How To Do The Mountain Climber Exercise

(Image credit: Unknown)

If you were told that there was one exercise that would not only help you prepare to conquer Everest but also set you on track for a six-pack, you’d likely scoff. Well, retract that scoff, here’s the mountain climber.

Taking inspiration from Edmund Hillary and co, the mountain climber is a challenge for the entire body, especially if you do it fast enough to act as a cardio workout. Even if you can’t maintain a rapid pace with your mountain climbers, the motion alone will target core muscles. Your legs also take a bit of a pasting, while supporting your upper body ensures that your arms don’t get off scot-free either. Done at pace to gain the cardio benefits, the mountain climber really is a full-body exercise.

Admittedly, even if it becomes a regular part of your workout regime you probably won’t either climb Everest or get a six-pack overnight, but it’s a fine first step. And we’re very big on first steps here at Coach.

How To Do A Mountain Climber

Drop into a top press-up position, supporting your weight on your hands and toes, with your arms straight and your legs extended. Keeping your core braced and your shoulders, hips and feet in a straight line throughout, bring one knee towards your chest, then return it to the starting position. Repeat the movement with your other leg, then continue alternating legs throughout.

You can do mountain climbers quickly or slowly, but opting for the former will get your heart pumping, making the move an excellent addition to a HIIT workout. Just make sure that your form doesn’t suffer when you start pushing the pace.

Mountain Climber Variations

Elevated mountain climber

If you find the traditional mountain climber a little tough on your arms and shoulders, try putting your hands on a raised surface like a bench. This forces your legs to take more of your bodyweight.

Gym ball mountain climber

Supporting your upper body on a fixed surface makes mountain climbers a little easier, but putting your hands on an unstable surface like a gym ball makes them harder. Trying to maintain perfect form while the ball moves beneath you dramatically increases the challenge to your core.

RECOMMENDED: Gym Ball Exercises That Everyone Should Be Doing

Cross body mountain climber

To enlist the obliques in your mountain climber workout, move your knee towards the opposite shoulder when you bring it forwards and twist your torso slightly. You should still be able to maintain a good pace while you do this, but move slightly more deliberately than you do in the classic mountain climber to ensure good form.

Spider-Man mountain climber

This testing variation targets the obliques as well as the lower abdominals, and will help improve your balance and hip flexibility to boot. From a top press-up position bring your right leg out and bring your knee towards your right elbow. You can either plant that foot by your right hand before taking it back to the starting position, or keep it raised throughout the movement. Once your right foot is back in place, repeat the movement on your left side.

Wall mountain climbers

Raise the stakes for your arms and shoulders by taking your feet off the floor and pushing them against a wall. Slowly bring one knee forwards to your chest, then replace it on the wall and bring the other one forward. The pace will be slow, but the rewards will come in the form of greater upper-body strength.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.