Forget burpees — these 2 alternatives build full-body strength and power

woman performing high plank exercise
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’ve done burpees down to the ground, right? Literally. Burpee finishers, death by burpees, and burpee challenges — the popular full-body exercise crops up in most strength programs and cardio exercises, during workouts, or gym classes. Over and over and over. 

But for many people, burpees are simply off the table. And if you suffer from back pain, burpees are a certified no-go. These two burpee alternatives are my favorite go-to's and target the upper and lower body to varying degrees. They still work the same muscle groups as banging out multiple reps of the dreaded burpee exercise without collapsing into your lower back out of fatigue.

If you're done with burpees and fancy mixing it up (I don’t blame you), these two exercises can be incorporated into any strength and conditioning program or any other workout program, for that matter. You could replace the burpee exercise in this 300-rep bodyweight workout or our four-move ladder workout as a starting point if you're short on ideas. Get ready to work most of your muscles and increase your heart rate without a single burpee in sight. 

Check with a qualified medical professional if you are managing an injury or you're a beginner to exercise and stop if you experience pain or shortness of breath. If you’re unsure if your form is correct, ask a personal trainer. 

Burpee alternatives for building strength and power

Sprawls

Person performing a high plank and then jumping forward with feet outside of hands for sprawl

(Image credit: Getty images)

Sprawls are similar to gorilla burpees. They primarily work the muscles in your mid to lower body, including your core muscles which help to drive movement and keep you stable, and your legs. The move closely resembles your lower body during a burpee, without the jump or push-up phases, but your chest and shoulder muscles will also activate to keep you stable. 

During the jump back, the plank position engages muscles including the rectus abdominis, lower back, and transverse abdominal muscles. By performing at speed, the move can also develop lower body power and overall strength. Sprawls, when done correctly, are safe for the lower back, but ensure your core is braced and avoid rounding through your spine or hyperextending your lower back. If you have tight hip flexor muscles, keep an extra close eye on your form and avoid landing on the balls of your feet. You can practice stepping rather than jumping first.

How to do a sprawl:

  • Start in a push-up position and squeeze your stomach muscles 
  • Jump both feet to land just outside of your hands, landing with heels planted down
  • Drop your bum down and lift your chest, sitting down into a squat position, then quickly lift both hands in front of your chest 
  • Place your hands down back down on the floor, then jump back into a push-up position for one rep.  

Movement should be fast and powerful, generating a rocking horse motion. 

Dumbbell thrusters

Person performing a dumbbell thruster in three phases, standing with dumbbells, squatting with dumbbells, and doing an overhead press with dumbbells

(Image credit: Getty images)

The dumbbell thruster is a loaded squat combined with an overhead press. The move helps develop power and strength while targeting your upper and lower body and can be pretty exhausting when performed for multiple reps, which also builds endurance. If you’re new to the exercise, perform using your body weight until the movement pattern feels natural, and slowly add load. It’s all about protecting your lower back, which you can’t do if your muscles aren’t recruiting. 

It’s crucial to brace your core during all phases of this move. Try to push your head slightly through your arms at the top of the press. When done with good form, the exercise hits most major muscle groups in one move, making it pretty efficient. That said, you’ll need to achieve the full range of motion to keep your back safe, including lowering deep into your squat with the weight in your heels, and fully extending your arms and hips as you thrust upwards, using your core to drive. 

In the overhead position, keep your spine tall and avoid leaning forward or extending into your lower back. It will require a degree of shoulder flexibility and strength. Lower the weights to your shoulders with control while keeping your elbows high to ensure they land correctly, then slightly drop the elbows before the press. 

 How to do a dumbbell thruster:

  • Start with feet shoulder-width apart and rack your dumbbells high onto your shoulders with elbows slightly forward 
  • Brace your core 
  • Sit deep into a squat position with thighs parallel to the floor and chest forward 
  • Ensure your knees don’t turn inwards, and your body weight stays in your heels 
  • Drive through your heels and core and press to stand, extending your hips and pressing your dumbbells overhead 
  • Push your head through your arms slightly and lock out at the top, contracting your entire body and keeping your spine aligned  
  • Bring your head back through, then bend through your knees and elbows as you lower your weights back to your shoulders with control, sitting back down into your squat 
  • Keep the elbows lifted during the descent to catch the weights onto your shoulders properly. 

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.