Burpee Variations Origins
Where did Bar-Facing Burpees (BFB) and Burpee Box Jump Overs (BBJO) come from? Why not just do burpees?
It’s simple…standard burpees are really hard to judge. The judge must answer:
• Did the athlete clear the ground and actually jump?
• Was their hip fully open?
• Were their feet under their hips?
Yes, all these things can be standardized and enforced, but it enters a grey area.
The creation of BFB and BBJOs was not just about effective fitness – by forcing the athlete to jump higher and move further – it was more about creating an easy movement standard to judge.
Standard burpees are extremely effective for training, but they are rarely seen in the Sport of Fitness. That is why this guide will focus mainly on BFB and BBJO while touching on variations of standard burpees.
Those sub-variations of standard burpees include burpees to a target and lateral burpees over a box, bar, dumbbell or rower.
Luckily, an athlete who is effective and efficient at BFB and BBJO will have no trouble transferring these skills to the other sub-variations.
Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and technique for burpee variations you must master its specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
Athletes often underestimate how much mobility is needed for efficient burpees. All variations share the necessity of 1) a pike, or full body compression. The BFB & BBJO require 2) full hip extension and the BBJO additionally requires 3) mobile squat mechanics, particularly knee and ankle flexion.
Every burpee variation demands the body to be able to fold in half with relative ease. Many athletes lack the ability to actively compress their core due to poor technique often made worse by mobility limitations.
The ability to fold the body and enter deep hip flexion requires laxity in the combined systems of the low back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
The fascia, the sheath on the outside of the muscle, connects in lines from the back of your head to the bottom of your foot.
Therefore, any mobility restriction in this system will rear its head when the athlete performs burpees.
The best movement screen here is a forward fold. With soft knees in a squat stance (or wherever you “catch” a burpee) hinge over and place your palms flat on the floor.
To find this position actively, you must be able to claim this position with comfort. Any sense of intensity in this position means your burpee efficiency is limited by your mobility.
2) Hip Extension
Any jumping or bounding whether over a bar or box, with a jump rope, running or weightlifting all require a full and powerful hip extension to best express power. Often immobile athletes will shy away from a quick, full hip extension unconsciously because their brain is protecting their body.
It is called a “muted hip” because the function is being muffled.
In other words, the function could be present if it was not being masked by an athlete’s mobility problems. Addressing a lack of hip extension could easily allow you to express your true strength to a greater degree.
Here are some simple stretches to help you improve your hip extension:
• Lizard Stretch (targets the internal rotators & glutes)
• Couch Stretch (targets the quads & hip flexors)
• Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch (targets the quads & hip flexors)
• Seal Stretch (targets the abs * hip flexors)
3) Shoulder Extension
In the bottom portion of the burpee the chest is resting on the floor and the elbows are back behind the body.
Anytime your upper arm is back behind your body like that, you’ve entered shoulder extension. It’s a similar demand on mobility as the bottom of a ring dip.
I would recommend doing quick shoulder extension test. If you lack this range, you will be prone to sub-optimal movement and cutting off blood flow to your arms and chest during burpees.
Here are some stretches to improve shoulder extension:
To safely and efficiently complete BFB and BBJOs the following strength baselines are suggested:
1) An 8-Inch Jumping Surplus
To safely, consistently and ultimately efficiently move through larger sets of BFB and BBJOs you need to be working well under your threshold. You can jump to 60% of you max height many more times in one minute than you can at 90% of your max height. Not only will your score improve but so your systems that allow for sustainability (breathing, muscle tension, blood pressure, etc.)
Obviously, you need virtually a 0-inch surplus to technically complete a BFB or BBJO. But that isn’t the point. The strength requirement is not just about safety it is also about developing effective movement. If an athlete doesn’t have at least an 8-inch jumping surplus, their time is better spent developing jumping capacity than it is working on repeat jump ability. Strength is a prerequisite to speed. And you must move with more speed (faster) to get in better shape. Trust me, don’t skip over this.
Assuming you have standard bumper plates on your barbell, the bar is 9-inches off the ground. That means to have an 8-inch surplus you need to jump at least to a 17-inch box. For BBJO, if you are a female looking to do the Rx height for most workouts (20 inches) then you really should be able to jump onto a 30-Inch box. If you are a male looking to move safely and effectively through WODs with an Rx height of 24 inches, you should be able to jump on a 34-inch box one time for a max effort.
If you cannot do this, realize that your training time is best spent developing your ability to jump maximally. Rather than doing many jumps fatigued (i.e. Box Jumps in a workout), you are better off doing Box Jumps as high as possible for 2 or 3 reps, resting and repeating. Once you have reached the 10-Inch Jumping Surplus you can begin to add the layers of speed and fatigue.
