Last updated on October 31st, 2022 at 04:25 pm
Love them or hate them, we all can agree that mountain climbers are a fantastic exercise.
However, in order to get the best out of mountain climbers there are certain “rules” that you should stick to.
Not only will this help you to transform your physique, but you can also avoid injury.
So, allow me to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about mountain climbers.
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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.
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 seconds 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.
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.
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.
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
10. Do Mountain Climbers Build Muscle?
Mountain climbers definitely work many muscles at the same time, although they aren’t considered a muscle-building exercise.
In reality, mountain climbers are more focused on cardio endurance, conditioning, core strength, and mobility.
You’ll clearly target many muscle groups, including your abs, chest, shoulders, triceps, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, etc.
However, for the vast majority of people they won’t provide adequate resistance to actually build muscle.
With that being said, if you’re very new to mountain climbers, and perhaps exercise in general, then you will notice certain muscular development from subsequent workouts.
But, muscle-building typically works on progessive overload.
In other words, you’ll generally build muscle by making an exercise harder or increasing the level of resistance.
11. Can You Do Mountain Climbers on Your Elbows?
You can indeed do mountain climbers on your elbows.
In fact, this is my preferred way of doing them.
When you perform mountain climbers on your elbows you’ll require more core strength.
However, doing them on your hands will require more upper body strength.
Additionally, when you do mountain climbers on your elbows you’ll be spreading your body weight over a larger area.
But, this doesn’t automatically mean that performing them on your elbows makes the exercise easier.
In effect, the difficulty of elbows vs hands will depend on your core strength and your upper body strength.
So, the best way to approach this is to focus on the specific body area that is more important for you to train.
With that being said, either way you’ll still be working on cardio endurance and conditioning.
Something else to consider is your joint health and strength.
Performing mountain climbers on your hands will typically be harder on the elbows and the shoulders.
So, if you feel that you don’t have adequate strength in these areas you’ll be better off doing mountain climbers on your elbows.
How to Do a Forearm Plank Mountain Climber
12. What’s an Alternative to Mountain Climbers?
There are actually quite a number of alternatives to mountain climbers.
However, if I’m honest, I have a personal favourite method.
Basically, this will involve performing two different exercises in the place of mountain climbers.
But, in order to create the same impact you’ll need to work both your core and your cardiovascular system.
For me, the best way to achieve this is to superset between standard planks and either jumping jacks or high knees.
This is best done via a timed superset, as opposed to a specific number of reps.
So, you’ll want to initially hold a plank for 30 seconds and then perform either jumping jacks or high knees for 30 seconds.
This constitutes one superset, and you then decide how many supersets you wish to perform in total.
You’ll want to take a short rest in-between each superset too.
A total body cardio, core, and conditioning workout would involve performing one superset, take 30-60 seconds rest, and then complete a total of 5-10 superset depending on your current fitness levels.
13. Can I Do Mountain Climbers Everyday?
Whenever you perform muscle-building exercises you should always factor in adequate rest and recovery.
And this is especially true for Central Nervous System intensive exercises.
By this I mean exercises like squats, deadlifts, power cleans, etc.
However, any resistance exercise that places stress on the muscles shouldn’t generally be performed on a daily basis.
You must remember that your muscles grow when you rest and not during exercise.
With that being said, when it comes to more cardio-intensive exercises you don’t have to worry as much about `day’s off.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t take the occasional day’s rest.
But, then again, this will depend on your level of strength and fitness.
Additionally, I see nothing wrong with performing a specific exercise, or complete workout, on a daily basis, as long as this is only done for a specified number of days.
Mountain climbers are definitely one of these exercises.
In fact, a specific YouTuber often performs daily challenges for 30 days and then shares his results.
You can see the amazing results produced from 30 days of mountain climbers in the video below.
Basically, our friend simply performed 3 minutes of mountain climbers a day.
The results were an unbelievable 30 pounds weight loss, starting at 220lbs on day 1 and ending at 188lbs on day 30.
Now, quite clearly the mountain climbers were performed in conjunction with other weight loss efforts, e.g. good nutrition and plenty of walking, but I’m sure you’ll agree this is absolutely fantastic.
