When one thinks about a full-encompassing health and fitness routine, it is typical to assume both strength and cardiovascular endurance are required. Burpees are an excellent exercise that can work many different muscle groups and have multiple healthy effects on the body. But are they considered cardio or strength exercises?
Burpees can serve as cardio and strength exercises but are more of a cardio activity. They are a high-intensity exercise that helps raise the heart rate and increase the ability to take on extreme bouts of exercise for longer periods.
Burpees are an excellent exercise that can be thrown into the mix of many different workout routines. Although they may not be most peoples’ “favorite” movement, it sure does get the job done. Read on to learn more about burpees and how they can contribute to cardio or strength training.
Can Burpees Be Used for Strength or Cardio?
Before we dive into the ins and outs of this exercise, it is important to fully understand the movement involved in a burpee itself. Steps to complete a full burpee include:
When doing burpees, they should always be done with a sense of urgency and speed to help raise the heart rate.
Burpees for Strength
Although burpees are an intense workout designed for endurance, there is also a strength aspect to it. Throughout, you’re working your chest, arm, shoulder, and back muscles on the push-up. When you jump your legs back underneath you, you’re working calves and hamstrings, and jumping upright, you use most of your lower body muscles.
Some strength—although not as much as other exercises that focus on strength training—can still be built through endurance, and the burpee is a prime example of how it can be done effectively.
Burpees for Cardio
Home Training Hero talks about how beneficial burpees are, from building muscle to increasing cardiovascular endurance. There are other ways burpees can specifically contribute to cardio and, therefore, your cardiovascular and overall health:
Increase heart rate
Improved heart health
Improving your cardio endurance helps your heart health. Pushing your heart rate up helps your heart be healthier and able to endure more stress outside of just your workouts. Because you’re exercising, you will get better sleep, which has profound benefits on quite literally everything.
Burpees vs. Running for Cardio
So if burpees are so good for cardio, why not just resort to running? Can’t they produce the same results?
Burpees and running may have some overlapping benefits, but Livestrong references a study performed to measure both exercises and their benefits in terms of oxygen consumption. The study involved comparing a two-minute sprint interval (running) versus 30 minutes of steady-state cardio (burpees).
In the end, researchers found there were advantages to burpees almost equivalent to that of a sprint. In a combined workout, the two exercises resulted in greater oxygen consumption and body fat loss. So, if you want to increase your oxygen consumption and reduce body fat quicker, doing more burpees with some lengthier cardio is better for your end goal.
This doesn’t mean that running alone is bad for you or not beneficial. It definitely still has its benefits, but in terms of specific results with conditioning and weight loss, there must be an element of increased intensity and heart rate to see real change.
Using Burpees to Focus on Strength or Cardio
As you can see, burpees can contribute more to your cardiovascular health than strength. However, what if you want to put greater emphasis on one area than the other? Luckily, there are a few things you can do to enhance or modify the workout to achieve your exercise goals.
Burpee Modifications for Cardio
The following is a list of modifications you can incorporate to your burpees to improve its affects for cardio:
Reduce rest. Gradually lower the amount of time you take to rest between sets of burpees.
Perform burpees in between other exercises. Mix it up with some cardio or additional strength training for a complete full-body workout.
Add a time limit. See if you can increase how many burpees you can perform within that period. Push your limits.
Turn planks into plank jacks. Before bringing your feet back up to your hands from a plank position, perform a plank jack. This is done by pushing the tips of the feet off the ground and having them land apart from one another. (Think of it as a horizontal jumping jack, but only with the feet.) Repeat this motion as needed.
Add mountain climbers. While on the floor, add in a short set of mountain climbers before preparing to get back up.
Note: If your goal for burpees is cardio, you may want to invest in a fitness tracker or smartwatch to keep track of your heart rate over time. Additionally, a compatible app with the device will tell you how your stats compare with each workout and whether your cardiovascular endurance is improving.
Burpee Modifications for Strength
If you want to use burpees to improve strength and promote healthy muscles, try these modifications:
Add a push-up. Before bringing your feet towards your hands and jumping up, do a push-up first. This will work out the pecs and triceps as well as boost heart rate.
Add a squat. You could also modify your jump to a squat jump to build muscles in the lower body. Alternatively, you can bring your feet into a squat (squat thrusts) as they hop up to meet your upper body; you can ease your way into this modification by using sliding discs or paper plates on a hardwood floor.
Add a balance trainer. Hold on to the edges of a balance trainer, dome side down, while performing the burpee. Lift it above your head once you’re on your feet to add weight resistance to the arms and shoulders. Alternatively, you can use a medicine ball if you are advanced in this exercise; some trainers even recommend using steel maces or kettlebells.
Use boxes or platforms. For a greater challenge, you could add box jumps to your burpee—jumping up and onto a box or platform and back down.
Use pull-up bars. Perform the burpee under a pull-up bar. Once you get back on your feet, use your jump to reach and pull yourself up on the bar.
How to do a burpee the right way
Assume the plank position, with core engaged, abdominal muscles holding your spine nice and straight. Your arms are shoulder-width apart, hands flat on the floor.
Jump your feet towards your hands. You’ll find yourself in a squat position.
In a smooth, explosive movement, jump upwards.
Land soft, bending the knees to absorb your weight as you come to land.
Immediately drop into the squat position, with hands placed shoulder-width apart.
Jump your feet back behind you, fully extending your body so that you return to the plank position.
Within thirty seconds, you’re looking to achieve 10-15 repetitions.
After thirty seconds, rest for ten seconds, then repeat.
Burpees can work many muscle groups and benefit the body in many ways, but it is primarily a cardio and conditioning exercise. With the rate at which burpees are done and how high they can get a heart rate, there is no question that they are more cardio than strength training. After a bout of burpees, you will definitely feel more “gassed” or “winded” than any sort of muscular pump.
However, if you’ve noticed a plateau in your training or fitness regimen, there’s still no harm in spicing it up with some burpees. If standard burpees aren’t enough, try incorporating more modified burpees to improve conditioning, keep your heart rate at optimal levels, and improve muscle strength.