How To Get A Full-Body Workout By Mastering This One Move

Photographed by James Farrell.
For such a goofy-sounding exercise, the burpee strikes dread into the hearts of novice exercisers and athletes alike. If you ask me, though, this stems simply from the fact that people fear what they don’t understand. The burpee isn't an exercise that only intense CrossFitters do; it is a body-awesome combination that anyone can do. In truth, the burpee is actually a whole bunch of functional movements strung together: the squat, the plank, the push-up, the squat thrust, and the straight jump. Not only do you get all those great dynamic exercises in one, but by doing them in rapid succession, pretty much all of your muscles must work together in beautiful synergy, offering a full-body workout in just one move. The key is to maintain good form throughout. Here's how to do it right:

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Step 1: Squat down and plant your palms on the ground on either side of your knees.

Step 2: Quickly hop both your feet out behind you, so you’re in a tall-arm plank. If the jump is too much, step out one foot, and then the other to meet it. Firm your arms into the ground so your shoulders are strong, pull your bellybutton in slightly so your core is tight, and squeeze your cheeks together so your hips don’t sag.

Step 3: Purists will say this is where you've got to perform a push-up. Hold your plank nice and tight — and don’t forget to squeeze your glutes. Inhale as you lower your body down by pitching forward slightly on your toes and allowing your elbows to bend back to form an “A” shape with your head (not flared out to the sides). Your shoulder blades will pinch together as you go. Exhale as you push up, maintaining that strong core.

Step 4: Hop your feet together in between your hands, so you’re squatting with your hands on the floor like at the end of Step 1. Don’t want to jump? Step your feet in, one at a time.

Step 5: Jump for joy! (Hey, you’re almost done.) Throw your arms up to the sky and launch yourself off the ground from both feet into a nice, straight jump.

Step 6: Repeat from the top. Don’t groan — at least you know what you’re in for now!

Not sure how to work this magical move into your repertoire? You can use a set of 10 burpees as a warm-up (go slowly) or a power finisher (go hard) to your regular workout.
For a quick 10- or 20-minute workout you can do anywhere, try 30 seconds of burpees, then 30 seconds of squats, 30 second of burpees again, and finish with 30 seconds of alternating reverse lunges. Rest for 30 seconds; repeat the whole thing four (or eight) times.

Another idea: if you tend to get bored with cardio machines, you can spice things up with burpees (and get a strengthening boost): run/elliptical/cycle/row for five minutes at a good clip; then, hop off and do 10 burpees. Repeat for 30 to 45 minutes total.