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How to do mountain climbers — form, benefits, and modifications

Woman doing Mountain Climber exercise on mat
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

So you hate burpees, join the club! But did you know a burpee isn’t the only compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups and works up a sweat. Mountain climbers are a killer core exercise, that also targets your shoulders, back, hips, quads, and glutes. Below, we’ve got advice on how to do a mountain climber, the benefits of the exercise, and the modifications to try. 

Before you dig out your hiking boots, you don’t need to be anywhere near a mountain to reap the rewards of this exercise. Instead, you’ll just need an exercise mat (we’ve found the best yoga mats that double as exercise mats here), and your body weight. Mountain climbers are suitable for all levels, and we’ve found some of the best modifications for complete beginners below.

Looking for more workout inspiration? We’ve hand-picked the best ab workouts here and the resistance band exercise that targets all of the muscles in your legs.

How to do mountain climbers 

The easiest way to explain the movement involved in mountain climbers is running in a plank position. To do a mountain climber, start in a plank position, with your hands shoulder-width apart, your back flat, and your core engaged (think about sucking your belly button into your spine). From here, bend your left knee and bring it into your chest, as far as you can. Pause, then straighten your leg back to its starting position and bring your right knee in underneath your body. Keep repeating this movement and build up speed until you’re running your knees in and out. 

As you move your legs, think about keeping your core engaged and your hips still to avoid putting any pressure on your lower back. It’s easy to shift your weight back slightly with the motion, but be sure to stay in a plank position, rather than a downward dog. 

What are the benefits of mountain climbers?

Mountain climbers are a compound exercise, which means you’re working multiple muscle groups at the same time as you do with burpees. This means they’ll get your heart rate up, and give you more of a full-body workout than other core exercises. 

Although they work far more than just your core, mountain climbers are often found in ab workouts as they’re a great abdominal workout, as your core has to help stabilize your body during the move. Strong abs are far from just an aesthetic goal, they can help you run faster, lift heavier, improve your posture and reduce lower back pain.

a photo of a woman doing a cross body mountain climber

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How to make mountain climbers easier or harder 

If you’re finding mountain climbers too difficult, slow the movement down, and instead of running, just bring one knee underneath your chest at a time, alternating between sides. You can also reduce the pressure on your wrists and shoulders by performing mountain climbers on a step or bench — this can be helpful if you’re still working on your upper body strength, but want to get the benefits of this movement. 

If you’re looking to challenge yourself, here are a few mountain climber modifications to add to your workout: 

Sliding mountain climbers:

To do sliding mountain climbers, you’ll need a couple of sliders, or tea towels if you don’t have them. Put your toes on the sliders as you assume the plank position, and slide your leg underneath your body, without raising your toe off the floor, slide it back out to your starting position and repeat on the other side. You should find this works your stabilizer muscles and quads harder than normal mountain climbers. 

Cross-body mountain climbers

Cross-body mountain climbers target the oblique muscles in the abs as well as the hip flexors. This move is similar to a normal mountain climber, but as you bring you legs into your chest, you’ll angle it underneath your body, tapping your left knee to your right elbow. Then repeat on the opposite side. Think about making an X with your knees and elbows. 

Spider mountain climbers: 

This one is a killer on the core. In spider mountain climbers, instead of bringing the knee underneath the body, you’re going to bring it out to the side, tapping your left knee to your left elbow. Pause at the top of the movement, before extending your leg back to its starting position and repeating on the right side. 

Next: When you're done here, learn how to do lateral squats and how to do plank jacks and how to do a glute bridge

Jane McGuire
Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.