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October 16, 2022 6 min read

Mountain-climber exercises are often included in boot camp or interval-style classes to challenge your major muscle groups because it is a compound exercise.

The mountain climber is  a great exercise that works multiple muscle groups at one time including:

  • Shoulders
  • Upper body
  • Lower body
  • Cardiovascular system

Furthermore, it provides a full core workout.

How to do mountain climbers

The range of motion of the mountain climber starts with holding a high plank position while jumping your knees in quick succession toward your chest. Along with activating just about every muscle in your body, it gets your heartbeat galloping.

Mountain Climber Muscles – Image from Shutterstock


The benefits of mountain climbers are multiple. It helps build leg, arm, shoulder, back, and core strength.


Mountain Climbers require the entire core, from the neck to the lower back, to keep the exerciser stable and balanced. To manage that, the trunk extensors and flexors co-contract with the core stabilizers. Furthermore, the co-contraction keeps the back straight and allows the spine to remain aligned and neutral.

Upper limbs

With the hands pushed into the ground, the arms must support the upper body, and the entire shoulder is taxed to keep the upper body stable against the force of the legs driving the climb.

The contributors to shoulder stability include the rotator cuff, pectoral muscles, deltoids, and scapular stabilizers. At the same time, the triceps help to keep the hands flat on the ground by locking out the elbows.

Lower limbs

While the shoulders and core keep the upper body and spine stable, the legs generate the power of the climb.

During the mountain climber, the hip and thigh muscles work to pull one leg forward, a movement that also puts stress on the knee.

Simultaneous movements of the opposite leg involve the muscles of the hip, pelvis, and quads which lock the knee in extension, and the ankle, foot, and even toe muscles while this leg is driven back. 

This proves that the mountain climber is a full-body workout,  making it a favorite exercise among strength coaches and personal trainers.

There aren’t many other  bodyweight exercises  that simultaneously provide core strength and activate most other muscles, burn calories, improve conditioning, and benefit heart function.

What muscles do mountain climbers work?

Let’s deconstruct the mountain climber exercise.

First phase

Mountain Climber 1st Phase - Image from Shutterstock

Assume a push-up position. The proper form is crucial to ensure you target the correct muscles and avoid injuries. Place your hands directly under your shoulders, hold your core tight, and your back flat.

Your body should create a straight line from your head to your toes as if you were holding a plank position.

  • Avoid hitching your butt up or down as you maintain as much of a plank position as possible.
  • Bracing your abdominals and keeping your hips parallel to the floor will benefit the following muscles during your mountain-climber repetitions.

Core Stabilizers

Abdominal Muscles – Image from Shutterstock


  • Transverse Abdominis – An internal abdominal muscle that acts like a corset around your internal organs.
  • Multifidus – A muscle that stabilizes the vertebral column.
  • Diaphragm – The diaphragm is a thin, dome-shaped muscle that sits below your lungs and heart. It's attached to your sternum (a bone in the middle of your chest), the bottom of your rib cage, and your spine. It is also one of the core muscles that helps you inhale and exhale while doing the mountain climber exercise.
  • Pelvic Floor muscles – A group of three muscles that strengthen the core.

Trunk Flexors and Extensors

 Mountain climbers’ abs – Image from Shutterstock
  • Rectus Abdominis – AKA the abs, primarily responsible for flexion and extension of the area between the rib cage and the pelvis.
  • Internal and External Obliques – These muscles rotate and side-bend the trunk, and also contribute to spinal stability.
  • Latissimus Dorsi – This muscle can pull the inferior angle of the scapula in various directions, producing movements on the shoulder joint; internal rotation, adduction, and extension of the arm.
  • Erector Spinae – Comprising the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis, working to flex the vertebrae.
  • Quadratus Lumborum – It is an extensor of the lumbar spine and a stabilizer of the lumbar area. It is capable of pelvic tilting laterally and capable of acting as an inspiratory accessory muscle during the performance of mountain climbers.
  • Psoas – This muscle works by flexing the hip joint and lifting the upper leg towards the body. A common example of the movement created by this muscle is walking, or climbing as in the mountain climber.

