Ask five people to describe a burpee, and you’re likely to hear five different answers. Some people decree that there’s always a push-up. Others say the real rule is to touch your chest to the ground. Some jump up at the end, while others just return to standing. But the basic framework is always the same and brings similar bodily benefits: Go from a vertical position to a horizontal one and pull yourself back again.
That means even the newest exercisers can comfortably perform a modified version, Breger says. He has clients start by squatting and putting their hands on a bench. They can stick one leg out behind them, then the other, hold that position briefly and return to standing.
And, of course, there are lots of ways to make the exercise more challenging, work additional muscles and hone other skills, such as agility and balance. Here’s a list to try:
·Instead of a push-up, perform six mountain climbers (while your feet and hands are on the ground, alternate jumping each foot toward your chest).
·Grip dumbbells during the exercise. After the push-up, add in two rows before getting up.
·Hold a medicine ball or Bosu (curved side down). Instead of placing your hands directly on the ground, balance on the ball to introduce instability to your push-up.
·Balance on just one leg throughout the movement, so you’re doing a single-leg push-up and hop. “That’s an advanced move I break out when the time is right,” Berger says. Another option: Use just one arm.
·Perform the exercise next to a bar. When you jump up, grab it to do a pull-up.
·Put a box in front of you, and rather than jumping straight up, leap on top of it.
·Find a partner. Decide a total number of reps for both of you — say, 100. Do as many as you can, and when you need a break, tap your partner to start on his or her reps. Switch back and forth until you’ve hit your target. “It’ll keep your mind from focusing on how hard it is,” Ator promises.
Taking it to extremes
As if a single burpee weren’t bad enough, some fitness geniuses have devised ways to make the exercise even more cruel. Dare to try one of these:
—The 100-Day Burpee Challenge: On the first day, do one burpee. Not too bad. But each day you add a burpee, so by Day 100, you do 100. Miss a day? You need to make up the reps you skipped before completing the current day’s count.
—Prison Burpee Workout: Even if you don’t have much space in your jail cell (or living room), you can attempt this series of descending sets. Start with 20 burpees, take a quick breather, then do 19, rest and continue until you reach zero.
—The Burpee Mile: Cover a mile distance with just the jumps from your burpees (taking a step forward is cheating). According to message boards for CrossFit — whose followers actually attempt this — it requires around 700 burpees and well over an hour to complete even for well-trained athletes.
—1,840. The Guinness World Record for most burpees performed in an hour, by
in the United Kingdom on Feb. 4, 1994.