Dumbbell Burpee: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
February 10, 2022

A variation of the ever so common burpee exercise wherein the exerciser makes use of weighted resistance equipment so as to up the intensity of the burpee to a more difficult level, the dumbbell burpee has become standard for a variety of main-stream athletic training programs or fitness systems.

This is due to the fact that the dumbbell burpee is a highly versatile compound exercise that trains the exerciser in practically every possible way – all packaged in a convenient and easily performed movement.

As such, many regular gym goers or high level athletes may desire to upgrade their burpees to the more intense dumbbell burpee, or otherwise incorporate said dumbbell burpee into their training program for a multitude of goals that may be reached by doing so.

What is the Dumbbell Burpee?

The dumbbell burpee is considered a compound exercise of the open kinetic chain variety with the distinct presence of an anaerobic type training stimulus that can quickly shift to aerobic or cardio type training stimulus simply by being performed over longer periods of time or for multiple repetitions.

dumbbell burpee

This anaerobic training stimulus is only further intensified by the addition of resistance exercise equipment like dumbbells, of which will induce muscular hypertrophy and neurological adaptation in the exerciser’s skeletal muscles and central nervous system.

In terms of exercise coaching and training programming, the dumbbell burpee can be considered a primary compound exercise of moderate to high intensity in both anaerobic and aerobic capacities, meaning it should be programmed into the exerciser’s regimen as such so as to prevent overtraining.

How is the Dumbbell Burpee Different from the Traditional Burpee?

Though the two share quite a level of similarity in terms of muscle group activation pattern as well as relative form, there is some distinction to be found in the fact that the dumbbell burpee places more emphasis on certain muscle groups and thus produces a somewhat different sort of training stimuli through this way.

burpee movement

Primarily, this can be best noticed by an increase in perceived strain on the deltoids and forearms of the exerciser, of which act as both stabilizers and secondary mover muscles throughout the entire dynamic portion of the repetition.

By extension, the majority of dumbbell burpee variations forego the usage of a jump at the tail end of the repetition entirely, instead being substituted with either a vertical hip thrust or dumbbell squat so as to retain the same lower body training effect without straining the joints of the legs due to excessive impact.

What Muscles are Worked by the Dumbbell Burpee?

Being a highly versatile compound exercise, the dumbbell burpee activates practically every muscle group found throughout the human body.

These muscle groups are not trained and stimulated in an equal manner, however, as certain muscle groups referred to as the primary movers are what receive the majority of the training resistance and as such also accrue the most benefits from the performance of the dumbbell burpee.

This is in contrast to other muscle groups activated in a smaller or negligible capacity to the primary movers – of which are referred to as secondary movers and stabilizing muscles, respectively.

Primary Mover Muscles

The main drivers behind the force needed to perform a dumbbell burpee, such muscle groups like the quadriceps femoris, pectoral muscle group, gluteus muscle group, triceps brachii and trapezius are all activated to a rather intense extent throughout the entirety of the exercise.

As such, the previously mentioned muscle groups are quite likely to be the first to reach the point of fatigue in the exerciser, meaning that performing isolation exercises specifically targeting them may result in a premature completion of the dumbbell burpee’s sets.

This may be remedied by either giving said muscle groups enough time to recover from strain or by performing the dumbbell burpee first, prior to further activating the muscle groups via other exercises.

It should also be noted that – despite the fact that the primary mover muscles remain activated throughout the exercise – the activation is not entirely equal in all parts of the repetition, with the pectoralis minor and major receiving far more training at the start of the repetition, for example.

Secondary Mover Muscles

Activated and therefore trained in a lesser capacity to the primary mover muscles, such muscle groups like the hamstrings, biceps brachii, latissimus dorsi, brachialis and serratus are all considered secondary mover muscles during the performance of a dumbbell burpee.

This is due to the fact that they are used in some capacity during portions or the entirety of the exercise, with such muscles like the latissimus dorsi located along the back of the torso being partially responsible for the upward and downward movement of the push-up portion in a repetition.

Simply being secondary mover muscles does not preclude said muscle groups from experiencing overtraining and fatigue, however, as they are still contracted in an eccentric and concentric dynamic capacity and as such will still receive microtears in their tissues – making programming and accounting for them just as important in a workout regimen.

Stabilizing Muscles 

Primarily used in order to prevent the exerciser from injuring themselves or overextending their musculature during the dumbbell burpee, the stabilizing muscles of the deltoids, core muscle groups, forearm muscle groups, erector spinae and calves muscle groups are all contracted in a mostly isometric fashion throughout the exercise.

While this may not have a significant effect in terms of muscular hypertrophy, certain neurological and skeletal muscle adaptations can cause these muscle groups to become better at their job in such a capacity – namely, in acting as stabilizer muscles, thus making performing a dumbbell burpee or similar movement easier and more efficient.

What Sort of Training is the Dumbbell Burpee?

The dumbbell burpee is a weighted resistance exercise that makes use of both aerobic and anaerobic training stimuli to induce its various benefits in the exerciser.

This, in simpler terms, means that it trains the exerciser both as a cardio type exercise as well as a weightlifting or muscular resistance exercise, fatiguing not only the skeletal muscles of the body but also the circulatory system and the central nervous system to an extent.

