Mountain climbers. They are the side of mashed potatoes at every Thanksgiving meal. The casserole dish at every family reunion pitch-in. The pumpkin spice to everything Fall. The flavor of the month at the ice cream shop. I could continue, but you get the idea. Mountain climbers are a staple when it comes to group workouts, adding active rest activities, and incorporating a quick and usually acceptable activity to a workout.
Why mountain climbers are awesome.
This movement works several joints and muscle groups at the same time (so they are beneficial for full body workouts), all while burning that fat. And ladies, we all know, we don’t like that stubborn fat in our mid-area! Mountain climbers work the core, your glutes and hamstrings, and you’re even engaging your back and shoulders. Along with this, doing climbers in timed intervals helps with cardiovascular health and getting your heart rate up, which burns calories. It’s a two for one, friends. You build strength and stability and burn some fat (which is what will help establish results)!
Mountain climbers: What to do.
- Start in push-up position.
- Tighten the core and keep your back flat. Your arms should be under your shoulders. Your body should be in a straight line.
- Without moving the right leg, bring your left knee forward towards your chest, touching the ground with your toe.
- Extend the left leg back to the starting position. Simultaneously, take your right knee forward towards your chest, touching your toe to the ground.
- Continue this back-and-forth motion for a specific interval of time or specific reps.
Mountain climbers: Common mistakes
Like all areas of fitness, there can be sneaky little tendencies that can hinder form, function, and overall results. Here are a couple common mistakes with mountain climbers that compromise form.
- The butt bounce: This is when you bounce up and down while you are bringing your knee forward. This will put more strain on your shoulders and back and without realizing it, relieving the abs of some of their duty during the exercise. People do mountain climbers to build core strength. When you are trying to work on your abs and obliques, you don’t want to relieve them of their responsibilities.
- The levitating legs: Hand is up. Call on me. I am so guilty of this at times. In traditional/standard mountain climber form this is when you don’t touch your toe to the ground when you drive your knees forward. This causes your hips to raise a bit, making you more prone to the butt bounce and makes the exercise easier to perform. Easy. Where’s the challenge in that?
When I started my fitness journey 8 years ago, I couldn’t even run one mile without my body aching and feeling like I was going to hurl. I never thought I would be able to accomplish much. Now I am capable of running mini-marathons. The same went with mountain climbers for me. I could only do a few at a time, but now I am trying to increase my strength by incorporating variations at different levels. So, if you are a beginner focus first on strengthening your form with traditional climbers and building up to intervals and higher reps. However, if you are like me, always trying to find ways to improve and grow, explore some variations to spice up your workout. I enjoy a good mountain climber, but as mentioned in previous posts, what’s the point of me doing something, if I am not going to push myself. So, I pushed myself when it came to mountain climbers.
5 mountain climber variations I incorporated into a 10 minute (3x through) interval workout this past week.
- Semicircle mountain climbers
This form is fun and definitely helps amp up the workout on your lung-capacity. It will get your cardio up, helping burn that stubborn fat. Instead of staying in place you pivot around in a semicircle as you complete your mountain climbers. This one I caught myself doing the levitating leg often! Always try and maintain good form.
- Grasshopper mountain climbers
Grasshoppers make me feel like I am a world class break-dance superstar. I’m sure I look completely different than the image I have in my head while performing this type of mountain climber, but it’s fun. When you drive your leg in, you bring your shin to the opposite elbow, extending your leg out to the side.
- Medicine ball mountain climbers
Talk about engaging the core and focusing on balance. Two things I struggle with accomplishing at the same time. During this interval, I placed both hands on a medicine ball to perform the climbers. The medicine ball requires focus on engaging that core as you draw a knee in and stability within your arm support (you know, since you are no longer supporting yourself on a flat service). I noticed it can be very easy to let the rump rise in the air on this one.
- Spider mountain climbers
If you feel like looking like spider-man, this is the one for you. In this interval you jump your right knee to the outside of your right elbow. As you bring your right leg back to starting position, jump the left leg to the outside of your left elbow. Continue the pattern. This too, will amp up your lung workout.
- Hanging flexed arm mountain climbers
Friends, this is the moment I discovered how weak my upper body is (which has now provided me new goals for my workouts) when it comes to supporting my body. For this form, it is just like it sounds in the name: you hang from a bar, arms flexed (like you are doing a pull up motion), and perform your mountain climbers in the air. Each interval in the workout was 30 seconds straight, no rest in between. I lasted 15 seconds with flexed arms…I could have chosen to be frustrated that I couldn’t complete the full interval. I could have decided to switch it out for a different form when I repeated the intervals the 2nd and 3rd time, but I chose not to. I stuck to the 15 seconds because 15 seconds is better than only 10 seconds, which is better than 5 seconds, which is better than 0. Now I have something to work up to in that form.
Eventually I want to work up to the more intense forms, but I must start somewhere! I could continue to incorporate the standard mountain climber into my workouts, since that is comfortable, and my body recognizes the form, but that wouldn’t help with growth and strengthening my body. Fitness journeys are a process. There is no end-point. You accomplish one goal and you create a new goal.
I don’t want to remain stagnant. Not discovering new things and new ways to be my fittest, healthiest, happiest—whether that is in life or in my fitness journey—is going to cause me to stay stagnant.
I know there are people out there that these 5 forms are easy and in no way are a challenge for them. I say, so what. This isn’t their fit. They will find something that challenges them. And I know there are others who haven’t built up to this type of workout yet. That’s okay. This isn’t your fit. You will find your fit. But this is mine (and that’s why I included my less-than-stellar video capture pictures for you). My fit shouldn’t be based on other people’s fit.
I have realized lately we get so caught up in what we know, what is expected of us, what we are used to, that we get sucked back into the comfort zone of the past, instead of growing towards something better. We are placed back in the box we put ourselves in: the box to please others and polish our image for them, when we should be doing it for our own growth and happiness, not for their judgment.
Seeking the approval from others and their judgement of us is only going to plant that seed of doubt, shame, and unworthiness in our souls, which will grow into a cluster of weeds and thorns impacting every thought and action we say and do.
My fit, my health, my happy shouldn’t be dependent on that. I won’t allow it to be dependent on that. Your fit, your healthy, your happy should not be determined by others. Why would you give others the power to control that when it is your life?
Go thrive today.