5 Tips on How to Improve Your Burpees

There are few exercises that invoke the look of disgust in a big strong athlete than burpees...in the same way, just the mere mention of burpees gives hope to those athletes that struggle to put on size and strength but have a massive engine. I am definitely in the former camp!

Burpees in the CrossFit world is simply get down to the ground so that your chest touches and then get up and touch a target 6 inches (15cm) above your head with 2 hands...well, at least that was the 2013 Open standard...let's work on the assumption that it won't change.

Here are 5 ways you can improve your burpees

1. Do burpees...but do them well.

This is especially for those who struggle to do more than 100reps in 7mins...

I know this sounds stupidly simple but watching people do burpees, especially if you list "lifting heavy stuff" as your preferred movements, the form tends to break down pretty soon. The follow things are what I see (and what I do) when you get tired doing burpees...

  • The "Belly Flop"
    • This is where you bend over and either step one leg out at a time and collapse or make an effort to jump out and then collapse to the floor
  • The "Snake Up"
    • This is where you leave your hips on the floor and look like you are doing an "Up-Dog" in a Yoga class...or MacKenzie back extensions (hey, I am a physio after all!)
  • The "Get-to-your-feet-anyway-you-can"
    • This is where once you have snaked up, you go to your knees and then gradually get to your feet. That sounds quite dramatic but it happens.

If you practice nice, perfect form for as long as you can, you will develop the strength and endurance you need to keep as efficient as possible for as long as possible.

If you can only get 10 done perfectly, then it sounds like 5x10 perfect burpees are a good prescription for you...remember that only perfect reps count. Get a partner to judge you - 1 warning per set - if you can't maintain perfect reps, then the set is over and you have your 30-90secs break before doing them again. Once you can do 5 sets of 10 perfectly, start to increase the speed and reps per set.

2. Develop time-efficient strategies to match your fitness level.

For those of us who envy our cardio bunny friends who seem to burpee with ease, sometimes a little modification can help keep you in touch... for example...

The efficient burpee - this is hard to break down into steps because the really good athletes can burpee with only 2 or 3 steps... here is an example

  1. Bend over, placing your hands down while kicking feet out and landing on the floor with everything ready to spring up
  2. Jumping up from the floor into a 1/2 squat and springing into the jump - sometimes this is 2 different steps
  3. The really efficient burpee athletes will barely land and will transition into step 1 as they are coming down from the jump

The inefficient burpee 

  1. Bend over
  2. One leg out
  3. The other leg out
  4. Get to the floor
  5. Snake back up
  6. One leg in
  7. Other leg in
  8. Stand up
  9. Jump

Sometimes I end up like this but I have to be really tired to do this.

The more efficient burpee for the strugglers

Here is what I end up doing once the perfect technique goes out the window. I can still get 80+ burpees done this way in 7mins...

  1. Bend over and step out with R leg out at the same time
  2. Get to the floor as the L leg stretches out
  3. Jump into a wide sumo-style squat or Push up and bring L leg into a lunge in the one movement
  4. Jump into the air from there

3. Work on your transitions and technique

In watching much better athletes than I, I have noticed that the difference between the top level athletes comes down to transitioning from one position to the next. If you can cut down the amount of time you spend in any one position during the rep, you will improve your burpees/min rate.

If you are like me and jump in with a wide stance, then gradually work on bringing the stance in.

Practice landing and going straight down into the next rep. if you waste 1sec per rep, over 90reps, there are 90 secs you could save!

4. Break your sets up into manageable parts

Some people believe you should go out as hard as you can and don't look back or stop. That strategy has never worked for me. I think a more thoughtful game plan that is based around my known capabilities works better.

Aim for a target number and plan your rests. For example, for 7mins burpees, i try to get to 60 burpees in 5mins. I know I can do more at the start but if I go out too hard and fast, I need to rest more. So I try to break it down to sets of 12 and try to keep it the breaks as little as possible...e.g. 12 reps in 50secs and 10secs rest will get me 60 burpees in 5 mins. Then I can go for it in the last 2 mins and try to get more than 84. 13 reps/min for 7 mins is 91, 14 reps/min is 98, 15 reps per minute = 105.

If it is 40 burpees, I would expect to be done somewhere between 3 and 4mins with sets of no less than 4 sets of 10reps. There is no point burning through 40reps but have to take 20-30secs before you can grab a barbell to do snatches.

The idea of breaking up your burpees is to control your heart rate. If you heart remains under control, your breathing and fatigue will be under control and you will be more efficient in your movement and get more done in the long run.

5. Increase the intensity

We have covered getting the mechanics right, and consistently getting your technique consistent and efficient. It is time to do intense interval training to improve your fitness! Remember - be safe, warm up well and keep the form/technique sound. I for one will try to do 5 sets of 10 burpees at a 1:1 ratio aiming for 30secs per set of 10 reps. I will try to do this 3 times per week. I might even throw in thrusters in a similar fashion (I will write a blog post about that soon!).

Have fun out there!


Tips Common to All Movements 

- basically similar to my blog on preparing for the Open...

1. Practice your technique NOW

  • Feel comfortable in practice with competition technique and Range of Motion (ROM) and it will feel comfortable in competition.
  • Good technique is the most efficient way to complete the reps. For most movements, keep your back straight for crying out aloud!!
  • Motor patterns are strengthened with perfect practice - the more reps you do perfectly, the more likely you will do them

2. Continue your strengthening program (or start NOW!)

  • There are still 7 weeks before the Open starts and 11 weeks until it ends - there is time to make gains!
  • If you just get one more rep out because you are just a little bit stronger or you get a PB because you improved enough to achieve it, there is no better feeling in the Open. Last year, I got a 135lbs snatch 4 times - I got my first the day before I did 13.1. I also got my first CTB pullup during the Open. Strength helps!
  • If you are a Regionals athlete, the Open should just be a speed bump in your training program.
  • I have never heard anyone say "If I was only a bit weaker for that workout, I would have done better"!

3. Get your Coach to help identify and rectify your weaknesses

  • Most coaches are happy to tell you what to work on and will give you accessory (additional) exercises to do after your workouts.
  • Most coaches will have some form of one-on-one coaching sessions they can do with you - these are worth it for beginners and experienced athletes alike
  • If you do ask your coach for help and you DO NOT do what they say, then please DO NOT ask them for more help until you have done what they told you to do already!! Nothing is more frustrating to a coach than someone who asks for help but then doesn't do it.
  • If you have done everything you are told to do and your coach doesn't want to help you, ask yourself if you are in the right box or asking the right person...this should be extremely rare...in general and basically every box I have been to (over 20) and coaches I know (well over 50) have had coaches that are willing to help the athletes and care about their safety.

4. Sort your niggles out

  • One of the most common comments I hear is "If I had known how much better I would feel, I would have come sooner"
  • 'Nuff said!

5. Don't push to failure

  • Rich Froning rarely fails a rep. Don't waste your energy on failed reps. Rest and just concentrate on making good reps. Pushing to failure is a waste of time and energy and significantly increases your risk of injury...