What Muscles Do Burpees Work?

Have you ever tried to do a burpee? Perhaps you’ve done thousands. You’ll probably remember the first time you tried to do one – down to the floor, back up again. Have you ever wondered what muscles burpees work?

The first time I tried, I found the very first burpee to be easy. The second one, however, made me stay on the floor. I couldn’t get up again!

As it’s a full body motion, a burpee or two can be quite tiring. But it didn’t just seem to be my arms and legs that ached the day after. So there is one question I want answering – what muscles do burpees work?

The Anatomy of a Burpee

A burpee seems quite straightforward, even if it does have an odd name. You simply have to drop to the floor and get back up again – how hard could that be? A full burpee includes a push-up and a jump. Watch this video to see how to do it properly.

As you drop to the floor, you catch your weight on your hands and arms. This will immediately work your arm muscles, along with your shoulders and back. You’ll also be starting to stretch out the muscles at the back of your leg.

The next step is to move your legs back so your body falls into a push-up position. Your core is activated here – your abs and leg muscles are used in the movement, and the finishing position is a plank variation, requiring core strength to hold.

Next, you perform a standard push-up. This uses your arm, shoulder, chest, and core muscles. (1)

To return to an upright position, you must bring your legs back towards your chest and land on your feet. This again uses your core and abs.

As you return to vertical, add a little jump at the end. The standing motion includes the muscles in your back, and the jump activates the muscles in your legs, including your ankles and feet.

Done properly, a single burpee will activate most of the muscles in your body, especially your core. No wonder they are so effective…and hard to do for beginners!

Burpee Variations

Aside from the standard burpee, many variations exist. (2) It can be easier to start without the push-up or jump, but this is properly considered to be a “half-burpee” and is far less effective than a full burpee.

A box-jump burpee includes a jump on to a raised box as part of the return to upright. This works your legs harder, along with your core. You can also jump over a box to work your legs and core in a different way.

A kettlebell deadlift burpee is performed by grabbing the handles of two kettlebells on the way down and lifting them up on the way back up.

This works your arm, shoulders, and back muscles to a greater degree than a standard burpee, as well as your core and legs for balance as you stand.

A deadman burpee has a similar effect on the arms and increases the use of the core as you must complete the downward stage flat on the floor, and push-up from the ground.

A twister burpee involves a turn in the jump, and so works the core and legs harder. The twist will work all the muscles down the side of your body, as the jump is an explosive movement. Make sure to twist in both directions alternately so as not to overwork one side.

There are many more variations, including lunges, star jumps, one leg variations, and weights. The principle remains the same; a burpee is a full body motion, with focus on the legs, arms, and core.

Each variation targets a different area of the body, and so remain as effective as a burpee is, to begin with.

Using boxes or platforms can increase the difficulty, as can holding a position for a count of several seconds. Burpees are a great way to exercise when you have little equipment or time, as they are quick to perform, and only a few will get your heart beating faster.

If you are new to burpees, start off getting your form correct with a standard burpee. It is an effective exercise if done correctly, and the fancy moves can come later!


A burpee is an effective exercise that engages most of the muscles in the body when performed correctly. With numerous variations, it will be hard to become bored with the motion or to outgrow it. If you feel it is losing its effectiveness, simply add weights, boxes, or twists.

On a practical level, a burpee can be performed with just your body and an open space on the floor. It is simple, effective, and gets your heart going within seconds. These are the muscles burpees work. What’s not to like about burpees?

Do you have any favorite variations for burpees? Do you remember the first time you tried them? Let us know how many you can do in one session!

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