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Mountain Climbers: How To, Variations, Benefits,…

There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing mountain climbers, what will the effects be?

You can describe mountain climbers as doing high knees in a plank position. This may sound simple but there are a few attention points that many people get wrong. Make sure you get these right to avoid any injuries.

Mountain climbers are mainly an exercise to train your cardiovascular health but you will also engage a wide variety of muscles more compared to classic cardio exercises like running or cycling.

Resistance training beginners may even be able to build some muscle with mountain climbers but if that is your goal you preferably want to turn to muscle building exercises. Similarly, if your goal is to train cardio you likely want to focus on other exercises.

That being said, mountain climbers can still be good for training your cardiovascular health while tiring out a wide variety of muscles.

How to do mountain climbers

To do two mountain climbers take the following steps:

  1. Start with your face facing the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels. This means that your knees will be off the ground and that you are resting on your hands and feet.
  3. Move the knee of one leg forward to your chest as far as you comfortably can. Keep your body straight from the heel of the stretched leg to your head throughout the movement.
  4. Return that leg to the position in step 2.
  5. Repeat the same movement with your other leg.

The first thing to pay attention to is keeping your shoulders above your hands, not further forward or backward. Secondly, you want to make sure you don’t move your hips up and down a lot. By paying attention to these two things most people are able to do mountain climbers the correct way.

If you are new to mountain climbers it is likely smart to do the exercise slowly at first. Once you are used to the right technique you can speed things up to make the exercise more challenging for your cardiovascular system and legs.

How to do mountain climbers

Mountain climber variations

You can also do mountain climber variations to make the exercise harder or focus on different fitness components or muscles.

The first “variation” is simply doing mountain climbers faster. This will allow you to train your cardiovascular system and legs harder in a shorter amount of time. Do make sure your technique is good before trying this out and pay extra attention to technique when speeding up.

Secondly, you can also do the opposite, do mountain climbers slower. This will focus more on building your muscles and less on training your cardiovascular system.

Thirdly, you can make the exercise more challenging for your core. You can do this by wearing a weighted vest, the closer to your hips the more challenging for your core. Another option is doing mountain climbers with your arms leaning on a stability ball.

If you want to focus more on your oblique muscles (core muscles to the outsides of your abs), you can move with your knee to the chest of the opposite side instead of going straight forward.

Lastly, to make mountain climbers more challenging for your leg muscles and cardiovascular system, you can wear ankle weights, attach resistance bands to your legs, or put your feet on fitness sliders and move them over the ground.

Potential risks

The main thing to keep in mind is that mountain climbers can be hard on body parts like your ankles, knees, hips, lower back, elbows, wrists, and shoulders even if you implement the right technique.

If you are sensitive or weak in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that mountain climbers are not (yet) for you.

Benefits of mountain climbers

Inevitably some workouts are better for some of these benefits than mountain climbers. Even so, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.

1. Can help you build muscle

While doing mountain climbers is mainly a cardio workout, which means that it mostly focuses on your cardiovascular system, this exercise can also help you build some muscle in other areas.

Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.

Some of the muscles worked with mountain climbers include:

  • Hip flexors
  • Core muscles
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadricpes
  • Triceps
  • Back

Keep in mind that building muscle with mountain climbers is mostly for resistance training beginners. If you are more experienced you likely need to turn to specific resistance training exercises to build a lot of muscle.

2. Can help you lose more weight

Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.

One way to try to make this happen is by doing a workout. By increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time you use up more energy than usual. Doing mountain climbers can help with weight loss since doing a workout like it generally requires more energy than most of your usual daily activities.

30 minutes doing mountain climbers can help you burn around 177-305+ calories depending on weight, intensity, and much more. If you want to learn how to burn more calories while doing mountain climbers make sure you read the article on how many calories mountain climbers burn.

Keep in mind that these are a lot of mountain climbers. 100 mountain climbers (one raise with each leg) at a medium speed only takes about 2 minutes.