Such a multi-faceted type of training stimulus can be quite beneficial to certain individuals that regularly perform activities that require both high anaerobic and high aerobic capacities, such as mountain climbers or sprinter athletes that make use of said physical abilities in a simultaneous manner.

And while the intensity of the dumbbell burpee can be quite relative depending on the exerciser’s own experience level and physical fitness, it is generally rated at a moderate level of intensity in terms of resistance training and at a high level of intensity in terms of aerobic exercise.

This may be altered to suit the needs of the workout program by either utilizing a lighter amount of weight or performing slower and fewer repetitions, correspondingly resulting in lesser resistance intensity and less cardiovascular strain.

How is the Dumbbell Burpee Incorporated into a Training Routine?

The dumbbell burpee may be incorporated into a variety of different workout programs or fitness systems in a way that allows it to mesh quite well with other exercises present within said program.

This, of course, will depend on the sort of training routine the exerciser is utilizing as well as their particular fitness goals, such as the fact that the dumbbell burpee being a full body compound exercise will make it rather difficult to add into a “bro-split” bodybuilding routine due to the fact that said routine allocates a single muscle group to one day of the week respectively.

As such, the dumbbell burpee exercise is best added into a workout session around the start – and on the days wherein its primary mover muscles are already intended to be trained, such as the “push” session of a push/pull/legs training routine.

However, it is in full body workout programs that the dumbbell burpee may truly succeed, either acting as an auxiliary exercise alongside even more intense resistance exercises in order to completely maximize potential gains or as a warm-up prior to heavy compound exercises like the bench press or deadlift.

How is the Dumbbell Burpee Performed?

To begin performing the dumbbell burpee, the exerciser must first select an appropriately weighted pair of dumbbells at a level that may be considered moderate at their fitness experience and body weight.

Once selected, the exerciser will stand with their feet approximately hip width apart and a dumbbell gripped in each hand, before bracing their core, facing their head forward so as to maintain a neutral spinal column and then bending over.

The dumbbells should be brought to the ground beneath the exerciser’s shoulders as they move their feet backwards, essentially recreating the plank or push-up position over the floor with the pair of dumbbells still gripped in each hand.

dumbbell burpee movement

This should have the effect of the exerciser’s torso lowering somewhat, forming a half push-up so as to activate the pectoralis muscle group as well as the serratus along the rib cage.

The exerciser will then move their feet forward once more in a rapid motion, simultaneously thrusting their hips forward and raising the dumbbells from the ground with a straight back and a chest that is puffed out in a form similar to that of a dumbbell deadlift.

Depending on the particular variation of the dumbbell burpee, the exerciser may then perform a squat after this particular section of the repetition, or otherwise simply return to the original starting position so as to perform another repetition of the exercise.

In the event that a squat is to be performed, the exerciser may simply lower themselves at the hips and knees in the same way they would perform any other variation of the squat in a safe manner.

By either method, the repetition of the dumbbell burpee will be subsequently completed, allowing further repetitions to be performed in the set if required.

What are the Benefits of the Dumbbell Burpee?

Like all forms of exercise, the dumbbell burpee comes with a set of positive effects that are imparted to the exerciser, each with a set length of time in which they become more noticeable, such as muscular hypertrophy occurring after a single workout session or improved bone density over the course of somewhat longer periods.

As such, for the sake of brevity, we have elected to instead only highlight the benefits that are particular to the dumbbell burpee itself, with such effects being difficult to replicate with the use of other exercises, making the dumbbell burpee rather unique in these aspects.

High Caloric Consumption

Due to the fact that the dumbbell burpee is both an explosive resistance exercise as well as an aerobic one, it is capable of burning quite a few calories in a rapid manner, making it an excellent exercise for individuals wishing to reduce visceral fat or their bodily fat percentage in general.

It is important to keep in mind that this particular benefit is most pronounced when combined with a low calorie diet so as to prevent the individual’s caloric intake from overcoming the amount of calories burned from performing the dumbbell burpee and other exercises.

Dual Exercise Stimuli

Being both an anaerobic and aerobic exercise when performed at the appropriate volume, the dumbbell burpee is capable of saving both time and focus by training the skeletal muscles of the exerciser’s body as well as their cardiovascular system.

While it may be true that performing other exercises can more effectively impart training stimuli to these individual bodily components, there is no doubt that performing the dumbbell burpee in higher repetitions of eight to twenty per set can instill some level of improvement in the functional capacities of both systems.

Full-body Training and Conditioning

As a full body compound exercise, the dumbbell burpee is in the unique position of being capable of activating nearly every muscle group found in the body – all in a single convenient movement.

This can be quite beneficial for certain types of athletes or gym goers, as developing the neurological control and endurance capacity of such a wide ranging muscular activation pattern can greatly improve the individual’s athletic capacity.

References

1. Bingley, S. & Witchalls, Jeremy & Mckune, Andrew & Humberstone, C.. (2019). The Burpee Enigma: Literature Review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 22. S78. 10.1016/j.jsams.2019.08.079.

2. Nicholas H. Gist, AV USA, Eric C. Freese, PhD, Terence E. Ryan, PhD, Kirk J. Cureton, PhD, Effects of Low-Volume, High-Intensity Whole-Body Calisthenics on Army ROTC Cadets, Military Medicine, Volume 180, Issue 5, May 2015, Pages 492–498, https://doi.org/10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00277

3. "Definition of burpee". Oxford Dictionaries Online. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved 31 January 2022

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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