Mountain Climbers Exercise – 9 Frequently Asked Questions

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?

A Man Doing Mountain Climbers Exercise

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 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.

Perfect.

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4. How Many Calories Does 1 Minute of Mountain Climbers Burn?

Calories

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?

A Woman Sitting on a Gym Floor, Possibly Tired After Exercise

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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Test For Tight Hip Flexors

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

Final Thoughts

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.

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16 thoughts on “Mountain Climbers Exercise – 9 Frequently Asked Questions”

  1. I just came back from the gym (finally, they are open again!) and was thinking about what exercise I can add to the end of my routine to engage the core muscles and also do a bit of cardio as well. Where the go? Who to aks? As always, your site was my #1 choice.

    You haven’t disappointed, Partha! Thanks for sharing this post.

    I completely forgot about mountain climers exercise. I used to do this one either as a warmup or as a final exercise because it is complex and engages the whole body at once which makes it perfect for either start or the end of a gym session.

    Your post here made me reconsider adding this exercise to my routine again. Thanks!

    Just like you, I like to do mountain climbers a bit slower than the rest of the “fitness herd.” In fact, I always perform an exercise slowly to “feel” the movement and get the most out of it.

    You can get a good sweat from it even if you take it slow. And as you said, this way, you will engage the core muscles much better.

    All in all, I’m pumped to start doing mountain climbers once again! Thanks for sharing this comprehensive post, Partha. As always, I had a great time on your website! Keep up the good work, mate.

    Reply
    • Aahh, you’re too kind Ivan.

      It’s always great to hear from you, especially when you come bearing compliments, LOL.

      Well firstly, I’m glad that the gyms are finally open for you again. We’ve still got about a month to go here until mid-April. Although saying that I’ve quite enjoyed my at-home workouts for the last year. It’s made a nice welcome change.

      I’m exactly like you in respect of mountain climbers.

      It’s like I’d literally forgotten them, and they had disappeared into the abyss at the back of my mind.

      I think that’s what prompted me to write this article, and I’ve certainly been doing mountain climbers once again over the past week.

      It’s good to hear also that your technique is much in line wth mine.

      I know lots of people want to do the moutain climbers exercise at pace, but for me, you tend to lose something by doing this.

      Anyway, enjoy the gym, enjoy the mountain climbers, LOL.

      Till next time Ivan.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  2. Hey man, this is great stuff thanks for the tips. Albeit I have not been out climbing the cracks lately due to winter conditions here in Canada I still do some exercise to stay in shape for when the season arrives which will be soon. Soon meaning a few months away yet.

    I always perform just the normal exercise bringing the knees to the chest without touching the floor and the plank version which I don’t like too much because it makes my butt stick up too much. With your various suggestions, I now have more ideas to add which with the blank I can put my knees out to the side thereby keeping the butt down.

    Thanks for all the tips and various ways to do the same mountain climbers exercise.

    Reply
    • Hey Richard,

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Good to hear that you’re still getting a chance to exercise indoors.

      I can only guess what the weather conditions are like in Canada at the moment.

      I’m glad you found some useful suggestions here too.

      Personally, I seemed to have completely forget about mountain climbers for no apparent reason.

      I know they’re a fantastic exercise on all fronts, strength, cardio, conditioning, etc. but I don’t think I’d done any in years.

      I guess that’s what prompted me to write this article in the first place, plus it’s reignited my passion for a great all-round exercise.

      Partha

      Reply
  3. Hi Partha,
    Not many mountain climbers for me at the moment – I went through my back a couple of weeks ago. 🙁 But usually, I do a very simple form of mountain climbers: slowly while standing and having my hands at a doorpost.

    At the moment all I do are the exercises my physiotherapist gave me years ago. One of them is a kind of mirrored version of the mountain climber. I lie on my back and alternately pull a bent leg to my chest.

    I have tried to find it on YouTube, but as I have no idea of the name, I didn’t have luck. If you understand what kind of exercise I do, maybe you know the name?

    Oh, and guess what, my hip cracks since a couple of weeks, or maybe months, I don’t know exactly! LOL, I am going to look like my father. Whenever he heard a description of some disease or ailment, he had it. That same moment or he developed it in the days following. 🙂

    Reply
    • Oh Hannie,

      I’m sorry to hear that, definitely no mountain climbers for you, LOL.

      Even doing the standing version, as you mention, will have many benefits.

      You are still activating the core muscles.

      The exercise that your physiotherapist has recommended can be called the knees-to-chest exercise, but in reality it is a version of the Dead Bug exercise.

      The dead bug exercise is great for core stabilization, plus it’s very easy to perform.

      You would typically lie on your back, have your arms straight up in the air above your head, and your knees bent at a 90 degree angle, so that your feet are off the floor.

      You then stretch out one leg straight and return to the starting position, and then do the same with the opposite leg.

      However, even though this is a very easy exercise, I wouldn’t suggest you try it until your back is properly healed.