If you do not have all the Mobility and Strength requirements, time spent learning skill will be much less productive. Build the basics, then layer on top.
The skill section for burpee variations is organized by universal to individual. It starts with skills that are needed for all variations and then breaks down unique skill demands to each variation.
Standard Burpee Focal Points
There are two variations of completing the standard burpee. The “Snap” and the “Spring.” Both are effective and can be used correctly given the situation.
A rep for both variations begin from standing and end with the feet clearing the ground, hips fully extended and hands above the head. In the middle of the rep, the front of the body must touch the floor (thighs, stomach & chest).
When deciding between the two variations it can be helpful to keep in mind that variations always exist because certain demographics will find one helpful in a given situation.
For example, if you lack upper body pressing strength and 20-minute workout surfaces with high volume burpees, you are going to probably want to converse your energy and make the movement more sustainable by doing the “Snap Burpee” variation.
However, if 3-minute workout with burpees and air squats comes out, you will want to do the faster, potentially less efficient variation the “Spring Burpee.”
Variation 1: The Snap Burpee
This version of the burpee can be used during any of the burpee options (standard, BFB, BBJO). I have heard the motion of this variation also described as a “slinky.”
This version mimics the action of the childhood toy in the fact that it is not rigid and it waves as it moves. From the bottom of the burpee, you raise just your upper body by extending your arms. Your hips stay on the floor. This takes much of the demand off your upper body in the movement.
From here, you shoot your butt high in the air and immediately snap your hip shut, entering a pike position. This step cannot be slow. Much like a box jump or a snatch, if you move slowly through the transition point, you will never be able to complete the rep. Move efficiently and sustainably involves moving slowly and deliberately, except for this one step. You must snap quickly.
From the pike position you simply stand, jump and reach above your head.
Again, variations exist to make a workout easier or for a unique type of athlete. The Snap Burpee is most appropriate for longtime domains, high volume of burpees or workouts with lots of pressing, jumping or heavy squatting. It is most appropriate for athletes who have lower levels of fitness or who lack explosive pressing strength.
Variation 2: The Spring Burpee
This version of the burpee can also be used for all the different burpee options (standard, BFB,BBJO). This version is the faster and more taxing of the two. There are two main differences between the Spring and the Snap Burpee. One, you spend much less total time in contact with the ground. Two, your hips lead off the ground instead of your shoulders.
As soon as you return to the ground, you must pop up right away again. As you push-up you will simultaneously raise your hips. Because the shoulders and hips are both moving vertically at the same time, the demands on the upper body are much more significant.
It is important to move with a degree of speed, as soon as you begin the rep, otherwise your hips will not have the height they need to land flat-footed with straight legs. If you can’t move with enough speed through this middle section, you will struggle to be efficient at burpees.
From the pike position you simply stand, jump and reach above your head.
The Spring Burpee is most appropriate for short domains, lower volume of burpees or workouts that are particularly taxing on pressing, jumping or squatting musculature. It is most appropriate for athletes who have higher levels of fitness and possess a higher degree of explosive pressing strength.
Burpees to a Target
Often when the standard burpee is programmed for a competition it is to a target. This is a very simple way to remove the need for a judge to determine if the athlete’s hips are fully extended, if their feet are under their hips and if they have cleared the ground. The only things needed enforced is chest and thighs on the ground and if they touched the target.
The biggest factor when the movement standard is to a target is if it is a universal or relative height.
A universal height, such as 8 feet, gives an advantage to those who are tall.
A relative height, such “to a six-inch target,” gives an advantage to those who are shorter.
The universal standard benefits the tall athlete because they will not have to jump as high (or maybe at all). The relative height, while at first glance may seem fair, favors the shorter athlete because the total distance they will need to travel is less.
It’s important to remember in what setting a burpee to a target takes place.
Online qualifiers, like the Open, will require athletes to measure regardless of which method they choose.
Historically, the Open has always had athletes stand tall with hands overhead and measuring 6-inches from that height.
However, BFB and BBJOs have replaced the Burpee to Target in recent years. These variations take the “gaming” out of it because they are almost impossible to cheat the standard.
Local competitions an other in-person events are more likely to see a burpee to a universal height, primarily for logistical reasons. It is much easier to set up a single ribbon, runner or have athletes touch a cross-member of a rig.
The Games did this in 2018, setting up a banner at a universal height that the athletes had to contact.
Brent Fikowski didn’t even have to jump! (Start at 28:20)
(1) No Pike Fold
This mistake is often seen in athletes who lack the ability to dynamically claim a pike position.
