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Burpees are hard. This personal trainer shows us how to make them easier

The exercise combines the squat, plank and pushup into one full-body move.
Burpees are a full-body workout, targeting the upper body, lower body and core.
Burpees are a full-body workout, targeting the upper body, lower body and core. TODAY Illustration

Burpees are often a move that garners grunts and groans during training sessions — and there’s a reason why people dread them. The exercise combines a series of workout moves, including the squat, plank and pushup, into one full-body exercise.

As a personal trainer, even I dread doing this exercise and many of my clients do, too. However, they’re great for building strength, burning calories and improving cardio endurance.

Tthe good news is: If you commit to working on the move, they will get easier. Until then, they can be easily modified so that you can build up the strength and endurance needed to perform them correctly.

What do burpees do for the body?

Burpees are often utilized in high-intensity interval training routines. They function as a full-body workout, targeting the hamstrings, quads, calves, pecs, triceps and abs along with other muscles in your upper body. Instead of just performing a single body-weight strength exercise, you are performing three back-to back in a fast-paced move, adding a jump in between which elevates the heart rate.

Because burpees improve cardio fitness, they help improve blood flow and also lower blood pressure, both of which lead to a longer and healthier life. Plus, burpees don’t require any exercise equipment, making them the perfect move to turn to when working out in the comfort of your own home.

Because of all of these benefits, you may start to notice weight loss or improved muscle tone after consistently incorporating burpees into your workout routine.

The common mistakes people make when doing burpees

Burpees are a complex movements, which means there is a lot of opportunity for error, so rushing through them is not the way to go. I’ve seen many clients try to perform as many burpees as possible as quickly as possible, losing proper form as they go.

As a result of rushing, many people arch their back and loosen their core during the pushup portion of the routine. This eliminates the abdominal challenge of the move, instead placing the stress on the back. The jump ups, when performed too quickly, can also cause issues. If you aren’t careful to land with softly bent knees, you risk pain and injury to the knee joint. Finally, even though burpees are high intensity, they shouldn’t aggravate your joints. A lot of people aggressively kick back into a pushup position, making the move high impact and somewhat painful. To fix these common mistakes, keep these tips in mind:

  • Take it slow. Make sure you feel the different muscle groups working as you move through the phases of the burpee.
  • Squeeze your core and keep your back straight when in pushup position. Make sure your core is continuously engaged throughout.
  • Land lightly or try stepping back during the high-impact portion of the move. If landing is painful, modify by stepping the feet back one by one.

How to do a modified burpee

There are plenty of ways to break up the burpee into steps and make the move easier. Because the move incorporates multiple exercises, it’s easy to eliminate one or two of the steps to make the move more attainable.

I recommend skipping the jump up and performing only a plank, removing the pushup from the exercise. All of the movements and steps remain the same, but instead of jumping after the plank, you step forward to return to the squat. When in pushup position, simply hold a plank and engage your core for a few seconds before moving forward into the squat.

How to perform the burpee correctly

Burpees require a lot of attention to detail when it comes to form. If you think you’re ready to tackle the full move, follow these five steps.

  1. Begin in a squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place both hands on the ground in front of you, shifting your weight to your hands. Kick your feet behind you so that you’re in plank position.
  3. Perform one pushup, making sure your back is straight and your core is engaged.
  4. Jump your feet forward so that you are back in a squat position and stand up.
  5. Jump towards the sky reaching your arms above your head. Land softly with knees bent and immediately drop into a squat position. Repeat.

4 exercises that will help you perform the burpee better

If you’re not entirely confident about performing a burpee, here are a few exercises to practice before tackling the move.

Jump squat

Mastering the jump squat is especially important when it comes to performing the burpee correctly. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and sit back into a squat position. Instead of standing back up, push off your heels then toes to jump straight up with your arms above your head, Land lightly, immediately sinking back down into squat position. Repeat 10 times.


Working on your core and upper body strength before performing the burpee can make the move much easier. In a plank position, with your hands underneath your shoulders and your legs straight behind you, bend at the elbows, bringing your face and chest towards the ground. Push back up into starting position and repeat 10 times. If you cannot perform a full pushup, drop to your knees for a modified version.


With your hands on the mat directly underneath your shoulders, step your legs back so that you’re balancing on your hands and toes. Pull your belly button towards your spine as you hold plank position for 30 seconds, increasing the time as you become more comfortable. Make sure to keep your core engaged.

Chair burpee

Place a chair in front of you. With your arms straight, put your hands on the seat of the chair and jump your legs backward into a modified plank. At this point, you can decide whether or not you’d like to perform a modified pushup or stay in plank position for a few seconds. After that, jump back up into starting position and raise your hands above your head. Repeat 10 times.

More ways to master the move: