If asked for the simplest full-body routine possible, it’s hard to beat the combination of burpees and pull-ups in a single workout. These two time-tested bodyweight exercises combine upper-body pressing, a hybrid hinge-squat, upper-body pulling into a routine that literally covers every muscle in the body.
Combine this with the burpee’s capacity to build an iron set of lungs, and we’ve got a winner.
There are many potential ways to combine burpees and pull-ups together in a single workout. Three of the best are:
- Modified 4×4 routines
- Pyramid style workouts
- Rep goal based workouts
In this article, I’ll explain how to do all three, but first, let’s discuss why I’m such a believer in this particular two-exercise combination:
Why place burpees and pull-ups together?
Burpees have a reputation for being a lazy trainer’s way to get their clients to feel like they had a “good workout,” because they leave the client lying in a pool of their own sweat, begging for mercy. I get that.
However, I personally believe that the burpee is a fantastic exercise when it’s used for its intended purpose: to build stamina and extreme fatigue resistance while simultaneously creating a great chest, triceps, and leg pump. For that job, no other exercise fits the bill.
Though I’m generally a fan of three exercise workouts (like push-ups, pull-ups, and squats) for total body strength, I tend to turn to this style of workout when I’m trying to bias the workout more towards conditioning than muscle building.
I even think that burpees to a slightly better job of hitting some niche areas, like the upper chest, upper traps, and side delts more than normal push-ups. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. That said, burpees have some limitations:
The problem with burpees alone
The fitness world is in denial: burpees are not a full-body exercise.
They leave large sections of the body unworked – namely the back and biceps. This means that if we’re doing lots of burpees in our sessions, we either need to include some pulling at the end, or we need to incorporate some sort of standalone back and biceps workout on a separate day.
This is a perfectly fine solution, but I think we can do better:
The solution: add pull-ups or chin-ups
Pull-ups are the king of compound back and bicep exercises. By completing a simple antagonistic superset of burpees and pull-ups, we can cover the entire body in a simple two-move workout.
If time efficiency is at a premium for you, then this may be the simplest way to get a full body pump and conditioning workout simultaneously.
As an aside, a simple set of Angles 90 grips allows you to truly do these workouts almost anywhere, even if you don’t have access to a dedicated pull-up bar.
Why a superset is preferred over “burpee pull-ups”
You may be tempted at this point to ask why we aren’t just doing “burpee pull-ups” instead. After all, this would technically solve the back and biceps problem above. I do technically like the exercise, but it does present some problems:
From my experience, I don’t get the same benefits from doing burpee pull-ups as I do from simply separating the two movements and performing them as a superset. The reason is that none of us are able to do nearly as many pull-ups as I can push-ups.
When I try to combine the two exercises, I end up reaching failure in my back and biceps far before I ever even feel the chest and triceps being worked.
While I do think there are some ways to get burpee pull-ups to work, I think it’s more optimal to just treat them as standalone exercises.
My three favorite burpee and pull-up workouts
Option 1: The modified 4×4 burpee and pull-up workout
In this version of the burpee and pull-up workout, we’ll simply choose a burpee variation as our form of conditioning, then complete a near-maximal set of pull-ups or chin-ups during the break:
- Burpee variation of choice, sustained for four minutes
- During the four-minute break, complete a sub-maximal set of pull-ups (within 2-3 reps of failure)
- Rest for the remainder of the four minutes
- Repeat four times
Since the pull-ups utilize opposing muscle groups from the burpee, we won’t be interfering with our burpees too much.
We’ll also be participating in what has been termed “resistance cardio,” the perfect training modality for the lifter who wants muscular and strength adaptations combined with quick cardiovascular performance improvements.
Why it works
If you’re not familiar with 4×4 conditioning, it’s a form of high-intensity conditioning made well known by the longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia. In its basic form, it goes like this:
- Pick a form of conditioning that you find difficult to sustain for four minutes
- Complete four minutes of that exercise
- Rest for four minutes
- Repeat for four rounds
Option 2: Burpee and pull-up pyramid workout
I’ve spoken of my fondness for burpee pyramid workouts elsewhere, but they are just as simply applied to pull-ups and burpees. For this combination, I prefer to use the “ladder pyramid” variation, made popular by Johnny Pain of the Greyskull LP:
- 2 burpees, 1 pull-up
- 4 burpees, 2 pull-ups
- 6 burpees, 3 pull-ups
- Continue until you reach muscular failure on pull-ups
- Repeat for two to three more “ladders”, starting over at 2 burpees and 1 pull-up each time
Note: You could also simply do this as a single ladder micro-workout, 4-5 days per week.
Why it works
Burpees and pull-ups go well into this style just as well as push-ups and pull-up pyramids. In fact, you could simply substitute the push-up for a burpee in most pyramid workouts if you simply wanted to jack up the conditioning stimulus of the workout.
Though you could easily fit this into other pyramid variations, I find that the ladder version (where we’re reaching failure, then starting over at the bottom) works best in this context, since we’re usually pretty out of breath by the time we reach the top of the pyramid.
Starting over at the bottom provides a much needed rest, where we get to gather our wits and get ready for the next max-out.
Option 3: Rep goal based burpee and pull-up workout
The last option, and perhaps the most straightforward, is to simply set a rep goal for burpees and break it into chunks. The rep goal you set will, of course, be based on your current level of fitness. If you’re new to burpees, I would recommend starting with 50 burpees and progressing slowly over time.
Here’s how it works:
- Perform 10 burpees
- Perform a set of pull-ups within 2-3 reps of muscular failure
- Repeat until the desired number of repetitions is reached
Note: If you choose this variation, I wouldn’t recommend going above 6-8 sets of pull-ups total for the workout. The current research shows that progress mostly drops off after 6 work sets of a single exercise in a given session. Beyond that, we’re likely just spinning our wheels.
Why it works
This version of the burpee and pull-up workout is fantastic for people who are looking to specifically engage in progressive overload on their burpees since you’ll be hitting a rep goal and then adding 2-5 reps per workout after that.
Potential modifications to the basic burpee and pull-up workout
If your goal is mainly hypertrophy
If your goal with these workouts is to build muscle, then choose variations of the burpee that include more push-ups and squats:
- Navy seal burpees
- 8-count bodybuilder burpees
- “Kick out” burpees with two push-ups per rep
Performing your burpees with a “squat chaser,” wherein we’ll perform an extra squat or two at the end of each rep, will provide extra hypertrophy for the legs, since we’re not ever actually in a full squat position in the traditional burpee. I would recommend completing the same number of squats per rep as you did push-ups.
If your goal is mainly conditioning
If your goal is conditioning focused, then stick with the basic six-count burpee or the CrossFit-style jumping burpee. Additionally, you may wish to alternate a burpee and pull-up workout with a run / burpee / run workout for maximum fatigue resistance benefits.
Additionally, if your goal is conditioning, I would recommend limiting rest periods between rounds to around 10 seconds per round or eliminating rest periods altogether.