8 ways to do a burpee if you can't do a burpee

Published on March 21, 2021

The #Burpril challenge in 2020 was my trigger to start working on Maxout. During April, your task is to do 100x burpees every day. While I embraced this challenge by integrating all 100 burpees into my day to day workouts, not everyone can do a full burpee. Not to speak of 100 burpees.

The good news, you can slowly practice and progress towards that full burpee. Here are 8 progressions that will help you to get into burpees.

What is a full burpee?

Before we dive into the scaled-down variants, let's first look at what we want to achieve. As a full burpee, I see the burpee variant that they would count as a valid rep at CrossFit.

For a full burpee, you will have to do the following 10 steps as one movement.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of your feet.
  4. Jump your feet back so that you get into the High Plank position (the top position of a push up).
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor. Like a Push Up but with the difference that your chest and thighs must touch the ground
  7. Jump your feet back so that they land just outside of your hands.
  8. Jump to ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended. Your feet have to leave the ground.
  9. Extend your arms overhead (and clap)
  10. Land and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Burpee variations for beginners

With this in mind, let's have a look at the scaled-down variants of a burpee.

Step-Back Bench Thrust Squats

This first variant is the entry-level of a burpee. The difficulty of burpees is that it is not only a movement that takes up a lot of energy, but it is also a complex movement. The "Step-Back Bench Thrust Squat" gives you a first impression of how the combined movement will be.

There are three components that we make simpler in the movement compared to a full burpee. First of all, by using a bench, we make sure that gravity doesn't make this exercise harder. We also remove the jumping in both directions: Instead of jumping back, you will step back in two steps. And you only raise your hands instead of jumping and clapping. And lastly, we remove the Push Up part.

So this is how a Step-Back Bench Thrust Squat looks like:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the bench directly in front of you.
  4. Step one your feet back one after another so that you get into the High Plank position (like a Push Up but on a bench)
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Step your feet back to the initial position.
  7. Raise your hands as high as possible and ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended.
  8. Lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Jump Back Bench Thrust Squats

Once you feel comfortable with the "Step Back Bench Thrust Squats", we will add one explosive movement back in. Instead of stepping back your feet one after another, we will now jump back and forth. The rest stays the same:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the bench directly in front of you.
  4. Jump your feet back so that you get into the High Plank position (but on a bench)
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Jump your feet back to the initial position.
  7. Raise your hands as high as possible and ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended.
  8. Lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Bench Burpee on Knees

As the next step towards a full burpee, we bring in the Push Up. However, for many beginners, the push up itself is already a challenging exercise, so in this progression, we will work on that.

So once you are in a High Plank position, you will go down on your knees and then do a Push Up. Then we get back up, jump in and continue as before.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the bench directly in front of you.
  4. Jump your feet back so that you get into the High Plank position (but on a bench)
  5. Go down on to your knees.
  6. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your knees. Your core should be engaged.
  7. Do a Push Up on the bench. Make sure that you go as far down as possible.
  8. Get back up from your knees. Your body should now form a straight line from your heels to your knees. Your core should be engaged.
  9. Jump your feet back to the initial position.
  10. Raise your hands as high as possible and ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended.
  11. Lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Bench Burpees

Once you are comfortable with the Push Ups on Knees in the process, we will avoid going down on to the knees to do the Push Ups. Instead, we are going to do them straight away. We will additionally add in the jump at the end.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the bench directly in front of you.
  4. Jump your feet back so that you get into the High Plank position (but on a bench)
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Do a push up on the bench. Make sure that you go as far down as possible.
  7. Jump your feet back to the initial position.
  8. Jump to ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended. Your feet have to leave the ground.
  9. Extend your arms overhead (and clap)
  10. Land and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Sumo Burpees

So far, we have been relying on a bench, and apart from that obstacle, we can do a burpee. From now on, the following progressions will focus on getting rid of the bench.

Sumo Burpees are basically like Step Back Bench Thrust Squats, the first variant we looked at, but without a bench.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of you.
  4. Step your feet back one after another so that you get into the High Plank position
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Step your feet back to the initial position.
  7. Raise your hands as high as possible and ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended.
  8. Lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Sprawls

With Sprawls, we add the jumping element back in instead of the steps, the same way we did when we went from the Step Back Bench Thrust Squats to the Jump Back Bench Thrust Squats.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of you.
  4. Jump your feet back so that you get into the High Plank position
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Jump back to the initial position.
  7. Raise your hands as high as possible and ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended.
  8. Lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Jumping Sprawls

Two parts are missing until we can do the regular burpee. With Jumping Sprawls, we bring in the jumping part at the end.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of your feet.
  4. Jump your feet back so that you get into the High Plank position (the top position of a push up).
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Jump your feet back so that they land just outside of your hands.
  7. Jump to ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended. Your feet have to leave the ground.
  8. Extend your arms overhead (and clap)
  9. Land and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep.

Burpee on Knees

The last missing part is the push up in between. If we added that, we would be able to do a full burpee. So in this final progression, we add the less exhausting "Push Up on Knees".

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  3. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of your feet.
  4. Jump your feet back so that you get into the High Plank position (the top position of a push up).
  5. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Your core should be engaged.
  6. Go down on to your knees so that your straight line is from head to knees.
  7. Do a "Push Up on Knees" and try to go as much down as possible. Your chest and thighs should touch the floor.
  8. Get back on your feet so that your body forms that initial straight line from head to heels again.
  9. Jump your feet back so that they land just outside of your hands.
  10. Jump to ensure that your knees and hip are fully extended. Your feet have to leave the ground.
  11. Extend your arms overhead (and clap)
  12. Land and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep.

If you are entirely comfortable doing this last progression, you can confidently try the regular burpee.

There are, for sure, a few more steps in between the ones described above. As you might have noticed, the main movement of each of the progressions are similar; we just remove the explosive parts of the movement and add them back in only when we are comfortable:

  1. Instead of the jumps at the end, we raise our hands and extend our knees and hips. Before turning this into a jump, you can also do calf raises as a step in between.
  2. You can leave out the Push Ups and practice them separately before bringing them back in
  3. In between stepping back and jumping back, you could also try sliding back using a Slider (or just a towel)

What is my burpee level?

If you can't do a full burpee yet, you probably want to know how far you should scale down. Start with the first progression and work up the levels. If you can do 20-25 clean reps of that exercise, you can go up to the next level. Go as far as you can get, and the progression that is too exhausting is the one you are aiming for.

Whenever a workout contains burpees, do as many as you can with the level you want to work on and scale down one level as soon as your form isn't good anymore. So if your Sprawl doesn't look good anymore, finish the workout with Sumo Burpees. If they also get hard, do Bench Burpees and so on.

Now that you know the eight progressions to a burpee, there is no reason for you anymore to not practice them. Believe me, everyone hates burpees, but they are probably the best exercise that you can do.


Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash