Today I’d like to discuss the mountain climbers exercise.
Although mountain climbers appear simple enough, there are many unanswered questions about them.
So, I’ve taken some of the more frequently asked questions and provided my opinion on these.
Hopefully, this can help you to decide whether the mountain climber is an exercise that you should be performing.
Mountain Climbers Exercise
Mountain climbers are a full-body bodyweight exercise. They work the upper and lower body, as well as targeting the core. Mountain climbers can be considered a cardio, strength, and explosive power exercise. Additionally, they will improve your mobility, flexibility, and coordination.
1. What Are Mountain Climber Exercise Good For?
As you can see from the description above, mountain climbers pretty much tick every box.
Admittedly, mountain climbers are typically viewed as a cardio and core exercise, but in truth they bring far more to party.
You will get a fantastic cardiovascular workout when performing mountain climbers, especially at pace.
Furthermore, mountain climbers are often referred to as running planks, so your core will definitely get a great workout.
However, you can also add a wide variety of other muscles and training protocols to the list.
Simply by having to support yourself on your hands, your chest, triceps and shoulders will be activated.
And let’s not forget that mountain climbers will improve your mobility and flexibility, while working on your balance and coordination.
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As far as compound bodyweight exercises go, there are few better exercises.
2. How Many Mountain Climbers Should I Do a Day?
How many mountain climbers you should do a day will depend on many factors.
Some of the things to consider include:
Will you be doing any other form of exercise?
Are you looking to do mountain climbers more for a cardio or ab workout?
What level of fitness do you have, beginner, intermediate, or advanced?
What intensity level are you performing mountain climbers?
However, you can use one of my training techniques to help you decide.
I typically perform ab work throughout the day.
Basically, my main workout will focus far more on compound exercises, whether with my own bodyweight or with weights.
And then as the day goes on I’ll do short 3-minute sessions of exercises.
This is a great way to do mountain climbers and it will help you to calculate how many you should do a day.
I’ll set an interval timer for 3 sets of 45 seconds work and 15 minutes rest.
Perform one set of mountain climbers for 45 seconds and then rest for 15 seconds.
Repeat twice more.
See how you feel after this quick 3-minute session and then decide how many you want to do throughout the day.
As a beginner, you will generally look to do between 1-3 total sets of this workout.
An intermediate trainee should perform between 3-6 total sets.
And as an advanced trainee, you could go up to 10 sets.
This is how to perform a high volume of mountain climbers throughout the day.
However, there is nothing wrong with sticking with the above numbers and performing all your sets as one workout.
3. Are Mountain Climbers Good For Abs?
Two of the most commonly asked questions about mountain climbers are:
Are they good for abs?
And will mountain climbers burn belly fat?
Hopefully, you will already have an idea of the answer.
As I’ve mentioned, the mountain climber exercise is often referred to as a running plank.
And this in itself tells you that it is a core-related exercise.
So, mountain climbers are definitely good for abs.
In fact, I would hazard a guess that the reason many people perform them is to help with ab definition.
With that being said, one of the main reasons that many of us can’t see our abs is because they are covered in a layer of fat.
This is why it is best to perform full-body exercises, conditioning exercises, and specific ab workouts.
If you do this then you have a better chance of burning belly fat and revealing a set of toned abs.
And it just so happens that mountain climbers hit each one of these training protocols.
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4. How Many Calories Does 1 Minute of Mountain Climbers Burn?
As with any exercise, the number of calories you will burn depends on various factors.
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However, the most important factor to consider is your weight.
Granted, your age, fitness levels, metabolic rate, and intensity levels will also make a difference to the calories you burn.
Nevertheless, the easiest way to calculate calories burned from mountain climbers will be to look at how much you weigh.
According to the calories burned calculator, here’s how many calories you can expect to burn from 1 minute of mountain climbers based on your weight:
- 120lbs – 133lbs = 8 calories
- 134lbs – 149lbs = 9 calories
- 150lbs – 165lbs = 10 calories
- 166lbs – 181lbs = 11 calories
- 182lbs – 196lbs = 12 calories
- 197lbs – 212lbs = 13 calories
- 213lbs – 228lbs = 14 calories
- 229lbs – 244lbs = 15 calories
However, as I say, there are other factors to take into consideration.
But, this will give you a good starting point as to how many calories one minute of mountain climbers burn.
23 Mountain Climbers Exercise Variations
5. Is it Better To Do Mountain Climbers Slow or Fast?
The debate rages on about whether you should do mountain climbers slow or fast.
To be honest, there are so many variations of mountain climbers, most of which can be performed at either pace.
Mountain climbers are typically seen as a great cardio workout, and therefore you will typically see most people do them at a frantic pace.
However, for me, I like to slow them down a bit.
The reason being that I believe your technique will be much better, thus ensuring that you work all the targeted muscles.
You’ll find that when you perform mountain climbers at a fast pace a couple of things generally happen.