This is usually cause by some combination of 1) a lack of flexibility in the low back, glutes, hamstrings and calves, 2) a lack of core strength to actively compress the chest towards the thighs, or 3) a lack of speed as the hips rise because of minimal awareness of the need for speed.
The result is the athlete’s feet don’t come under their hips when they pike up.
This forces them to either push their upper back by walking their hands, landing with their feet excessively wide or sticking their butt back and squatting more to shift the weight back over their heels before they stand.
(2) Landing in Squat
The second mistake is another symptom of the same alignment…not getting the hips high enough and compressing. I frequently see athletes not getting the speed or height they need so they drop into a squat-like position.
While the athlete thinks they’re squatting, they are actually compromising the longevity of the movement from both an efficiency and orthopedic viewpoint.
This is because their palms are still flat on the floor when they are in the bottom of their “squat.” Every time I have seen this error the person has been hunched over with a rounded back and their heels are well off the ground…far from ideal conditions.
These errors will look a lot like this…
Burpee Technique Progression
Too often people look at burpee variations from solely a capacity stand point.
However, building capacity requires taking a closer look at your technique and breathing in the movement.
Bar-Facing Burpee Tips
The Bar-Facing Burpee is the most commonly tested version of the movement. There are also lateral burpees over the bar, which dramatically reduces the distance you must travel each rep. The lateral burpee over bar has no standards besides touching thighs and chest to the ground and jumping with a two-foot take off to the other side.
The Bar-Facing Burpee has another element to the movement standard, you must be facing the bar. This potentially has a bit of subjectivity to it because, “What is facing?” The Open has countered this in the past by requiring a tape line to be placed perpendicular to the bar. Athletes had to straddle that line when in the bottom of the burpee for it to be considered “Bar-Facing.”
Because of this additional requirement for the BFB, as well as the relative ease of judging the lateral burpee over the bar, I believe the lateral burpee over the bar has the potential to become much more popular in future competitions and online qualifiers.
I believe the same is true for the lateral burpee over rower or box. I do not think the burpee over the dumbbell will be as popular long term because dumbbells vary in diameters (standard-sized bumper plates do not) and it is easy to jump in front of or behind the dumbbell without intentionally trying to cheat the standard.
(1) Stay Close
(Applies to BFB, BBJO, Lateral Burpees)
The first tip is staying close to the bar throughout the movement. The closer your face is to the bar the less far you must travel to get over the bar to the other side. This is especially important when sprinting Bar-Facing Burpees because you jump straight across to the other side without taking any additional steps.
(2) Stay Low
(Applies to BFB, BBJO, Lateral Burpees)
The second principle is stay as low as possible throughout the movement. You aren’t required to stand up and fully open your hip in these variations like you are a standard burpee. It is much faster to stay low, especially when trying to increase cycle time. Pretend you are doing burpees in a 4-foot basement and you don’t want to hit your head. This principle does not apply to “sustain” variations of the BFB.
(3) Sprint vs. Sustain
(Applies to BFB, BBJO, Lateral Burpees)
When doing burpee variations you must decide either to sprint or sustain. The variations of BFB & BBJO below are all built upon this fundamental, binary premise. You cannot do both, you must choose. Sprinting reps involves a big compression of the core, where the feet come all the way to the hands and you jump over the bar or box without taking any steps. It is more taxing on the arms, core and legs in sequence.
If you are in a situation where the sprint is not appropriate you must sustain, which involves taking an additional step to the bar or box before jumping. That step allows you to compress your core less. This is because your hips rise high enough for you to land flat-footed but your feet do not glide all the way to meet the hands. Therefore, when you extend (stand up) you must take a single step forward before jumping.
This means that if you are sprinting burpees you stay low, but if you are doing sustainable variations, you stand up fully each rep. This is one of several reasons why the sprinting variation’s cycle time is faster.
Lastly, keep in my that for sustain variations you can either do a Snap Burpee or Spring Burpee. And, depending on the rulebook,you can step down and back in the actual burpee as well. So many options, I know. Not to worry, I’ll break them down one-by-one.
(1) Jumping Too Far
This mistake occurs because an athlete is combining a weak core compression with a big jump. A weak core compression shows itself as the feet landing well behind the hands.
When the athlete stands he is far enough away from the bar where he could (and should) step up to the bar before jumping over it. Rather, he jumps from where he is standing. This results in a long-jump of sorts, which is very energetically expensive (i.e. inefficient).
