Muscular Analysis of The Burpee

by Jeff Godin, PH.D., CSCS

Phase 1:  Squat Position

From standing position to squat position.

Squat down so the hands are flat on the ground. The knees and hips are flexing and the ankle is moving into dorsi flexion.  The spine is also flexing to a minor degree. This movement requires the eccentric contraction of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gluteus maximus. The muscles of the back are working to prevent excessive flexion of the spine. Think about holding the chest high. Eccentric means that the muscles are contracting and lengthening at the same time. The muscles are producing force to control the rate of descent against the effects of gravity.


Phase 2:  Push-up Position

From Squat position with the hands on the ground, to the start of the push-up position.

-        From the squat position, using the arms to support the upper body, the legs are thrust back until the body is elongated into the start of the push-up position.

-        This movement requires concentric contraction of the quadriceps to extend the knee, and concentric contraction of the hamstrings and gluteus maximus to extend the hip.

-        The pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and rotator cuff are contracting isometrically to stabilize the shoulder and the triceps brachii are contracting isometrically to stabilize the elbow. Isometric is a term to describe a muscular contraction without movement. In this case, the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii are producing just enough force to oppose the effects of gravity and prevent the chest from crashing to the ground.

-        Muscles of the scapula, including the trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior, and the pectoralis minor, are contracting isometrically to stabilize the scapula. These muscles are co-contracting creating a stabilizing effect on the scapula so the muscles of the rotator cuff have a stable platform to act upon.

-        Muscles of the trunk are contracting isometrically to stabilize the core and prevent unwanted movement in the spine. Muscles that extend and flex the spine are co-contracting to stabilize the spine. If you notice the back sagging or an exaggerated arch in the back this is indicative of a weakness in the abdominal muscles. Practice the Plank exercise to strengthen this region.


Phase Three: The Push-up

One push-up is completed.

-        The chest is lowered to the ground in a controlled fashion. It should be fast but under control. The pectoralis major and anterior deltoid muscles contract eccentrically allowing the shoulders to horizontally abduct. The triceps brachii contracts eccentrically to allow the elbow flex.

-        The torso should be rigid throughout the movement; the muscles of the trunk continue to act as stabilizers.

-        In the down position, the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii contract concentrically causing shoulder horizontal adduction and elbow extension respectively, returning to the body back to the up position.


Phase Four:  Return to Squat Position

From the top of the push-up position to the squat position

-        This is an explosive movement where the athlete springs back to the squat position.

-        The gastrocnemius, contracts forcefully causing plantar flexion, lifting the feet from the ground so that the knees and hips can be rapidly flexed and the body is returned to the squat position.

-        Flexion of the hips is caused by a concentric contraction of the iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles and flexion of the knee is caused by concentric contraction of the hamstring muscles.

Phase Five: Jump

From the squat position the athlete jumps as high as possible.

-        Jumping is the product of a forceful concentric contraction of the gastrocnemius muscle at the ankle, the quadriceps at the knee, and gluteus maximus and hamstrings at the hip, causing plantar flexion, and knee and hip extension respectively.

-        Prior to the jump the back should be rigid and this stabilization is provided by the back extensors.



39 Responses

  1. avatar

    That was a serious geek out! I actually enjoyed the article for the pure geekiness of the breakdown

  2. avatar

    If memory serves correctly, that is a bastard, a burpee with a push-up,I could be wrong of course……..

  3. avatar

    The Marines call them “Bends and Thrusts.” I do a modified version of this where I use 20 or 25 lb dumbells and do a 10 count burpee. After returning to upright position (count 6), do a curl up (count 7), then a shoulder press (counts 8 and 9), then un-curl (is that a word?) for count 10. There is no jump at the end, but you could do it before the curl. It’s exhausting. Doing the pyramids with 20 lb dumbells is really tough!

  4. avatar

    I suck at burpees I can barley do 5. Should I break down the burpee until I get stronger? Or increase the amount I do daily or weekly? I’m on day 5 WOD. Thanks

    • avatar

      Keep doing burpees..

    • avatar

      Don’t feel bad….I am out of shape which is why I signed up for a race as my motivation. The fact that you are even trying is something to be proud of….they will come with time! At least for my sake I hope they will!

    • avatar

      I have a friend that introduced me 2 crossfit last year n I hated them bt with time n effort n determination I have have doing many of them . So hang in there n keep up the good work .

    • avatar

      I used to do a zillion burpees for soccer training way back when…now to do as many as fingers I have, thats a challenge….but today I start!! 30, might break it up into a few here, and few later, and so forth…

  5. avatar

    It is weird that the burpee doesn’t rank high on the intensity scale, they kill me. In fact anything with jumping or pushups is cardio-rific, is that just me?

  6. avatar

    I am 50 y. O. and have a good workout routine which includes your WOD. I am starting to feel sorness in knees. Wanted to know how burpees are on the knees.

