October 5, 2021

Mountain Climbers: Everything You Need to Know

Although few of us will ever be able to experience the thrill, exhilaration and difficulty of climbing a mountain on their own, almost anyone can do the same move on a smaller scale. Mountain climbers are a type of exercise that can help you achieve this feat. Although they look simple and don’t offer a scenic view, mountain climbers can be a challenging, full-body exercise that is good for strength and cardio. Let’s take a look at what they do, how you can make them work for you, and why they should be part of your workout routine. We spoke with trainers Joy Puleo and Nico Gonzalez to learn more.

MEET THE EXPERT

  • Nico Gonzalez is an Integrated movement specialist, owner of Fitness Physiques By Nico G and Master Instructor for Balanced Body Education.
  • Joy Puleo is the Balanced-Body Education Program Manager. She is also a Pilates expert.

What Are Mountain Climbers?

Mountain climbers can be performed on the ground with your bodyweight. They are accessible for anyone who has a good fitness foundation. Gonzalez explained that mountain climbers are often done as part of interval training. This is a combination of several moves. Puleo explains that mountain climbers are full-body dynamic movements. They are done by moving your legs under you, starting from a high plank.

Puleo says that this exercise is either a strength or cardio exercise. However, Puleo states that even though it is cardio-in nature, you can do the mountain climber at a faster pace to challenge your core and upper body. The mountain climber is a great choice for upright activities. It adds power to your run and jump and can be used to increase your cycling cadence.

What Are the Benefits of Mountain Climbers?

Burpees, despite being a simple exercise, are the most intense bodyweight exercise. Mountain climbers have similar benefits to burpees. They require you to use your entire body and move quickly. Puleo believes it’s the combination the move’s dynamic and isometric natures that make them so valuable. He says, “The Mountain Climber is a whole body experience which works both the upper and core isometrically, building strength in the plank position, as well as the lower dynamically.”

Mountain climbers provide full body conditioning and strengthening. Gonzalez states that mountain climbers are a great way to strengthen your core and upper body simultaneously. The reason is that “while the body lies on its back, the upper body resists gravity and isometrically contracts the back of your arms and chest.” In a balance challenge, the core resists gravity by moving between the front and back of the core (abs or lower back muscles). The legs are the most active part of the exercise, although they appear to be the stationary parts.

How to Perform Mountain Climbers

  • Place your hands on the mat or floor and place your knees on them.
  • As you bring your legs back to a plank position, engage your abs. Gonzalez suggests focusing on your glutes while you bring your heels back.
  • Move your upper body without moving one knee.
  • Once you have pulled your knee back into a straightened position bring your other leg up towards your chest.
  • Keep doing this for a prolonged time, alternately moving your knees to your chest.
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  • Finish by resuming a plank position, with your feet on the ground. Then, release like you would a plank.

Gonzalez suggests that you make sure your hands are in good form before starting this move. Gonzalez tells us to press down on the thumb, which will activate the fascial matrix at the front of our upper bodies. Second, bring awareness to the pinky. This will activate the fascial matrix at the back of your upper body. This is because “placing pressure in both the thumbs and pinky creates an upper body fascial shield while mountain climbing.”

Variations and Modifications

Although this move is difficult enough, there are always more advanced versions! Alternately you might need to modify mountain climbers if they are too difficult for you at first.

Variations

  • Instead of straightening your knee, bring your knee towards the opposite side. This would mean that your left knee would almost touch your right pec.
  • You can do a “spider mountain climber” by moving your foot towards your tricep, and touching your toes on the floor each side.
  • Push-ups can be incorporated, with a pause after each ten climbers for one push-up.

Modifications

  • For a slower pace, bring each knee back to the plank position.
  • You don’t have to be in a high-plank position. Instead, start from a kneeling position and then alternate reaching your legs behind you.
  • A bench for exercise is a good choice. You can place your hands on the bench at a 45 degree angle so that you don’t feel any pressure.

Who Should Avoid

Although this is an easy exercise move, it can be dangerous for some. The kneeling modification is for those who are unable to perform high plank moves. If you have problems with your wrists, neck or shoulders, Puleo recommends the bench modification. Gonzalez says that mountain climbers shouldn’t be used by anyone with lower back problems or who needs to avoid pressure on this area.

Puleo suggests that you do the moves separately if you’re not at the level of fitness where mountain climbers would be feasible for you. This involves doing a standing march and a high plank. The march’s knee lift can be slow, but it will become more rhythmic and quicker. You should aim to run in place using a high knee lift. Once you’ve mastered each component, you can start putting them together in the standard move.

The Takeaway

Mountain climbers can be a difficult exercise move for anyone with a bodyweight. You will be mimicking the motion of climbing up a mountain, and you’ll use all your major muscles while doing it. Mountain climbers must be able to perform a high plank and can do a fast, high-leg march. This is because the move is essentially a combination of both those exercises. Mountain climbers are not suitable for people with lower back injuries. People with wrist, neck, shoulder or wrist problems should also avoid them. Mountain climbers can strengthen our muscles and improve our cardio function. These are the closest people can get to climbing up a mountain. They make a great addition to any fitness program.