This video shows the error…
(2) Moving in Circles
This mistake is most detrimental when sprinting BFB. The athlete turns the same direction on both sides of the bar resulting in them moving in circles.
When doing sprint variations, this can be especially dizzying.
When breaking this habit, many athletes find it helpful to have a visual focal point. This could be a wall, a clock or a rival athlete in competition. Once you break this habit, soften your focus and gaze somewhere that produces a neutral head and neck position.
I prefer looking at the one bumper plate, but really focusing on foot and hand placement as I move.
(3) Extra (Wasted) Steps
As athletes tire, they often add small, shuffling steps to their BFB and BBJOs. These steps waste precious fractions of a second, which quickly add up over the course of many reps.
It is usually a result of mental laziness (lapses in concentration) or a lack of discipline through fatigue. Be methodical, consistent and minimalistic while moving through sustainable options of the BFB.
Here is a great visual that of what happens with BFB and BBJOs.
The fix to extra steps is “moving with purpose.”
Bar-Facing Burpee Variations
The variations of the BFB are written from fastest (most taxing) to the slowest (most sustainable). There is one sprint variation and three sustain variations.
(1) The Diagonal Dash
The Diagonal Dash Bar-Facing Burpee is the fastest variation. It is appropriate for shorter time domains, lower rep schemes and athletes who are strong, mobile and fit.
Again, the key to sprint variations of the BFB, like the Diagonal Dash, is staying close and staying low. Repetition implies importance.
This variation has the highest demand for upper body pressing and trunk rigidity, but with that higher demands comes a significant improvement in rep cycle speed.
(2) The 2-Step Shuffle
The 2-Step Shuffle Bar-Facing Burpee is an extremely efficient, variation that is really the best of both worlds: speed and sustainability.
This is a versatile variation that is remarkably fatigue resistance once you get comfortable with it.
It’s a great option for a wide array of workouts and athlete fitness types.
(3) The Worm Burpee
It’s important to have a variation of the Bar-Facing Burpee that is very fatigue resistant, and allow you to keep moving and ticking off reps, even when you are highly fatigued in a workout. The Worm BFB fits the bill.
The upper body pressing and core requirements for this variation are far less than a sprint variation, largely because the joint velocities are less.
Simply put: you’re moving slower, but you’re still moving.
Smooth, continuous motion is always a better option, than trying to maintain a sprint version, and being forced to rest.
Burpee Box Jump Over Tips
The principles from BFB of staying close, staying low, and sprint or sustain all apply equally appropriately to the BBJO. The same is true of the common errors of jumping too far, moving in circles, and taking extra steps. If you skipped that passage, scroll back up to previous section.
Variation 1: The Swivel Style
In this variation you jump facing the box, but you land slightly turned with your one foot near the far edge of the box.
This allow you to shoot a foot to the ground while swiveling to face the box. While it takes some practice to master, this action is less taxing than popping off the top of the box with two feet simultaneously.
You then step your other foot down. As soon as it contacts the ground, sweep your feet back and fall flat on the floor facing the box.
The swivel variation is great for a wide array of athlete ability types and workout scenarios, which is why it is the first variation I teach most of my athletes.
Variation 2: The Sprint-Style
This is the fastest variation for Burpee Box Jump Overs, and therefore is the most taxing as well.
The reason why the sprint style is so fast is because every action in it is plyometric: from the push-up to the box jump to sweeping the feet.
You are essentially bounding from one position to the next, while progressively turning throughout the movement.
For this reason, the Sprint-Style is reserved for sprint workouts for most athletes.
However, I have been amazed by the ability of the elite athletes to maintain this technique even in 10+ minute workouts, like 21.2.
Testing BFB & BBJO Variations
Take some time to test out these variations. Don’t force yourself to use any particular variation if it is not comfortable.
My recommendation is to practice and refine one fast and one sustainable variation.
This way, regardless of what type of workout that comes out, you will have a technique to meet the demands of that test.
In fact, I frequently switch between two variations in the middle of a workout as fatigue increases (or) as I kick at the end of a workout.
Is Stepping a Scale?
Open workout 17.1 was the first (and to date only) time that stepping down or up in the burpee was considered a scale. To be Rx in 17.1, the athlete had to jump back with two feet and jump up again with two feet.
While CrossFit HQ has gone back to allowing a step-up in the burpee in recent Opens, I still believe it is wise to have jumping and stepping variations polished and “ready to go” in the event that movement standard reappears.
Check the movement standards carefully. If you are allowed to step and the workout warrants it, then go for it.
My recommendation for burpees (if it’s allowed)…
If you aren’t sprinting it, step it.”
Also in the Movement Library: The Handstand Walk
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