Mountain climbers are a fun and challenging way to mix up your workouts, burn calories, improve cardio fitness, strengthen your core muscles, and train your total body. This low-impact, functional bodyweight activity requires decent full-body strength to maintain a high plank/push-up position and there are many great variations for all experience levels.
In this guide, we’ve included exercise instructions, benefits, muscles worked, variations, and more.
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Total Body, core-focused
- Type: Cardio, functional strength
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: N/A
- Difficulty: Intermediate
How To Do Mountain Climbers
- Start in a high plank/full bodyweight push-up position on your hands and toes with the arms about shoulder width. Keep your body in a straight line from the head to the heels. Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists.
- Tense your core muscles, then bend either knee and bring it in toward your chest. Extend it back out to the starting position.
- Repeat with the other leg and alternate for an equal number of reps per side.
- Start off at a slow pace and then only increase the tempo if you can maintain the same form from setup.
Watch the video example below for a live demonstration…
Mountain Climbers Tips
- Make sure to keep your body weight evenly distributed from top to bottom.
- Avoid lifting your hips up in the air as this removes tension from the core muscles. However, if you struggle to keep the body aligned, it’s perfectly acceptable to bend the hips a little.
- Start off at a slow pace and keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout the movement.
- Try variations!
Mountain Climber Benefits and Muscles Worked
Let’s talk about the benefits of mountain climbers and the muscles involved during this challenging bodyweight activity.
Strengthen your core
It takes a decent amount of core strength to remain in a high plank position while performing mountain climbers. However, there will come a point when it becomes too easy and that’s why you should also include the more challenging variations.
Improve hip mobility
Limited hip mobility reduces range of motion in the lower body which prevents many people from being able to carry out day to day activities, let alone get in their daily exercise. Including movements that engage and strengthen the hip flexors can help to restore a lot of the motion back in the muscles.
Maintain and improve functional fitness
Mountain climbers have functional carryover to everyday tasks and athletic endeavors. Being a closed chain exercise, they have the potential to recruit more muscle fibers, promote joint stability, and improve neuromuscular coordination.
If you’re goal is to lose weight, mountain climbers can help you to burn more calories and are safer on the joints compared to jogging or running. Increase the speed, intensity, and include the more advanced variations of mountain climbers for enhanced fat loss effects.
Unlike running and jumping, mountain climbers are very low-impact and easy on the joints. Consequently, they’re a better option for overweight individuals.
Several muscles help to support, stabilize, and facilitate the movement. Below we’ve included brief descriptions of the primary muscles worked.
The core consists of many different muscles that include the rectus abdominis, also known as the abdominals or abs, the obliques, deep core muscles, and spinal erectors.
Abs are front and center on the midsection and they function to curl the pelvis and rib cage toward each other (e.g., when you perform a crunch). Obliques are located on either side of the abs and are responsible for rotation or twisting the torso. Then you have the deeper core muscles such as the transverse abdominis and internal obliques that help to draw the belly button to the spine and stabilize the trunk. This creates a rigid core which is important for safe heavy lifting and even playing sports for example.
Other important core muscles are the back extensors that allow us to stand up straight from a bent-over position and lean backward.
The iliopsoas is the primary hip flexor; made up of major and minor psoas muscles and the iliacus muscle. It can function as a unit or separately to stabilize and facilitate movement. These muscles are important for proper standing and posture, the coxofemoral joint, and walking and running.
The psoas muscles help to bend the hip and bring the knee forward during mountain climbers.
The gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial muscle that makes up the majority of the size, shape, and appearance of the butt and hip muscles. The butt primarily extends and externally rotates the thighs and it plays an important role in helping us to maintain an upright posture. Squeezing the glutes helps to maintain a strong body during mountain climbers.
The quadriceps or quads for short is the large group of muscles that make up most of your upper leg mass. It has four heads; rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedialis. These muscles help to flex the hips and extend the knees during movements such as squats. They’re also important for posture, walking, and the function of the spine and pelvis.
The hamstrings is a three-headed muscle group consisting of semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris.
This muscle group is located on the back of the upper leg opposite the quads, and it functions to extend the hips and flex the knees. It’s important to note that the short head of the biceps femoris only crosses the knee joint and not the hip like the other two muscles.
The hamstrings play an important role in standing but also explosive activities such as sprinting and jumping. Additionally, this three-headed muscle is active during the gait cycle to resist knee extension, plus it stabilizes the knee joints and has other functions too.
The chest muscles or pectorals are involved in upper body exercises that involve flexion, horizontal and vertical adduction, extension, and internal rotation of the upper extremity. Mountain climbers do engage the pectoral muscles to a degree however, they are not a good option for building size and strength.
The deltoid or shoulder muscles consist of three heads – anterior (front), lateral (side) and posterior (rear). The shoulders along with the rotator cuff are responsible for movement of the arm in front (flexion), above and behind the body (extension).
The triceps are a three-headed muscle on the back of the upper arms. They primarily function to extend the elbow, and help support the body’s weight during mountain climbers.
11 Mountain Climber Variations
Mountain climbers can give you one heck of a workout, but we also like these variations from beginner to more advanced.
Performing mountain climbers while on your forearms in a plank position is more challenging as it reduces the space between your body and the ground.
Engage your obliques by bringing the left knee toward the right shoulder, and the right knee to the left shoulder.
Jump both legs forward and backward at the same time.
Reverse mountain climbers
Turn your body around facing away from the floor in a reverse high plank and alternate lifting your knees to your chest.
Elevate your hands onto a bench or any object that sits higher than floor level. This should make the exercise a little easier.
Elevate your feet onto a bench or any object that sits higher than floor level. This makes the movement a little more challenging.
One-arm mountain climbers require more upper body and core strength to keep the body stable.
Attach a resistance band to an immovable object and wrap it over your shoe. Resistance mountain climbers will challenge your leg and core muscles even more.
The TRX suspension trainer or its alternatives are a great workout tool for developing core strength and total-body stabilization.
Try mountain climbers with the hands elevated on a stability to place more demand on your core muscles.
The dead hang variation positions your body upright, closer replicating climbing up a mountain. Additionally, hanging from a pull-up bar and the weight of your legs provides a greater challenge to the core and hip flexors.
Incorporate Mountain Climbers In Your Workouts
Here are a three effective ways to include mountain climbers in your workouts.
Circuit training is one of the best ways to include all of your favorite exercises in one cardio-based workout session. The idea is to perform a gauntlet of movements back to back with little to no rest in between for multiple rounds.
HIIT (high intensity interval training)
Mountain climbers are a great fit for high intensity interval training workout sessions. Set a timer for 30 seconds and move your feet as fast as possible. Rest 20 seconds and repeat two to three more times.
Close out any training session with an all-out set of mountain climbers at your own pace. This will get the heart rate up, burns calories and condition your muscles.
Try these 20 simple fat loss finishers.
Mountain climbers offer a functional bodyweight-only cardio activity that can be done from almost anywhere. They also come with many different variations so there are plenty of options to mix up your training and challenge yourself based on your level of strength and capabilities.