Mountain climbers are a great power move for runners. They ramp up your heart rate, challenge your balance and agility, and get your muscles burning. And though they’re usually considered a lower-body exercise, mountain climbers actually engage the upper arms and core, too.
As an added benefit, the explosiveness of mountain climbers means it doesn’t take much to reap the rewards, so - if you're a runner - you can add this move to your regular pre-run or post-run routine without a huge time investment. Or, they work just as well as a standalone HIIT session.
Once you’ve mastered the standard mountain climber, get even more bang for your buck by trying one of these five variations, created by Mary-Katherine Fleming, Life Time run coach and founder of the Fitness Protection Program.
Each move below is demonstrated by Lindsey Clayton, instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp and cofounder of the Brave Body Project. so you can learn proper form.
Mountain Climber Repeats
You’ll be relieved when you cross this finish line. If you’re training for a marathon, these repeats will get you ready for the fatigue you’ll experience in the final 10K. And, if you’re prepping for a 5K, these will develop the strength and power needed for shorter distances.
How to do it: Mark off 0.10 miles on a stretch of flat grass, or use the straightaway on an empty track. Start in high plank position and complete one set of mountain climbers (left, right, left, right). Stand straight up and then take a big broad jump forward. Return to mountain climber position and perform one set (left, right, left, right), followed by another broad jump. Once you reach the end, jog for two minutes to recover. Repeat four more times. You can make it harder by doing it up a hill. Or, if you’re working out inside, you can use the length of your yoga mat for the distance of your broad jumps.
Get ready for your obliques to burn. This variation works the deep core muscles that help stabilise your pelvis and spine as you run.
How to do it: Set up a timer app like Seconds to go off every three and five seconds. Start in high plank position. Perform as many mountain climbers as you can for three seconds. When the timer goes off, freeze your position for five seconds. When the five seconds is up, resume mountain climbers for three seconds. Alternate between these quick bursts and holds for two minutes total. (To make it harder, place your hands on a Bosu ball, which will require more core stabilisation.)
Mountain-Climber Fire Donkey
Variations like this sneak in multiple moves—and benefits. It builds eccentric quad strength and massive hip and core strength, all of which are needed to do well on downhills.
How to do it: Start in high plank position. Perform a set of mountain climbers (left, right, left, right), then tighten your core and lift your right leg (bent about 90 degrees) out to the side for a fire hydrant. Return to the start position, then push straight back for a donkey kick. Complete another set of mountain climbers, then repeat the movements of the left side. Alternate for 60 seconds or until you’ve performed five fire hydrants and donkey kicks on each side.
Mountain Climber With Plank Jack
In the training world, the gluteus maximus gets all the love. But your hip abductors and medial glute—the smaller muscle that runs along the side of your rear and keeps your pelvis steady while you’re in motion—also need TLC. Fire them up with this variation.
How to do it: Start in high plank position. Perform a set of mountain climbers (left, right, left, right). Then return to starting position and perform one plank jack by jumping both feet apart and back together—like a jumping jack. Complete 4 plank jacks. Alternate between the two moves for 60 seconds. You can make it harder by looping a resistance band around your ankles.
Mountain Climber With Alternating Shoulder Tap
This move provides upper body balance and core stability.
How to do it: Start in high plank position. Perform a set of mountain climbers (left, right, left, right). Return to starting position, with shoulders over the wrists, head in line with the heels and feet hip-width apart. Alternate tapping right hand to left shoulder and left hand to right shoulder two times. Remember to keep your body stable, so your hips don’t rock. Alternate for 60 seconds.
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