar qualities and produce similar results as the burpee. How many have you tried?

1. Squat Thrusts

Burpees without the pushup and the jump, squat thrusts actually birthed the modern burpee. They involve squatting down to place hands on floor, shooting the legs back to assume the plank position, shooting them forward, then squatting back up. They’re really, really simple and for the first ten or so you’re thinking “These are too easy.” Keep doing them, though, and suddenly you’ll realize you’re getting a great workout.

2. Murpees

The murpee, or modified burpee, comes courtesy of Angelo dela Cruz of VitaMoves. Instead of shooting your legs back, dropping into an explosive pushup, leaping to your feet and springing upward, and repeating it as quickly as possible, slow everything down and rely on strength and balance instead of sheer momentum.

  1. Slowly lower yourself into a squat until you can place your hands flat on the floor in front of you.
  2. Slowly step back one leg at a time to assume the pushup position.
  3. Do a pushup (some people omit this step).
  4. Slowly, deliberately bring one leg forward, touching knee to elbow and holding it there for a moment. Draw the other leg forward. Place your feet flat on the floor until you’re in the bottom squat position. Each rep, alternate which leg you bring forward first.
  5. Either stand up or jump up. The advantage of doing everything slowly means you can muster more force for the jump and land safely.
  6. Repeat.
  7. Everything is slow and controlled and deliberate.

3. 180 Degree Burpees

Do a regular burpee with a jump, only instead of jumping in place, turn 180 degrees. Alternate which direction you turn and don’t get sloppy with the landing; the rotational momentum exerts novel forces on your body and requires greater trunk (and really full-body) stability. Beyond that, do these offer a unique training effect over regular burpees? Who knows. These sure are fun, though.

4. Broad Jump Burpees

Again, it’s a regular burpee with a jump, only instead of jumping in place, you’re broad jumping as far forward as you can. Be sure to do these on a comfortable surface with decent traction. Grass? Good. Wet muddy grass? Probably not. And do fewer of these than you would regular burpees. The maximal effort broad jump really takes a lot out of you and increases the degree of risk.

Here’s a video.

5. Jumping Jacks

You haven’t done these in years, right? Jumping jacks probably remind you of gym class, back when you’d do them half-seriously. Today, try doing them for real. Actually jump. Get your hands up there like you mean it.

Video.

6. Russian Lunges

Bodyweight lunges: easy, right? Too easy to approach the conditioning potential of the burpee. But what about jumping lunges? That’s exactly what a Russian lunge is. You lunge with one leg, then spring up and land in a lunge with the other leg forward. Keep doing it, alternating each time. You can even do this while holding a weight plate; just keep it lighter than you’d think would be necessary.

Video here.

7. Get Up, Stand Ups

I’m not sure if this is the right name, but it sounds good. I got these from Darryl Edwards, longtime PrimalCon presenter and play expert. You start sitting down on the ground, legs straight, knees together, back tall, hands flat on the ground at your sides. Pop up by pushing off the ground with your hands and bringing your feet underneath you to stand up (throw in a vertical jump here to spice things up). Quickly return to the starting sitting position — without using your hands, if possible — and do it all over again.

8. Kettlebell Swings

If you’re looking for a self-contained comprehensive workout that will get you stronger, more explosive, and better conditioned without being a burpee, look no further than the kettlebell swing. Sure, you need a piece of equipment — the kettlebell — but I’d argue that the swing is probably safer to do repeatedly for high reps than the burpee. For every one burpee you’d normally do, do three swings.

Here’s a (long and extensive) video.

9. Sandbag Shouldering

This is another option that requires a single piece of equipment, but it’s one you can make yourself by spending a few bucks at the surplus store and stuffing it with contractor bags filled with sand. Sandbag shouldering is exactly what it sounds like: pick the sandbag up and hoist it up to your shoulder, lower it back to the ground, repeat with the opposite shoulder. Throughout the entire movement, maintain as neutral a spine as possible. It’s essentially a deadlift (picking it up) and power clean (hoisting it up) hybrid exercise that hits almost every muscle in the body. And if you want to throw in some pushing work, you can overhead press the thing once it’s on your shoulder.

Watch this video for a good demo.

