What’s the best move to do to get your heart rate up for a quick cardio workout? —Matthew H.
If you really want to break a sweat during your workout, look no further than good ol’ burpees.
As a benchwarmer on my high school’s track team, I had to do 50 of the punishing-but-effective move every single day as penance for my habitual tardiness. I hated burpees then, but now I understand just how effective they are for strengthening and toning your entire body. That’s why they’re a mainstay of CrossFit and HIIT workouts.
Burpees are usually done in sets of 10, and—I’m not gonna lie—they’re exhausting, because they engage a lot of the major muscle groups. But the payoffs are huge! A single rep has six counts, requiring your body to essentially perform six different exercises:
- Squat: Squat down and place both hands on the ground in between your feet
- Snap jump: Jump back into a plank
- Plank: Lower down to a push-up position
- Push-up: Press back up into a plank
- Squat jump: Jump feet forward to come back into the starting squat position
- Vertical jump: Reach hands over head and jump as high as possible
The combo will get your legs, glutes, abs, and arm muscles burning (in a good way), and doing multiple reps increases your heart rate, so you’ll burn fat and build muscle, too.
One thing that makes burpees a little less groan-inducing? Adding some exciting variations. I’d hate to do 40 basic burpees in succession, but knowing I only have to get through 10 of each type somehow makes this workout more manageable. To get a quick cardio workout in, cycle through all four of these moves—10 reps of each—in a row, or try throwing one of them into your HIIT workouts for extra power.
Half-burpee to squat
This is the best burpee to get the glutes burning and fire up the lower abdominal muscles. Start in a squat position. Place hands on the mat in between your feet, and snap jump backward to land in plank position. Hold for a beat, then jump back up to the starting squat position.
No jumping involved for this variation, which makes it a great option for anyone with ankle or knee issues. Don’t worry—it’s still tough! Beginning in a plank position, lower your body down to a push-up. Slowly press back up to return to plank, then bend at your knees and hips to pull your hips back over your heels. You should look like a cat about to pounce. Roll back out into the plank position, and repeat the entire sequence.
It’s like a basic burpee, with a surprise (killer) ending! Perform a basic burpee—skip the push-up in the middle if you need to—but instead of finishing with a vertical jump, draw your knees up into a tuck. Think cannonball-style jump here, and get as high as you can.
180-degree jump burpee
Adding a half-turn into the basic burpee doesn’t sound like it would make your quads scream and your heart beat faster—but it does. Those are good things, of course, and introducing a different range of motion tests proprioception, or your body’s ability to sense where it is in space, and balance. With that, you’ll increase muscle definition and also improve your reflexes in the day-to-day. You know, like when you decide to give skateboarding a go, or slip on a banana peel (that happens in real life, right?).
Bottom line here: Burpees are a triple-threat. Doing them regularly will push your strength and endurance to the next level. And whipping out a set of 40 is certainly going to give you an epic cardio workout. Sure, they aren’t the most fun thing in the world, but when you complete that final rep, you’ve gotta admit that you feel pretty accomplished. And out of breath.