Shoulder Stabilizers

Strong shoulders – Image from Shutterstock

  • Rotator Cuff – Along with the shoulders the rotator cuff is responsible for the movement of the arm in front (flexion), above, and behind the body (extension).
  • Deltoids – A muscle group that adducts and extends at the shoulder, and medially rotates the arm.
  • Pectoralis Major – Adducts and medially rotates the upper limb and draws the scapula forward and down. The clavicular head also acts individually to flex the upper limb.
  • Pectoralis Minor – Stabilizes the scapula by drawing it forward and down against the thoracic wall.
  • Biceps – It flexes the arm at the elbow and at the shoulder.
  • Triceps – This muscle is responsible for the extension of the arm at the elbow.
  • Latissimus Dorsi – This muscle is one of the main stabilizers of the spine during its various movements, such as the mountain climber exercise.

Scapular Stabilizers

Scapular Muscles – Image from Shutterstock


  • Serratus Anterior – It rotates the scapula, allowing the arm to be raised over 90 degrees. It also holds the scapula against the rib cage.
  • Rhomboid Major and Minor – These muscles retract and rotate the scapula.
  • Upper, Middle, and Lower trapezius – The upper fibers of the trapezius elevate the scapula and rotate it during abduction of the arm. The middle fibers retract the scapula, and the lower fibers pull the scapula inferiorly.
  • Levator Scapulae – Elevates the scapulae or shoulder blades.

Second phase

Drive your right knee up to your chest and touch your toes to the ground – all without moving your left leg.

2nd Phase – Image from Shutterstock

The quadriceps at the front of the thigh and the hamstrings at the back of the thigh are both primary movers during the jumping in-and-out motion used to switch the legs.

Stabilizing Muscles

You need strong butt muscles, or glutes, to stabilize your pelvis and prevent injuries ranging from iliotibial band syndrome to shin splints.

  • Gluteus Maximus – It is the main extensor of the thigh, and assists with lateral rotation. However, it is only used when force is required, such as running or climbing.
  • Gluteus Medius and Minimus – Abducts and medially rotates the lower limb. During locomotion like the mountain climber, it secures the pelvis, preventing pelvic drop of the opposite limb.
  • Quadriceps – Extends the knee joint and stabilizes the patella.

Driving Muscles

These muscles activate when you jump your legs up toward your chest.

Leg Muscles – image from Shutterstock
  • Iliopsoas – The iliopsoas are hip flexors comprising two muscles, the psoas major and the iliacus, and they flex the thigh at the hip joint.
  • Rectus Femoris – The only muscle of the quadriceps to cross both the hip and knee joints. It flexes the thigh at the hip joint and extends at the knee joint.
  • Hamstrings – They consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus, which form prominent tendons medially and laterally at the back of the knee. As a group, these muscles act to extend at the hip and flex at the knee.
  • Adductors – Most refer to the adductors as the “groin” muscles. Adductors are muscles that draw a part of the body toward its median line, such as drawing the knee toward the chest.
  • Gastrocnemius – It plantarflexes at the ankle joint, and because it crosses the knee, it is a flexor there.
  • Soleus – This muscle plantarflexes the foot at the ankle joint.
  • Toe flexors – The flexor digitorum longus muscle is responsible for the movement and curling of the second, third, fourth, and fifth toes. This muscle makes it possible for the toes to grip the surface of the floor, which is important when it comes to maintaining postural balance when performing the  mountain climber exercise,  and on surfaces that are rough or uneven.

Third Phase

Extend your right leg back to the starting position and simultaneously drive your left knee to your chest and touch your toes to the ground.

3rd Phase - Image from Shutterstock

Continue this back-and-forth sequence using all the muscles over and over again. The quadriceps at the front of the thigh and the hamstrings at the back of the thigh are both primary movers during the jumping in-and-out motion used to switch the legs.

In a nutshell

If you are looking for excellent full-body exercise, crunches and squats are good, but mountain climbers offer more. Your entire body will be engaged to generate power for driving the legs forward, and also to stabilize and balance your stance.

Along with getting all your primary muscle groups activated, mountain climbers will also get you breathing hard, and your heart rate soaring. Doing just a few reps is a good cardio option for warming up.

Remember, exercise alone is not enough for overall health and wellness.

Your body needs a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals and a healthy gut to perform at its optimal state. 

That’s precisely what the  STEEL Essential Stack  is designed to do. It is formulated with ingredients backed by science to support healthy immune system function, promote overall health, and improve mental clarity and focus.