10. Jump Rope

For pure conditioning’s sake, few activities beat the jump rope. It’s a mainstay in boxing, MMA, kickboxing, wrestling, and even swimming and endurance running training programs for the simple reason that it just works. Of course, jumping rope is a miserable way to improve one’s conditioning, but that’s a common problem with methods that actually work. Another advantage is that jumping rope is self-limiting. It’s really hard to jump rope with poor technique or hurt yourself doing it because you’ll just catch the rope with your foot or slam it into your shins. If you do it wrong, wrong enough to get into trouble, you won’t be able to actually jump rope.

Good video here.

11. Tabata Squats

Think air squats are pointless and way too easy? Okay, guy. Try this out: just squat down and back up as many times as you can in 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat the sequence 7 more times.

12. Sled Pushes

Push (or drag) a sled loaded with weights. Try to find your happy balance between weight and speed. Too heavy a sled means you’ll go too slow. It’s still a great workout, but it’s more of a strength workout. Load the sled with enough weight to make you work but not so much that you fail to pick up speed. The Prowler is a great sled. Cars work, too, but require someone steering (and keep the engine off).

Video here.

13. Mountain Climbers

Sort of like running in place from the pushup position, mountain climbers can destroy you if you’re not careful. Your abs will be sore, your chest will pound, your stamina will increase. If mountain climbers on the ground are too tough, try them on an incline; place your hands on the couch, a coffee table, a bench, or a sturdy chair.

Watch a video.

14. Shoulder Tap Planks

Assume the plank position: arms straight, hands flat, body forming a single unbroken line. Then, ever so slowly, tap your left shoulder with your right hand. Slowly place your right hand back on the ground. Now, tap your right shoulder with your left hand. Return it to rest on the ground. Keep alternating shoulder taps. Go slow and feel the tension in your trunk muscles. Tougher than you thought, eh?

15. Sledgehammer Swings

Okay, this exercise requires two pieces of equipment — the hammer and an old tire — but neither are particularly expensive or hard to find. Just head down to the local hardware store, spend $20-30 on a sledgehammer, and swing by the tire shop on your way home and ask for an old tire or two. Your hammer should be lighter than you think you need, as you’ll want to maintain speed and intensity even as fatigue sets in. There are two primary ways to swing:

1. The diagonal swing — Staggered stance, one or two feet away from the tire. Swing across your body. Be sure to alternate sides; don’t neglect your non-dominant arm.

2. The vertical swing — Stand shoulder width in front of the tire, hold the hammer directly overhead, and swing down. Alternate hand positions.

Video here.

Whether you’re looking to improve mobility, strength, conditioning, or overall fitness, the burpee is a fine choice. But it’s not the only one, or even the best one. If you’re getting tired of burpees, or just want to try something new for a change, give the exercises from today’s post a trial run. I think you’ll like them. Or maybe you’ll hate them, which means they’re probably working.

Let’s hear from you down below. Have you done any of these exercises? How do they compare to burpees? Got any other suggestions for people sick of the burpee?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

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You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I love jumping rope! Sadly, at 24 weeks pregnant, it’s not something I can do for very long anymore. Same for mountain climbers. I tried to do some burpees the other day and just laughed out loud before giving up.

    Erica wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • You definitely don’t want to do any jumping or high impact exercises at this stage (and no “high G” activities either, so this rues out flying Jet Fighters or being an astronaut) – don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time once bubs is born, and of course breastfeeding as much as possible from the get go will contract that tummy back in no time (each of those breastfeeding pain contractions is like doing 20 sit ups).

      Tribal Barbarian wrote on May 19th, 2015
      • Hmm…I’m a personal trainer and I’ve never heard (nor has my OB told me) that I should avoid jumping. I feel like that may be antiquated advice. I still do jumping jacks, high knees, etc. and run (albeit slower and shorter distances.) Will likely continue doing so as long as I feel good doing it!