3 Minutes of Mountain Climbers Every Day For 30 Days
14. How Long Does it Take to See Results From Mountain Climbers?
So, you can see from the video above that this guy produced some quite phenomenal results in just 30 days.
However, you must remember that he also performed other activities, as well as focusing on his diet and nutrition.
And this is extremely important to factor in as well.
You may have heard the phrase, “You can’t out-train a bad diet”, and this is definitely the case for any exercise regime.
So, you can’t perform mountain climbers on a regular basis, while stuffing your face, and then expect to see some type of amazing body transformation.
But, that’s not to say that your level of fitness won’t improve in some way.
A study published in a Public Library of Science Journal suggests that you can improve core strength, fitness and agility by performing mountain climbers for six to seven weeks.
But, as I say you’ll also want to focus on your nutrition to achieve your physique goals.
15. Do Mountain Climbers Make You Faster?
Mountain climbers can actually be a great exercise for speed athletes.
I’ve already spoken about the benefits of performing mountain climbers, both fast and slow.
So, fast-paced mountain climbers will definitely help to improve agility, which in turn can transfer to speed and make you a faster runner.
However, what you can do is to kick things up a notch or two by doing mountain climbers with resistance bands.
What happens here is that you’ll turn a cardio-based exercise into a power and explosive movement.
Plus, the resistance band variety will especially help to build explosive power in your lower body.
And of course, this is how you can increase speed for running.
Admittedly, this will involve additional equipment, but speed training typically requires moving resistance in an explosive manner.
Mountain Climbers With Resistance Bands
16. What Are Common Mistakes When Performing Mountain Climbers?
Mountain climbers may well be a basic bodyweight exercise, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t the potential to perform them incorrectly.
In fact, there are certain mistakes that will not only reduce the effectiveness of the exercise, but that can also lead to injury.
The most common of these is allowing your back to either round or to arch.
When performing mountain climbers you’ll want to ensure that your back is completely straight.
The exact same can be said for your head and neck.
Another frequent mistake is to either look directly down and back towards your knees or up into the air.
Basically, you’ll want to maintain a straight line from your head to your heels.
Furthermore, you’ll also want to restrict the movement of your lower back.
If you find that you’re excessively moving your lower back, this is a sign that you have weak core muscles.
Plus, allowing your butt to stick in the air or your midsection to sag towards the ground once again is a sign of a weak core.
Something else that happens fairly often is that you don’t allow your feet to touch the ground as you bring your knees towards your chest.
This is especially true when you perform mountain climbers at speed.
Now, you may believe that this improves the exercise, but in truth you won’t be getting the full core-working benefit from mountain climbers.
Finally, you should also retract your shoulder blades when performing mountain climbers on your hands.
This simply involves pulling your shoulder blades back and down.
Many people tend to allow their shoulders to flair out.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a very stable position for your shoulders and may eventually lead to injury.
17. Are Mountain Climbers Good For Obliques?
Mountain climbers are good for your entire core, and this encompasses all the abdominal muscles, including the obliques.
The simple fact that mountain climbers challenge your stability means they are a fantastic way of working on those unwanted love handles.
Admittedly, the obliques respond best to twisting movements, but you can certainly do this with other variations.
I’ve spoken of cross-body and spiderman mountain climbers, which automatically engage the oblique muscles even more than the standard movement.
18. Do Mountain Climbers Work Legs?
Now, even though mountain climbers are a full-body exercise, I have mentioned that they may not be the best for muscular development.
I guess when you speak of whether mountain climbers work the legs you’re more interested in developing both muscle and strength in your lower body.
So, whereas your glutes and hamstrings are definitely activated, there isn’t as much impact on the quads.
Plus, without any specific resistance being added to the exercise you won’t be working the legs as hard as you could.
However, this is once more a great opportunity to use additional exercises, supersets, or circuits to incorporate specific leg work.
So, as an example you could superset mountain climbers with lunges or bodyweight squats.
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.
If you’re looking to take your physique to the next level with just bodyweight exercises then check out my Review of the Warrior Zero Bodyweight Challenge Workout Program.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.