Excuse Me: Burpee Substitutions and Modifications

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I don’t like burpees. Now, before you say “No one really likes them, Jen,” I want to clarify why: I just don’t see them done well very often, regardless of the fitness level of those performing them.

Burpees are a physically demanding movement that requires significant shoulder and core stability, plus hip mobility, and when you do them under fatigue for high reps, form tends to fail. I see rounded or saggy lower backs during various transitions during the movement, and I’ve heard complaints of niggling pain often enough afterward that I straight-up don’t include them in the conditioning workouts I write anymore.

To be clear, I don’t believe there are any inherently bad exercises, and burpees have plenty of redeeming qualities (they strengthen many major muscle groups, teach coordination, develop aerobic capacity and promote explosive power, to name a few). I simply believe that exercises can and should be tailored to you instead of forcing yourself into a form that your body isn’t currently well-suited for. There are reasons for the many variations of the squat and deadlift, and reasons why not every who runs does so at the same speed or for the same distance. If you’re seeking to do effective exercises (and of course you are, or what’s the point?) then it makes sense to adapt them to meet you where you’re at. And today, we’re going to do that with burpees.

In the following video, I talk about common form missteps that occur during the traditional burpee, and how to address them through different modifications and variations so that you build better stability and mobility. Better every day is the name of the game, and the path to progress includes being able to adapt along the way.

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Author:Jen Sinkler

Fitness writer and editor, workout connoisseur, meditator, proponent of spandex, former rugby player; never, ever without lip gloss.
Comments: 30

30 Responses to “Excuse Me: Burpee Substitutions and Modifications”

  1. Rachel
    January 15, 2015 at 7:58 am #

    Great alternatives to the regular burpee. I’ve recently aggravated an old disk injury so these alternatives will allow me to get the conditioning benefits without causing more lower back issues, thanks for posting 🙂

  2. Lulu
    January 15, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    Hi ,
    Thanks for this timely post!
    I injured my sacrum doing burpees and I’m fit and strong,
    However, I felt my lower back sag snd thst was it.
    I won’t ever do them again, but I will use your variations to incorporate a ” burpee” into my hiit workouts.

    Thankyou Jen

  3. Crystal pecora
    January 15, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    Jen, I love the burped variations…..I did do your workout 5 that Jill Coleman had on my notifications. Did that workout this morning with the squat thrusts, nice.
    Thank you,
    Ps I do have your program already lift weights faster, us girls some ME lifestylers were saying we bought the program but not reall have done any of it..why? I think because I get monthly workouts from metabolic effect…love jade and Jill.
    Anyways I’m going to try some of yours….I like videos though and I take PDFS to my gym.
    Hey I’m 62 and going strong. Jade told me to cut back to four days of intense not 6 , he is right. I want to try variations of the deadlift, since I do not want to herniated my disk again. I bought your husbands program too, like that test.thx crystal

  4. Frances
    January 15, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    Have been avoiding these due to low back but these modifications are worth trying while healing and begin to go slow so as to stay present with what I am doing 😉

  5. Margaret McInerny
    January 15, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Yup, I was the one last night at the gym with the saggy back!

    The wider stance at the beginning really does the trick for keeping your back straight. I’ve found that fatigue makes my form go right out the window — but who says you have to do burpees fast?! First, I slow down, then when I get really tired, I use the step back but hop forward. Then when I’m really out of gas I step both ways. I’m intrigued by using the box, though. That might make adding the push-up less challenging. Thanks, Jen.

  6. January 15, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    Jen, thanks! These modifications are wonderful. I have a serious love/hate relationship with burpees (like everyone). I know that if I am doing them right, they are an amazing movement. But your alternative will be helpful the next time I get fatigued half way through a workout.

  7. January 15, 2015 at 10:48 am #

    This is too funny! When I blurted out to one of my clients that I hate burpees, she replied that she had never heard me say that I hated any exercise. I learned on squat thrusts. The pushups and jumping/clapping–no. We laughed and substituted. Thank you for the video with your options, as we will make one of these work for us.

  8. Jacob
    January 15, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    These are great. A majority of my clients are seniors. They want to be able to do down to the ground. It is fear of not being able to get back up. I started having them try the wide squat and lowering down to walk their hands out. The. They walk back to a squat and stand up slowly. I can use these for my advanced seniors who would like another approach. Much appreciated!