      You are doing the same type of thing with bringing your knees to your chest, but with less stress on the lower back.

      Plus, this helps to stretch and contract the hip flexors. Tight or weak hip flexors can often be the cause of lower back pain.

      Oh dear, well I hope you get better soon Hannie. Plus, I’m sure your father was a wonderful man.

      Don’t get me started, my late mother was a hypochondriac. You mention any disease and suddenly she had it, LOL.

      Partha

      Reply
  4. Thanks for sharing this detailed information on the mountain climbers exercise.  

    I totally agree that this is a tough all body exercise.  I would suggest that slow is better than fast, as slow gives you a better chance to hold the muscles and work then hard.

    I also love that they can be effective when just carried out for 3 minutes at a time.  So they can be fitted into your life without being intrusive or taking over.

    Reply
    • Hey Geoff,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I’m gald you’re in the “go slow” camp too, LOL.

      Perhaps, I’ve got it wrong, but I typically always see people doing mountain climbers at a frantic pace.

      However, as you say, I think muscle contraction is much better with a smooth and controlled tempo.

      As for the 3 minutes, I actually do a lot of “additional exercise” during the day anyway.

      I will have my main workout and a walk first thing in the morning.

      But then, as I work behind a desk all day, I’ll typically do short bouts of exercise throughout the day.

      It could be a few pull ups, some push ups, and I’ll do my 3-minute abs a couple of times as well.

      Anything to overcome the stagnation of being hunched over a desk for many hours a day.

      Partha

      Reply
  5. Hey there!

    I would like to get started with mountain climbers. I have been looking for a good cardiovascular workout and I think I have found them. And an additional thing that encourages me to perform mountain climbers is that they help with ab definition. Thank you very much for this post.

    Reply
    • Hey Paolo,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Oh yes, mountain climbers are typically used as a cardiovascular exercise.

      However, as I mention in this article, they bring so much more.

      I view mountain climbers as a strength, cardio, conditioning, and “definition” exericise.

      To be honest, when it comes to full-body exercises, there aren’t too many exercises that are much better.

      Partha

      Reply
  6. I love all the exercise moves that do not require to many equipments. I love the fact that this is so effective, it seems simple but I am sure that it will kick my butt. How many times a week should I do to see the best result? Wow, this will sure burn a lot of calories as well. I am going to give this a try. 

    Reply
    • Hi Nuttanee,

      Oh you can count on it, mountain climbers will kick your butt, LOL.

      I have a great love for bodyweight exercises.

      Especially the ones that don’t require any equipment, can be done in small space, and can literally be done at any time.

      Mountain climbers certainly tick all these boxes.

      Partha

      Reply
  7. Hello there! Oh wow, this is a great post! I have been looking to find new ways to exercise and I forget about mountain climbers. It’s free and don’t need any equipment for it which is really nice. I did not know it only burned so little calories in just one minute. But I guess if one does enough sets, it might even trigger the after burn effect like with the higher intensity exercises for additional calorie burning. I guess something that I encountered before when doing these is that my foot/plantar muscles does kind of get overly stretched when doing these (basically the ball of my foot or bottom of it tends to hurt), do you have any recommendations for that?

    Reply
    • Hey Mike,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      You’ve nailed it with your description here of mountain climbers.

      Completely free, don’t require any equipment, and you can literally do them anywhere and at anytime.

      As for calories burned, you’d be hard pushed to find many exercises that burn more than 10-15 calories per minute.

      Probably the only exercise (off the top of my head) that typically burns anywhere near 20 calories per minute will be kettlebell swings. But obviously you’ll require a kettlebell to do them.

      However, the aim for fat loss is to produce the afterburn effect. So it’s not so much about how many calories you burn at the time, but how much you elevate your metabolism to keep burning calories for many hours to come.

      I hear you about the muscles of the feet hurting.

      To be honest, I like to look at the body as a whole. So, I will always look to warm up, stretch, and toughen up areas we don’t usually think about.

      The joints, the hands, and of course the feet.

      Although, a completely different exercise, you may want to check out my Foots Cramps During Bulgarian Split Squats article. This provides information on ankle mobility and “warming up” the feet prior to exercise.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  8. Hi Partha. Another great post. I am a big fan of mountain climbing and every article which gives me opportunity to be better is highly appreciate. To be fair I wasn’t doing any special training for climbers, but maybe this was something I’ve missed. Looking forward to test your recommendations in practice and hopefully it will prepare me better for upcoming season.

    Reply
    • Hey Cogito,

      Great to hear from you.

      To be honest, I seemed to have completely forgotten about mountain climbers too.

      I’ve mentioned to others here, I think that’s what prompted me to write this article in the first place.

      They are a fantastic full-body exercise, and they help you accomplish so many things strength and fitness-wise.

      I have started to include them again in various workouts and I can honestly say that after only a couple of weeks I can see the difference they’re making to me.

      Partha

      Reply

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