Firstly, there is a tendency for the butt to stick in the air, which unfortunately will not work the core as well.
Plus, as you get tired, the opposite might happen and the hips sage towards the ground.
Once again, this does not activate the core very well.
I prefer to do mountain climbers at a moderate pace, while ensuring that my technique is on-point.
Even with a more controlled pace you will still find that your heart rate increases sufficiently and you’re still getting a great cardio workout.
Furthermore, all the targeted muscles are getting stimulated correctly.
How to Do Mountain Climbers the Right Way
6. Are Mountain Climbers Bad For Your Back?
The mountain climbers exercise itself isn’t bad for your back per se, but more the way that people perform them.
One of the worst mistakes I see with mountain climbers is when they are done by bouncing up and down.
Admittedly, this will get the heart rate up, but it immediately negates core activation and strengthening.
Furthermore, the bouncing motion tends to put a lot of strain on the lower back.
Bouncing mountain climbers are most noticeable in the fact that hips are constantly going up and down.
Standard mountain climbers should always be performed with just the knees coming in towards the chest.
So, in effect, every other area of your body, bar the legs, remain in the same position.
That being said, there are also mountain climber variations that will require you to move other parts of the body.
I will say that if you suffer with lower back pain that you may be best off avoiding mountain climbers.
This is especially true if you are looking to perform them at a rapid pace.
This is why I have a preference to do mountain climbers slowly and at a very deliberate pace.
By slowing the pace down your work the core far more effectively and this will ensure that you avoid bouncing, or anything else that will put pressure on the lower back.
Plus, you must ensure that the back remains flat and straight.
Avoid the temptation to curve or arch the back, as once again you will be putting additional stress onto the back.
If you have back issues I would also suggest avoiding mountain climber variations that require twisting.
One of my favourite mountain climber variations is the cross-body or oblique mountain climber.
This involves driving your knee to the elbow on the opposite side of your body.
So, right knee to left elbow, left knee to right elbow.
However, this twisting motion is not advisable if you are someone who suffers from lower back pain.
7. How Many Mountain Climbers Should a Beginner Do?
Hopefully, I’ve covered this above in the “How Many Mountain Climbers Should I Do a Day?” section.
For me, I would much rather do mountain climbers for time than for reps.
One rep would constitute bringing both your left and right knee alternately to your chest.
However, depending on the intensity at which you perform mountain climbers, the number of reps could have a very different effect.
I mean, you could perform 20 fast-paced reps of mountain climbers in less than 30 seconds.
Whereas, 20 slow-paced reps could take well over a minute.
So, as I alluded to earlier, I think it’s best to set an interval timer for 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest.
Then complete 3 minutes of work/rest, i.e. 45/15, 45/15, 45/15.
As a beginner, my suggestion would be to complete 1-3 total sets of this 3-minute protocol.
Mountain Climbers Exercise For Beginners
8. Why Are Mountain Climbers So Hard?
Mountain climbers are tough because they are a full-body exercise.
Basically, you’re working a lot of muscles in the body at the same time.
So, the more muscles you work simultaneously, the harder you can expect an exercise to be.
If you throw the additional requirement for balance and coordination into the mix, the mountain climber exercise becomes even more difficult.
There may also be other factors that are making mountain climbers so hard for you.
One of the most common reasons is because of tight hips or tight hip flexors.
You are looking to drive your knees towards your chest, so this will require a certain amount of hip flexion.
If hip flexibility is an issue, then you may need to work on this first before attempting mountain climbers.
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9. How Do You Make Mountain Climbers Easier?
You can still perform mountain climbers without having to do the standard variation.
There are a number of ways you can make the mountain climber easier.
One of the simplest ways is to elevate your hands and upper body.
So, rather than having your hands on the floor, you could have them on the edge of a bench or sturdy chair.
As the exercise becomes easier you can move your hands further down towards the ground.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that there’s no need to perform mountain climbers at a frantic pace.
And the slower you perform the exercise, the easier it becomes.
I see nothing wrong with performing mountain climbers ultra-slow, as you’ll still receive all the many benefits.
Finally, you can tap your toes on the floor, which will provide you with more stability.
The mountain climber is often performed without the feet ever touching the ground as the knee is drawn in.
Some people will say that this is incorrect and that the foot should come into contact with the floor.
Then again, others will maintain that “no contact” is the correct way to do mountain climbers.
For me, they are both correct.
As I’ve mentioned, there are just so many variations of the mountain climbers exercise, I don’t see one way or the other as right or wrong.
As long as you maintain a tight core throughout you’re good to go.
52 Mountain Climber Variations
So, there you have a breakdown of some of the most frequently asked questions about the mountain climbers exercise.
One thing is for sure, it is one hell of a great exercise.
Mountain climbers can be performed just about anywhere.
They don’t require any equipment.
They can be considered both a strength and cardio exercise.
Plus you work a huge variety of muscles from head to toe.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.