        Erica wrote on May 20th, 2015
        • ok, depends what you define as jumping – if we are talking high impact power jumps versus just little “taps” – have you told your OB the exact sort of jumps you are doing, just my 2 cents worth but I’ve been involved with friends of mine that wound up with a detached placenta’s and its not a pretty experience – basically confined to a hospital bed for the rest of the labour. A more extreme example happened to my own mother when she was pregnant with me when she experienced a fall – luckily she was about 4 weeks from full term and we both managed to survive, but it was an emergency situation when it happened. I guess its a case of weight of baby vs impact force vs Strength of placenta

          Tribal Barbarian wrote on May 20th, 2015
  2. I do pull-ups, dips, and push-ups – in that order – for a total of probably about a half hour, twice a week. That’s pretty much the only exercise I do. I really ought to work in some Burpees or just straight up body-weight squats.

    Fortunately, being pretty strict paleo makes being as lazy as I am fairly sustainable it seems. Not as lean as I would like, but if I remain strict on my diet for weeks at a time, I do end up losing some weight. Anyway, I guess this is my way of saying, “I F&$#ing hate cardio.”

    Adam wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • you’re not alone adam.

      katie wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • Throw in some pistol squats and you’ve got the legs covered as well…

      Tribal Barbarian wrote on May 19th, 2015
  3. that sledgehammer suggestions seems like just the tension and rage release move i need on some hormonal days 😛

    katie wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • I do sledgehammer swings at crossfit and it’s awesome for releasing tension and rage! :) It’s cool too, as I feel I’m transforming my anger into active, healthy energy. About halfway through the workout I get really tired and I feel like I can’t go on, but then think about something at work I’m frustrated or mad about, and let the anger flow through my body and out through the hammer, and I get this second wind of super angry energy that powers the hammer, and then the emotions are up and out of my body. win-win. :)

      starmice wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • If you can find a tractor tire, doing tire flips will be pretty satisfying too. Those were always on of my favorites when I did crossfit. Though the sledgehammer seems like it would be better at scratching the rage itch.

      His Dudeness wrote on May 19th, 2015
  4. Sledgehammer swings sound like such a blast!

    Livi wrote on May 19th, 2015
  5. Burpees are awesome! I love ‘Russian Get Ups’ too, where you lie on the floor holding a kettlebell, and hoist yourself up to standing without your hands touching the floor. Throwing the kettlebell a few feet in the air as you push upwards and then catching it again is also a great way to engage the shoulders.

    Josh wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • lol – I thought this was called a Turkish get up. I like the Australian version where you swap out the kettle bell for a koala instead, these are called Aussie get ups….

      Tribal Barbarian wrote on May 19th, 2015
  6. Just a personal experience, but I REALLY tore the hell out of my medial meniscus doing “Russian Lunges”. A friend of mine explained to me that lunges are typically a safe exercise, but he can’t count how many times he’s done PT on clients knees after they’ve torn something doing lunges, whether they were forward stepping or jumping. He did note that he’s heard of VERY few injuries involving backward stepping lunges.

    No science to back anything up on this, totally anecdotal. Seems logical to me though, since the weight loading leg isn’t moving during a backward stepping lunge.

    Andrew wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • YES! I avoid forward lunges and just stick to static split squats.

      Kass wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • Wazza wrote on May 25th, 2015
  7. I like to single leg burpee – slowed down a bit. It helps with upper body strength when your on one leg and doing a push up, and it helps with balance, and ankle/joint stability.

    Kass wrote on May 19th, 2015
  8. Yeah, thanks for this! I kind of messed up my right ankle doing burpees. Just bad form I somewhat turned my ankle in as a jumped back — just a little, but repeatedly over 100’s of reps I realized eventually.

    (The floor at my gym is tacky so getting that kick back is tricky!)

    I’ve stopped doing them and been doing some of these as an alternative — but now I’ve got a bunch more alternatives!

    And I’ll add one more — medicine ball slams. I’ve got a 30 pound slam ball. 10 sets of 10 of that, with about 30 seconds rest in between, is serious metabolic training. If that’s not enough for you, get a 40 or 50 pound slam ball — and get a psych exam while you’re at it!

    Paul D wrote on May 19th, 2015
  9. I injured a meniscus years ago while doing sandbag shouldering. Too much weight on one side I guess. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it was hurt until the following day. Still hasn’t healed.

    Rick wrote on May 19th, 2015
  10. but…but…but….. Burpees are the perfect exercise. Who could ever get tired of burpees?

    Excuse me while I go vomit….

    Michael wrote on May 19th, 2015
  11. I expect burpees and all the others listed will get lots of people excited but I hate doing exercise for exercise’s sake. I manage to keep myself fit and healthy just by taking the manual approach whenever possible, ie walking rather than driving, doing my own cleaning and gardening etc. Am always amazed to hear how many people have cleaners and gardeners so they have time to go to the gym.

    Tracy wrote on May 19th, 2015
  12. I was reading this thinking it would be a great workout to do one set of all of these in succession. Then I decided to just go walk the dog.

    Jack Lea Mason wrote on May 19th, 2015
  13. Sledge hammer workout with a kitana sword substitute

    Julie wrote on May 19th, 2015
    • Many a watermelon fell beneath the blade that day.

      His Dudeness wrote on May 19th, 2015
  14. I do a series of dynamic movements called the Five Tibetan Rites (aka, the Five Tibetans–do a search and a whole whack of stuff comes up).

    There are many iterations of these…and different teachers teach them differently (including with modifications for those who need them). In general though, they emphasize a continuous series of movement.

    I find they are a perfect way to start and end the day, particularly when coordinated with the breath.

    Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons wrote on May 19th, 2015
  15. Good stuff!! Love the bear crawls for a full body core exercise :-)

    Tristan wrote on May 19th, 2015
  16. Plymetric burpees are a subtle alteration – do your pushup part to half down butn do an explosive back up, to the point your whole body leaves the ground, or do a clap, and for the jump up – only go to about half squat but do a high speed spring up and knees right to your chest, even grapping the legs in mid air with your hands (like a dive bomb into a pool)

    Tribal Barbarian wrote on May 19th, 2015
  17. I just can’t get into burpees. I absolutely dread them! The worst! Maybe some of the other options you’ve provided will get along better with me…

    Emily Peltier wrote on May 19th, 2015
  18. I like doing burpees and also incorporate sandbag shouldering, sledgehammers, mountain climbers, and broad jump burpees from the list.

    I also throw in rounds on the heavy bag, battling ropes, and a few other speed drills.
    One of my favorites is to get 2 slightly raised objects on the ground about 2 feet from each other. I use two sandbags. Moving laterally I step onto the first sandbag with one foot and while stepping off step the other foot on. Then repeat on the other sandbag and once you have quickly sidestepped onto and over each one you do a burpee. Then you go back the opposite way and do another burpee. That’s one rep. I like to work up to 10 or more, and you can throw in some extra movements after the burpee or substitute burpees for height jumps or with a partner doing kicks or punches on Thai pads.

    Chris Cox wrote on May 19th, 2015
  19. Some of the variations I do in my training program:

    1. super burpees
    – same as regular burpee except add knee up to each side after pushup

    2. super duper burpee-
    – same as super burpee except after knee up to each side after pushup, add a hindu pushup

    3. Rambo burpees
    – After pushup add kick left, kick right, mule kick, up and jump.

    Jason Yun wrote on May 20th, 2015
  20. 5 Burpees + 7 Kettlebell Swings, as many of that pair as you can in 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes (or longer) – great aerobic conditioning workout.

    pcn_314 wrote on May 21st, 2015
  21. Trainer at the gym with a perverse sense of humour calls burpees “super happy fun jumps.” Yeah, right. Also–I’m no longer allowed to use the sledgehammer ever since I missed the tire and hit my foot instead. Klutzes apparently shouldn’t swing heavy objects (though I seem to manage kettlebells okay). :)

    Nicholle wrote on May 22nd, 2015
  22. For whatever reason even murpees make me lightheaded so I’m usually just doing squats while they are doing burpees on the DVDs.

    Cassi wrote on May 23rd, 2015
  23. I found an old truck tyre fly-tipped recently so I collected it and busted out the sledgehammer I used to shovelglove with when I wasn’t so lazy.

    While messing around with it, and with this post in the back of my mind, I invented the sledgehammer burpee, or Slurpee.

    https://youtu.be/x-VU5KGAa_4

    The whole (current) workout, which I do for 5 minutes right now:

    Joe wrote on May 27th, 2015
  24. Hi! So my right hand does not straighten out fully. I find it so difficult to do burpees or push ups because my arm is not strong enough. Is there any other exercise i could do that won’t put too much strain on my hand?

    Larisa wrote on April 20th, 2016

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