How to Do Mountain Climbers for a Total Body Workout

Mountain climbers
Ben Goldstein

Climbing a mountain is no easy feat, but what if that mountain is actually the floor?

That's the concept behind mountain climbers which asks the question: What happens when you get on the floor and run your knees in and out as fast as you can? The obvious follow up to that is to wonder why someone would want to do this and the answer to that is: Because you can (although, if you really can't, I have some variations below).

Why Mountain Climbers Rock

Mountain climbers are an excellent move for building cardio endurance while also building core strength and agility. This is also a great move when you don't have much (or any) equipment and want a challenging way to work your body.

Mountain climbers work so many muscle groups, it's almost like getting a total body workout with just one exercise.  Your shoulders, arms and chest work to stabilize your upper body, your core works to stabilize the rest of your body and your quads get an incredible workout as the prime mover.  Oh, and it's also a cardio exercise, so you're burning even more calories.

How to Do Mountain Climbers

There are a variety of ways to do this move. My top two include:

Version 1 - Running Mountain Climbers

  • Get into a plank position, on the hands and toes.
  • Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart, back flat, abs engaged and head in alignment.
  • From this position, pull the right knee in to your chest as far as you can.  Now, switch and bring the other knee in.
  • Run the knees in as far and as fast as you can while keeping the hips down.

Version 2 - Foot-Switch Mountain Climbers

This version always feels a bit harder to me and may be more advanced than the running version depending on how fast you go.

  • Get into your plank position as in the above version.
  • When you bring your right knee in, touch the toe to the floor.
  • Jump the feet in the air and switch sides so that the right foot is back and the left foot is in front.
  • This move is more of a foot-switch than a run, so there's more impact, which will probably get your heart rate up even higher.

If you slow the move down, it gets even harder because you're basically doing a plyo floor lunge, if that makes any sense.

Mountain Climber Variations

  • Low Impact Mountain Climbers - In this version, you walk one foot forward, touch the toe and walk the foot back, then switch sides, keeping this a slower, lower impact version.
  • Modified Mountain Climbers on the Step - Elevating the upper body on a step takes some of the weight off the upper body.
  • One Leg Mountain Climbers on the Step - Modify the move even more by using a Gliding Disc or a towel (if you're on a hardwood floor) and just slide one leg in and out while stabilizing with the other leg.
  • Sliding Mountain Climbers - Another fun (well, fun is relative of course) version is to use Gliding Discs or towels to slide the feet in and out.  You'll really feel these in your quads even more than the regular version.

It's easy to work mountain climbers into any routine.  Just pepper them throughout your usual cardio routine or add it to other cardio exercises to make your own high intensity circuit workout.