I tried the death by burpees challenge — here's what happened

A photo of a woman jumping during a burpee
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

I’ll caveat this headline by saying I hate burpees. I always have, and I probably always will. Yet they’re a staple of most HIIT workouts for a reason — they give you a great workout in a short amount of time. Like many readers, my initial thoughts when hearing about the death by burpees challenge was "hell no." But, for the sake of a story, I unrolled my exercise mat and gave it a go. Read on to find out what happened. 

How to do a burpee

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by explaining what exactly a burpee is, and the type of burpee this challenge requires. Burpees are a full-body exercise that targets the shoulders, abdominals, back, and lower body, specifically your quads and calves. The aim of the exercise is to get from a vertical to a horizontal position, usually moving as quickly as possible. 

To do a burpee, start by standing up with your legs shoulder-width apart. Lower your hands down to the floor, and jump your feet back, so you are in a high plank position. Then, lower your chest to the floor for a full, bodyweight press up. As you raise out of the press-up, jump your feet back forward so they are behind your hands, and explode up back to standing, raising your arms above your head, and jumping your feet up off the floor. For this challenge, your chest must touch the floor on each rep, so no slacking. 

What is the death by burpees challenge? 

The death by burpees challenge is a by-the-minute interval challenge. The goal is to last as long as possible. Each minute, you’ll increase the number of burpees you try and do, so in minute one, you do one burpee; minute two, two burpees; minute three, three burpees; and so on.

The challenge gets harder as it goes on — by the 20-minute mark you’ll be trying to fit 20 burpees into one minute. Plus, to be counted as a burpee, your chest has to touch the floor during the press-up, and you have to jump at least six inches into the air as you jump up. 

The benefits of putting yourself through this torture? Burpees are an excellent exercise when it comes to working your entire body and getting your heart rate up. The explosive movement is a high-intensity move that torches calories and works on your cardiovascular fitness. There are also other benefits to practicing burpees, including improved power, muscle endurance, and coordination. Don’t believe us? Read what happened when I did burpees every day for one week

I tried the death by burpees challenge — here’s what happened 

As I might have mentioned, I’m not a fan of burpees and really didn’t think I’d last long in this challenge. That said, the first few minutes were extremely easy, and actually involved a lot of standing around watching the clock (I’ve read other people do squats or other exercises in the breaks, but I took the easy way out). The last few minutes, by contrast, were hell. 

Of course, the number you reach is completely dependent on your fitness level, but I was shooting for double digits (eg. 10 burpees in a minute) and I got there. On the first day of doing this challenge, I got to 15 minutes before admitting defeat. The next time I tried it, I got to 17 minutes, and when I finally build up the courage to try again, I’ll hope to get to 18 minutes. Set yourself a rough goal, but remember, you’re only competing against yourself.

I’d also say this challenge is far more beginner-friendly than it sounds, as it builds up gradually. I’d recommend doing a warm-up before you start, even if that's a few minutes jogging on the spot, or if you’re new to burpees try one of the following variations: 

Walking burpee: For a walking burpee, you remove the jump element of the move. From a standing position, bend down and place your palms flat on the ground, then walk your hands out until you are in a high plank position. Then walk your hands back into your feet and stand up. That’s one rep. 

Strict burpee: For this variation, you don’t lower into a press-up, or jump at the top of the movement to make the burpee a little easier. Instead, lower your hands to the ground and jump your feet back so you’re in a high plank position, then jump your feet back into your hands, stand up, and clap your hands above your head. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? If burpees aren’t for you, this exercise also works your glutes, abs and shoulders at the same time. We’ve also hand-picked the best ab workouts here, an exercise that’s better than squats at building your glutes, and the resistance band exercise that targets all of the muscles in your legs.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.