What is a burpee?

 By Mike Kwong, PTA, CSCS

Ever overhear a personal trainer at a gym tell his/her client to perform 10 burpees as a part of their training program? Do you have a kid in team sports moan about the amount of burpees that his/her coach made them do during practice? Have you ever wondered what a “burpee” actually is? It sounds like a cross between a 7-11 Slurpee and the noise you make after drinking it! So, what is this infamous burpee that people are talking about?

The Burpee, also known as a squat thrust, is a full body exercise used in strength training and as aerobic exercise. It is performed in the following steps:

  1. Begin in a standing position.
  2. Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground. (count 1)
  3. Extend your feet back in one quick motion to assume the front plank position. (count 2)
  4. Return to the squat position in one quick motion. (count 3)
  5. Return to standing position. (count 4)


A Brief History of The Famous Mr. Burpee

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the exercise was named in the 1930’s for American physiologist Royal H. Burpee, who developed the Burpee Test. He earned a PhD in Applied Physiology from Columbia University in 1940 and created the “Burpee” exercise as part of his PhD thesis as a quick and simple way to assess fitness. The exercise was popularized when US Armed Services adopted it as a way to assess the fitness level of recruits when the US entered WWII. Consisting of a series of the exercises performed in rapid succession, the test was meant to be a quick measure of agility, coordination and strength.

There are several variants to the traditional burpee, with the more popular ones adding a push up, jump, or pull up to the exercise. Here are a few:

  1. Burpee push up: the athlete adds a push up after assuming the plank position
  2. Jump up Burpee: the athlete jumps up as high as they can at the end of the movement and before they start their next burpee
  3. Long-jump Burpee: the athlete jumps forward, not upward
  4. Jump-over Burpee: the athlete jumps over an obstacle between burpees
  5. Pull-up Burpee: the athlete combines a pull-up with the jump or performs the pull-up instead of the jump
  6. Double Burpee: instead of 1 push up, do 2 in a row. This cancels the drive from landing after the jump and makes the next jump harder. Each part of the burpee may be repeated to make it harder.
  7. Side Burpee:  The athlete bends at waist and places hands shoulder-width apart to the side of right or left foot. Jump both legs back and diagonally to the right. Jump back in, jump up, and repeat. jumping back and to the left side.

Here at CPMC’s Physical Therapy and Sports Wellness Clinic, we use the burpee (and variations of it) as one of our exercises in our Total Body Fitness classes. Recently, we have been holding our own fitness challenge: how many can you do in 30 seconds? The results have been amazing!  Come try it out for yourself!

Sports Wellness Center
Physical Therapy Clinic – Pacific Campus
2360 Clay Street, San Francisco, CA 94115


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