Although the extra calorie burning from doing mountain climbers is often welcome when trying to lose weight, compared to an exercise like running that number is not that big. If you’re serious about burning a lot of extra calories other workouts than mountain climbers can be a better choice.

Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.

3. Improved cardiovascular health

Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes the heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.

When you move more intensely your body needs to transport these things, which means using your heart, at a higher rate.

Your heart is a muscle that can be trained by using it more intensely. By doing workouts like a mountain climber session you can strengthen your cardiovascular system which in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Do keep in mind that muscles can get injured. If you have not done any physical activity in a long time you may want to start out with low-intensity movements and build up from there.

4. Improves mood

Most people are not always completely aware of it but the physical health of the human body has a big influence on the mood and thoughts of the individual.

Doing mountain climbers doesn’t just help with this by improving general health. There are inevitably many different reasons involved but one reason why exercises like mountain climbers benefit mental health is that they promote the release of endorphins, “feel-good” hormones (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

Besides the actual physiological changes doing mountain climbers will cause, you will likely also have positive feelings about having done something challenging that’s good for you.

5. You can do mountain climbers almost anywhere

A downside of many exercises is that they need you to be in a specific location, or use specific equipment that you generally don’t have at home.

This makes it so you often have to drive, cycle, or walk somewhere for a while. Let’s say you exercise twice a week and going to your workout takes 10 minutes to get there and 10 minutes to go back. That’s 40 minutes less free time per week.

This extra transportation also makes it easier to say no to your workout. Being able to be consistent is key to a good workout plan.

However, with mountain climbers you don’t have to worry about these things. You can do them as good as anywhere. All you need is a few blocks of free time throughout the day and you can get in a mountain climber workout.

6. Budget-friendly workout

Another potential hurdle for many workouts is the budget required.

Some exercises require inexpensive equipment starting at a jumping rope to at-home workout machines of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Even the investment required for gym subscriptions adds up after a while.

Money put into improving your health is generally a great investment but sometimes you can get the same effects with less. In the case of mountain climbers you don’t need to invest any budget at all. This can be a great benefit depending on your personal situation.

7. Improves sleep

Good quality and duration sleep are extremely important for your physical health and cognitive function. Unfortunately, many people can do a lot better with both quality and duration.

A lot of the things you do throughout the day influence the quality and duration in some way. One of the things that can benefit sleep a relatively high amount is doing a workout like mountain climbers (12, 13, 14).

You do want to keep in mind that exercising too close to bedtime can have the reverse effect and mess with your sleep. Make sure you give your body time enough time to calm down after a workout. For most people, this comes down to avoiding exercises at least an hour or two before going to sleep.

8. Slows down aging

Most people think of age as the number of days, months, and years that have passed since the day they were born, this is usually referred to as their chronological age. There are also many other ways to measure “age” based on physiological factors (15).

Exercises like doing mountain climbers obviously won’t have an influence on the number of days that have passed since you were born. However, physical activity can slow down the aging in terms of how fast other measurement methods progress (16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21).

In general, these other age measurements are more accurate methods than chronological age for assessing risk on age-related diseases. Slowing these down can be a huge benefit for your health.

Mountain climber alternatives

While mountain climbers can definitely be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training similar aspects of your physical health. Some of these mountain climber alternatives include:

  • High knees
  • Plank jacks
  • Squats
  • Cycling
  • Burpees
  • Crunches

Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.

Conclusion

Many people will benefit a lot from adding mountain climbers with the right technique to their routine. That being said, while mountain climbers can be a good all-around option, for both cardiovascular and muscular training other exercise options may be better.

Another thing you need to remember is that doing mountain climbers can be hard on body parts like your ankles, knees, hips, lower back, elbows, wrists, and shoulders even if you implement the right technique.

If you are sensitive in these areas you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing mountain climbers is a workout you love, great. If not mountain climber alternatives and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

If you do decide to implement more mountain climbers make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.