I can get through some pretty tough AF workout moves. Ask me to do jump squats, one-handed burpees, and incline sprints, and I’ll (begrudgingly) do ’em. Heck, I’m even doing SLT—one of New York’s hardest workout classes—three days a week in a three-month challenge with my fellow fitness editors. For some reason, though, mountain climbers stick out to me as one of the most difficult things to do.
It sounds weird, because mountain climbers are just a high plank in which you jump your knees into your chest one after the other. And yet—ask me to do them for merely 30 seconds and I simply can’t without stopping after, like, 10 seconds. What gives?
“A mountain climber is a much more advanced movement than many people think, and it is no wonder that so many of us struggle with an exercise like this,” says Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d Space. “This is a movement that requires great stability and core strength in order to be done properly and for an extended period of time.” He likens it to a super-advanced plank. Great, because planks are hard enough on their own.
But you’re taking a plank and removing stability from the equation with the running of the legs. “You’re taking a basic plank and introducing quick, unstable movements which can drastically increase the difficulty of the position,” he explains. “Typically with an exercise like this, most people struggle with the weakness or poor mobility in the hip flexors and lower back.” That sounds about right.
“Typically with an exercise like this, most people struggle with the weakness or poor mobility in the hip flexors and lower back.” —Jeff Brannigan
You’re also working everything when you do the move. “Mountain climbers get exhausting quickly because they’re working your entire body,” says Melody Scharff, a trainer at New York’s The Fhitting Room. “When it comes to an efficient movement, these are it.”
Because of this, though, chances are you’re still gonna be instructed to knock out some mountain climbers when you’re in a workout class. So here’s how to slay them: First of all, get the posture down so you’re not actually making them harder on yourself. “Starting with your upper body, your weight should be forward in your plank, working those shoulders,” says Scharff. “Lats and abs should be engaged too, and you should be squeezing your glutes to keep your hips level with your shoulders.”
Having a stronger core helps, too. “When a muscle is too weak or tight, adjacent muscle groups will compensate and take over,” says Brannigan. “That’s part of the reason why so many people are unable to do an exercise like mountain climbers without feeling the need for a break.” His pro tip? “Use dynamic, active stretches—this will help to promote circulation which will serve as a warm up but also allow the muscle to lengthen in a more natural and effective way.”
It’s also a major mental game. “Mental toughness is the trick to pushing through mountain climbers,” says Scharff. “I like to take the time to focus on individual aspects of the movement—like butt down, chest forward, really pull your knees to chest—rather than get overwhelmed and think to myself, ‘Oh gosh, everything hurts!’ Also thinking of all the benefits you’re reaping in the moment. Tell yourself that future you will be glad you persevered through that last 10 seconds.” Easier said than done, but worth a shot.
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