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You may call them squat thrusts or burpees — but it’s not likely that you call them your favorite exercise. The truth is, squat thrusts are challenging. But that’s what makes them so effective.

“Trainers love them. But people hate them,” says Sarah Bright, certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor from the Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago.

Bright says burpees are a trainer’s top choice because, “they’re effective, require no equipment, and are easily modified for multiple fitness levels.”

A man named Dr. Royal H. Burpee created the exercise as a fitness test for military members. “We use it now to build muscular strength and endurance, as well as train people to work at a higher heart rate (closer to the lactate threshold),” explains Bright.

Working out at this level doesn’t only burn more calories, “but also increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) which causes you to continue to burn even more calories after you stop exercising, and continues to do so for several hours.”

In other words, squat thrusts allow you to reap many of the benefits of both cardio and strength training.

Because they require no equipment and no special skills, you can do squat thrusts at home.

For the basic burpee:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides.
  2. Lower into a squat position and place your hands on the floor.
  3. Kick or step your legs back into a plank position.
  4. Jump or step your legs forward to return to a squat position.
  5. Return to the standing position.

It may look simple, but after doing several of these in rapid succession, you’ll see the challenge of well-executed squat thrusts.

When basic burpees get easy, try these variations:

Add a pushup or jump

When you’re down in plank position, add a pushup before bringing your feet forward to a squat. When you come to standing, add a jump, and then get right back down to a squat for the next rep.

Add dumbbells

Bright also suggests adding a set of light dumbbells in each hand to increase resistance. Get some here.

When you come back to the starting position at the end of your burpee, raise them into an overhead press to work your arms and shoulders.

Whether your ultimate fitness goal is to lose weight or gain strength, the squat thrust and its many challenging variations can help.

If the basic burpee is too challenging, you can even adjust it in the other direction. Bright suggests using a step or platform under your hands instead of going all the way to the floor. This lets you ease into the traditional squat thrust without pushing yourself too hard in the beginning.