Simplicity and Versatility: Benefits of Mountain Climbers

Reading Time: 3 minutes 35 seconds


Date: 2020-04-06T00:00:00-04:00

There is one thing that nearly everyone in the world of physical exercise appreciates—the perfect combination of simplicity and versatility within an exercise. Why spend hours targeting individual muscle groups when there are exercises that are far more time- and energy-efficient? Mountain climbers fall into this category.

Mountain Climbing Basics

The mountain climber exercise is a simple body-weight exercise that targets many different muscle groups.

Here's the correct technique:

  • Start in the high plank position with your hands under your shoulders and your feet hip-distance apart.

  • Engage your core and create a straight line from your head through toes (you do not want a rounded back, high hips, etc.).

  • Drive your right knee towards your chest and tap your toes on the ground.

  • Push your right knee back and land in the original position.

  • Repeat the same process for the left side—maintain balance and core stability. That's one rep.

  • Repeat the alternating process—speeding up to a running motion.

Although mountain climbers can be referred to as a full-body exercise, there are specific muscle groups that it targets. You must use good form to work each of these muscle groups.


Be sure to keep your abs tight during the exercise. This will build up core strength—used in nearly all movement of the body.

Muscles targeted:

  • Upper, middle, and lower abdominals

  • Obliques

  • Lower back muscles

Shoulders & Arms

Along with the core, arms and shoulder create stability while in the high plank position. They also help to maintain a straight line from head to toe.

Muscles targeted:

  • Deltoids

  • Triceps

Upper & Lower Legs

The lower half of the body is responsible for the movement. It may be tempting to focus solely on this region on the body. Don't forget about the previous muscle groups as they allow for smooth lower body movement.

Muscles targeted:

  • Glutes

  • Quads

  • Hamstrings

  • Hip flexors

  • Shin muscle (only worked with toes pulled toward shins the whole time)

Unique Benefits of Mountain Climbers

The mountain climber exercise presents many unique benefits for both trainers and clients. Functionally, trainers can incorporate this exercise into a wide variety of workouts including cardio, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), weight loss, fat burning, and more.

As a trainer or coach, adding mountain climbers can create a more well-rounded workout. Rather than hammering out 50 pushups, 100 squats, and 10 sprints, you can combine the effort into one exercise. This saves time and energy.

Easy to Individualize

Mountain climbers are also very easy to modify for different fitness levels and restrictions. There is no such thing as "graduating" from the exercise. You can always ramp it up!


You can use mountain climbers all throughout a workout:

  • Main part of the workout

  • Substituted in as a functional "rest" period during the workout

  • Supplementation to a cardio workout such as running or swimming

  • Part of warm-up or cool-down

  • Included in a multi-stage body-weight circuit with crunches, jumping jacks, etc.


They require no equipment and very little space—you don't even need a gym. Plus, a short session works clients hard!

An Exercise for Everyone

Mountain climbers can be beneficial to people of all ages, fitness levels, and abilities. The instructions outlined above describe the moderate version of the exercise. Unable to do it? Too easy? No problem! Here's a look at some modifications to increase or decrease the difficulty.

Inclined Mountain Climbers (Easier)

Add a sturdy object under your hands so your upper body is higher than your lower body (medicine ball, bench, dumbbell, etc.). Depending on the angle, your front toes may not tap the ground. This position decreases the stress on the upper body muscle groups.

Twisted Mountain Climbers (Similar to original)

Instead of bringing your knee straight forward, bring it diagonally across your chest towards the opposite elbow. This twisting action will target more of the obliques and abdominal muscles.

Banded Mountain Climbers

Attach a resistance band around your two feet and continue with normal mountain climbers. The band tension will increase as your feet separate with one driving forward and one staying back. The tension will increase the workload on the hip flexors and quads. Great for sprinters and all other activities that rely heavily on knee-drive!

Suspended Mountain Climbers

Put your feet through the two straps hanging from a door or other object above. Your feet should always be at least a few inches off the ground. Assume the high plank position with your feet in the straps and do normal mountain climbers. This variation will increase the workload on the upper body. It will also be much more of a cardio workout compared to other versions.

And there are still many other versions of the mountain climber exercise. This is a great place to start, though! Ultimately there are a number of goals this exercise accomplishes. It has many benefits all contained in one package.

Gathering insight from exercise, health, and nutrition experts is an important part of developing successful programs. The ISSA offers a wide variety of resources to help such as the Strength and Conditioning course. Check it out and see how you can take your clients' fitness to a whole new level!

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