The burpee is definitely the exercise a lot of us love to hate. But this freakin’ tough, calorie-torching move is great for one reason: It’s completely full-body. “Burpees put your whole body to work: your shoulders, arms, chest, core, glutes, quads, and hamstrings. When done correctly, they really don’t leave a single muscle group behind,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Laura Miranda, also a doctor of physical therapy and the creator of PURSUIT.
Burpees are also great cardiovascular training. You're taxing all those muscle groups at once, so your body has to recruit a lot of oxygen and energy in a very short period of time, which is why even just a few reps can leave you breathless, she says.
The downside of this killer bodyweight move? It’s easy to sacrifice your form. “Burpees are hard… anytime you have to get on and off the ground, it’s going to be hard because you’re working your muscles and metabolic system at the same time," Miranda says. "When they’re done quickly, people tend to butcher their form.” And if your form is off? There’s a greater risk you’re going to pull or tweak something, especially if you’re just trying to get through the number your fitness instructor prescribed, she says.
But here’s some good news about burpees: You don't have to do them! When it comes to getting your fitness on, there are a lot of choices you can make; it’s a beautiful (sweaty, sweaty, sweaty) thing. We asked Miranda for her go-to moves for when you find exhaustion getting the best of your burpee, or you’re just plain ol' sick of the classic move.
Ready to work? Give these five full-body exercises a whirl. They require minimal equipment, so you can do them just about anywhere. Form is still key, so take a break if yours starts to slip or you stop having the energy to put behind each and every rep. Remember, there’s no shame in scaling down.
Push-Up into High-Knee Taps
How to do it: Find a box, bench, or stair and make sure you have at least five feet of space behind you. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hands at your sides. Reach forward and drop your hands to the bench. As your hands reach for the bench, kick your feet back so that you are in a high plank position.
Then, do a push-up. Make sure your core is tight, your entire back is straight, and your glutes and hamstrings are engaged. With your eyes focused about two to three feet in front of you to maintain a flat back, lower your body until your chest grazes the bench. Exhale as you push back to starting position.
Finally, jump both feet forward so that you are in a low squat position, then stand up. Without pausing, complete four total high-knee toe touches on the bench, two per side. Drive one leg up at a time and tap your toe on the bench. After the four reps, drop back into a high plank position before doing another push-up. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Why it works: “This movement combines push-ups and high knees, both of which are full-body functional movements. And the push-up adds a core- and chest-strengthening component,” says Miranda. Most women could benefit from spending more time strengthening their chest muscles because weakness there can lead to poor posture and back pain, she says.
Explosive Rotational Squats
How to do it: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Cross your right leg in front of your body and your left leg behind as you rotate your upper body to the right. Jump your feet back to starting position, then do an air squat.
To do an air squat, brace your abs, push your hips back, bend your knees, and, making sure your weight stays in your heels, lower your body into a squat. Push back up through your heels to starting position. That’s one rep.
For your next rep, switch legs. Cross your left leg in front of your body, and your right leg behind as you rotate your upper body to the left (always in the opposite direction of your front leg). Jump feet back to start. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps per side.
Why it works: “Anytime you hear 'explosive' you should think plyometrics, which are a type of high-intensity training that encourage muscular development, agility, cardiovascular conditioning, stamina, and speed,” says Miranda. Adding the twist increases activation of your obliques, she says, and helps increase range of motion in your hips.
Stationary Bear Crawl Jumps
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees, hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, keeping your hips at the same level or slightly lower than your shoulders. Move your left hand and right foot forward approximately 6 to 10 inches. Then move them back to starting position. Then, switch sides. Bring your right hand and left foot forward approximately 6 to 10 inches, then move them back to starting position.
Jump your feet back into a high plank until your body is fully extended and in a straight line from head to toe. Then jump your feet back to starting position. Repeat this entire sequence for 20 seconds. Rest 30 to 45 seconds, then go for another 20.
Why it works: “Crawling is one of our foundational movement patterns. It helps develop timing and coordination between the hips, core, and shoulders, as well as full-body strength,” says Miranda. Plus, she says, incorporating a move like the bear crawl into your workout develops hip mobility while improving core and upper-body strength.
How to do it: The total-body burnout is a combination of a broad jump, walkout, and reverse shuffle. To begin, clear at least six feet in front of you. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hands at your sides. To begin the movement, push your hips back into a quarter squat. As you squat down, swing your arms backward. Without pausing at the bottom of the squat, immediately jump forward as far as you can, as you swing your arms forward. When you land, make sure to absorb the impact of the jump by pushing your hips back.
From that landing position, lower your palms onto the ground. Begin inching your body forward, walking your hands out one at a time without moving your feet until your body is fully extended in a high plank. Then reverse the movement, returning back to standing position.
Finally, backpedal the two to four feet back to your starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Why it works: What's so great about broad jumps is that they translate into explosive power and strength, says Miranda. Runners will notice the power-practice helps lengthen their strides, and athletes who strength train will notice that squat cleans, power cleans, and snatches all require the same explosive hip-opening movement that is strengthened by doing broad jumps.
“The walkout will give your body the similar upper-body stimulus as a burpee. And the backpedal is a chance for your body to practice moving in a different direction, which increases overall stability,” Miranda says. Plus, you’ll see some serious quad, glute, and hamstring gains if you add this burner to your workouts consistently.
Inverted Mountain Climbers
How to do it: Start on all fours, with your legs one to two feet from a wall. Brace your core. From here you have two options: Either hinge at the hips and walk both feet up the wall until your legs are at 45 degrees with the wall, or explode both feet up onto the wall at once. Drive your right knee into your chest, then extend the leg back. Then, drive your left knee to your chest and extend the leg back. Continue to alternate for 20 seconds–but only do it for as long as your form stays strong.
Note: This is an advanced movement, best reserved for those who can already hold a handstand for 30 seconds. To make it easier, keep your feet on the floor in high plank position for regular mountain climbers: Alternate "running" your knees into your chest as quickly as you can for 20 seconds.