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 engage every muscle group, require only as much space as you need to do a pushup, and can be done anywhere. You can do them slowly and methodically, or quick for a sprint-like workout. If you’re ever outdoors and need to warm up fast, a quick set of 15-20 burpees 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 otherwise not feeling a full-on gym workout but still want to train.
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. 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.
Reasons you Might Want an Alternative to the Burpee
While burpees are great for all the reasons I listed above, there are some reasons you might want an alternative movement:
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 is a series of alternatives to burpees that have similar qualities and produce similar results as the burpee. See if you can try them all. Primal Health Coach Brian demonstrates all of these moves in the video at the bottom of this post.
1. Squat Thrusts
Think 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.
To do the murpee, or modified burpee: 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.
Slowly lower yourself into a squat until you can place your hands flat on the floor in front of you.
Slowly step back one leg at a time to assume the pushup position.
Do a pushup (some people omit this step).
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.
Either stand up or jump up. The advantage of doing everything slowly means you can muster more force for the jump and land safely.
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.
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.
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.
7. Get Up, Stand Ups
I’m not sure if this is the right name, but it sounds good. 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.
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.
No sandbag? Fill a duffel bag with soft weighted objects – emphasis on soft so that you don’t conk yourself in the head.
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.
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. 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.
13. 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?
Hold two weighted objects at your shoulders. Bend your knees and lower into a squat, and rise back up to standing. Once your knees are straight again, go right into a shoulder press. These get your heart pumping in no time.
15. Sandbag Clean & Press
Start in a squat position with the sandbag at your feet. Bending at the elbows, flip the bag upward to touch your chest. Then squat and raise the sandbag over your head. Finish by dropping the sandbag onto the ground, and repeat.
Now, watch all of the moves in action!
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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Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.