  9. Sujata
    January 15, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    This makes so much sense! Having done CrossFit for a number of years, I’ve seen and done many of the fail forms you’ve pointed out! What I love about your adaptions is that you are working towards the stability and mobility that you need to execute burpees correctly without injuring yourself.

  10. Brian Johnson
    January 15, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    Thank you, Jen. Good, Sane presentation. I appreciate your good work–Keep it up!

  11. Ronda
    January 15, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    Love all of this. My favorite and by far most valuable takeaway from what I learn from you in regards to fitness is that there is never any ONE way to do something. After a year or so of CrossFit I was becoming discouraged with the obsession of the one-and-only-way to do things attitude. They say they scale, but that is different from the attitude you take in modifying a move entirely to work for individual body types. Jen Sinkler for President!!!! <3

    • January 16, 2015 at 10:30 am #

      Mwwwwah!

    • January 16, 2015 at 10:31 am #

      (I really want to give you the biggest hug right now.)

      • Ronda
        January 16, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

        🙂 🙂 🙂

  12. Jen
    January 17, 2015 at 12:08 am #

    Thanks for the awesome demonstration! Your program has actually inspired me to get back to working out. You are empowering me and showing me that it’s MY workout! Hoping to be strong again 🙂

    • January 17, 2015 at 6:03 am #

      I am thrilled to hear that! Go forth and kick booty!:)

  13. JoAnn White
    January 26, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    Great tips. I will try the wider stance for sure. I like the elevated idea too. I have bad elbows. Thx.

  14. February 21, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    Nice substitutions. The wide stance is going to be key for a lot of sitters. Big fan. I would add as an alternative to the plyo box, which may be too easy for some: light dumbbells in your hands. The added benefit of the dumbbells is some added resistance. This also progresses nicely into adding a row after the push-up if you so desire.

  15. Heather
    April 29, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    Thank you so much for this! I had been told that I had to keep my stance closer together and sadly my little bigger belly was getting in the way and I just could not do burpees at all but new that they were a great workout! Thank you so much for the wider stance tip, I tried it out right after your video and it works perfect!! Thanks for the tips!!

  16. Cassye
    January 27, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    Thank you, brilliant alternatives! Many of my clients are far from true burpees, and these mods will be a perfect solution.

  17. oli
    February 16, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    thanks for the alternatives!! love you legs, gotta get working to get them like yours!! thanks!!!

  18. Marisol
    April 21, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    Thank you for providing this valuable info. I’m a burpee abandoner after too many achy shoulders and knees. These variations were just what I was looking for (much more shoulder friendly and controlled).

  19. p--
    April 24, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    Thank you for this! Standard burpees aggravate my plantar fasciitis, but doing them elevated makes them possible.

    • Linda-Rae Nichols
      June 7, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

      Me too….. 🙂

  20. Tamie
    January 15, 2017 at 9:17 pm #

    LOVE the box modification! Can’t wait to try it tomorrow!

  21. May 7, 2017 at 8:44 am #

    I have one bad knee and one very bad knee, are these burpee variations safe for me. I need to do something I am gaining weight from inactivity and bordom. Please help. Thank you.

    • Julie Read
      May 9, 2017 at 11:06 am #

      Hi John, Julie here from Team Sinkler. I wish we could tell you, YES!, but in reality we’re not familiar with your situation. What city are you in? Hopefully we can point you in the direction of a gym or physical therapist that we recommend.

  22. beth brooks
    August 15, 2017 at 6:16 pm #

    hi jen – the wider stance on the hop in from the pushup has really helped reduce the back pain i used to get at this point. however, ive noticed that sometimes the wider stance leaved my groin muscles feeling a little pulled – like the spot just in from your hip flexor. any advice on this?

  23. Marisa
    August 19, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    Love these alternatives, I am doing a program with a lot of burpees in it which is a challenge for me with POP. I now often use the box trick which has helped a lot ( and with lots of practice they are now much easier overall) but also removed my back pain, so a double win. It is also good to see the mountain jack version for extra load without pressure. Thank you so much for the video demo’s.

    • Julie Read
      August 21, 2017 at 8:44 am #

      Hi Marisa, Julie here from Team Sinkler. So glad you find these modifications helpful!

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