To Nail Mountain Climbers, Repeat After Me: Planks but Make ’Em Cardio

Mountain climbers are one of those workout moves—much like burpees and jumping lunges—that I could actually write full-fledged hate mail to. Seriously. I can never seem to do them for 30 seconds straight without struggling or falling flat onto the floor in utter despair.

Still, I keep trying. Why? As Melody Scharff, a trainer at New York's The Fhitting Room, previously told Well+Good, mountain climbers work every major muscle group. "When it comes to an efficient movement, these are it," she says.

Never fear: Superstar trainer Charlee Atkins is here to show us how they're done like a pro in our latest episode of Well+Good's video series The Right Way.

Experts In This Article

What it takes to nail your mountain climbers

Atkins says you've gotta keep three main things in mind:

1. Stay flat and straight: From your plank position, you should have a straight line from your head to your heels with your back completely flat.

2. Keep your shoulders in line with your wrists: To truly work your core and your arms, Atkins says it's super important to have your shoulders directly over your wrists. From there, you can pull your knees into your chest.

3. Start slow: If you immediately start climbing like your life depends on it, it's easier to wreck your good form. Atkins' tip? March it slowly and alternate one knee into your chest at a time, as opposed to speeding it up—and potentially losing your form. Then you're definitely going to feel it.

The major mistake to avoid

"Oftentimes, what we do is have our butt up in the air, which causes our shoulders to come away from our wrists," Atkins explains of the common mistake that she sees people make with this move. "Then, I have no room to bring my knees into my chest—so then I'm not even really working my core." That makes going up that mountain that much more difficult, not to mention pointless if you're not working your abs.

Set yourself up for success

If you find yourself struggling after 10 seconds while your workout buddy seems to just be zipping along without a sweat, check your core strength. Jeff Brannigan, Stretch*d Space program director, previously told Well+Good that your best bet is to warm up your core with active, dynamic stretches before launching into mountain climbers. "This will help to promote circulation...but also allow the muscle to lengthen in a more natural and effective way," he says.

Also, don't let your mind get so caught up in the difficulty of the move that you self-sabotage, Scharff told us. "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."

Spice things up

As we know all too well, once you've got your form down, mountain climbers can make for a majorly intense training session. This pyramid workout from Nike master trainer Kirsty Godso amps up the mountain climbing challenge by alternating switch climbers (like a mountain climber, but done as a hop with both feet in the air) with tuck jumps. Start with one switch climber on each leg and one tuck jump, then do two switch climbers per leg and two tuck jumps, then three...and so on for 60 seconds. Take a 30 second break, then climb back down for 60 seconds, trying to beat your number from the first time.

And when you're tempted to start writing that hate mail mid-climber, just remember: You'll thank yourself afterward for sticking with it.

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