    • avatar

      potentially horrible on the knees if not done properly. Whenever in a squat position your knees should never peek out beyond your toes. most of us know this and use correct form when doing just a squat; however, when doing combined workouts like the burpee we forget this. when you’re already tired and trying to push through the last couple sets is when it gets dangerous. There are two squats and a jump in the burpee to hammer your knees. When your knees are beyond your toes, there is a shearing action going on in your knees–this is bad for anyone at any age. Do them properly and you will enjoy a full body workout that is very very effective

  7. avatar

    I am working on my burpees.. the moat difficult thing for me is putting my hands flat.. this causes pain in my wrists.. if I put my fists down or use my finger tips I seem to be able to do better.. is it ok to do that? Is there a way to strengthen my wrists to protect them better from the pain? (I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, but haven’t let it stop me yet.. I just keep learning how to modify so I can still reach my goals)

    • avatar

      actually, putting your fists down is the best thing to do. If you have dumbbells (light ones) to use that is even better. your wrists will be kept in proper alignment and at their highest structural capacity…just don’t let them bend when you’re getting tired. The bones in the hands leading up to the wrists are very small and are many; putting lots of dynamic load on them is not a good idea. Remember the commercials for the “perfect pushup” device? The only reason worth buying is because it keeps your wrists in proper form

    • avatar

      If you have RA you should talk to your Physical Therapist first!!!

  8. avatar

    TO Jody: Seriously, keep on doing burpees. Even one more than the day before is an improvement. Think progress.

  9. avatar

    Thanks for your advice on the burpees – what I do is increase the amount of burpees weekly – now I’m on 7 burpees. My logic could be wrong…lol is to do 30 in a row just in time for the race August 17th in Calgary. Thanks

  10. avatar

    Burpees are one of the best and most difficult exercise rountines (if done properly) to add to your cross training !!!

  11. avatar


  12. avatar

    I absolutely love burpees or squat-thrusts as I originally learned them. I do them single leg, single leg with tuck jump, single leg with curl press, with dumbbells as a jump shrug at the end, star burpees, and my favorite is the burpee with tuck jump. I’m doing them for charity: water this year. 15,000 is my goal on the year.

  13. avatar

    Thank you, for your article. It wasn’t that long ago I recall asking a crossfitter for a definition. I have affectionatly called them 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or even 13 count bodybuilders, for years now. Changing movements 6 and higher to various different ranges of motion, either alternately, for a real mind-muscle challenge, or by work-out to stimulate different muscle groups while incorporating periodization and circuit training techniques.

  14. avatar

    Today wad Buck Furpee Day… 300 on lunch break! Shoulders, back, chest, tri, quads,hams, calf muscles! The complete package.

  15. avatar

    If I remember correctly, I’ve been doing these since I was five, in dance class. We just called them flash steps. They were fun.

    • avatar

      Flash Steps! That’s awesome. Whenever someone talks about all the burpees they do, I’m gonna say “oh, you mean FLASH STEPS!”

  16. avatar

    This will b my first Spartan race in Amesbury , Ma. Aug.10 in the afternoon can’t wait looking forward 2 it . I am 50 yrs old n weigh 175 n my ht . is 5’5 . I am from Rockland,Ma. I will also b doing Ruckus in Marshfield ,Ma coming in june . i would like 2 do at least 4 events this yr. 2 start with n go from there . A co-worker got me started in crossfit last year but because of a financial situation had 2 drop bt am working out at home

  17. avatar

    I like working out, but burpees piss me off. Everybody at our gym does them, so i do as well, but my wrists always hurt during and after. If I do them on any kind of basis then I’m in constant pain. Buck furpees! I know that CrossFit has made them fashionable again, but can we please get beyond this annoying exercise?

  18. avatar

    I have found Burpees to not be my friend because they make my knees hurt. But I also found they are ok with a 1 foot riser or step, no more knee pain.

  19. avatar

    Guys — make a video!

  20. avatar

    This is a bastardo, burpees have no press up…then you have the mofo…all of them are pretty evil which means they’re good for you haha

  21. avatar

    I never did a burpee until I signed up for my first race. I trained for my first spartan race by doing ‘burpees plus one.’ You do 1 burpee today, and 1 + 1 burpees tomorrow. Each day, add one more than the day before. if you skip a day, you must do what you skipped plus the current day. I reached 100 burpees! And not only did I finish the race with pride, I am in the best shape of my life and feel fantastic!

  22. avatar

    At first i could barely do 2 burpees. I have been doing burpees each day at the end of my routeen. i have been adding one more each day. As of now i need to compleat 27 in a row with out stopping. My biggest problem i get so winded any suggestions????

  23. avatar

    Except for the high jump in the end, this is similar to the 8 body count we used to do in boot camp as punishment. I used to do it effortlessly, but 10 yrs later plus 40 lbs of fat, i cant even do one good push up. This is a challenge I am willing to take. Back to being fit!

  24. avatar

    Look forward to this.. I am posting my video to the event and my running club guys..i will add 1 burpee each day because I am on the street team and I live to high standards; aroo!

  25. avatar

    i love burpies the ones i do have 3 push ups wene your in push up position you do one push up and a left leg thrust then another push up and a right leg thrust (the leg thrust are same thing as stair climers)then the third push up and a full up down wene you come up after o before the jump do two you do two leg kicks one left one right ! havent dobe burpies in a while just been doing pushbups and pull ups daily for the past 3 months but im starting the challenge tomarrow lets do this

  26. avatar

    Can you do a modified push up in your burpee?

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