As a fitness editor and writer, I often talk to people about the exercises they love and the ones they could do without. The well-known mountain climbers exercise is right at the top of that second list for me. Here’s the thing: We all have those moves that make us feel like we can conquer the world—for me, it’s pretty much any type of squat. And then we all have those moves that make us seriously consider walking out in the middle of a workout class just to avoid doing them, and for me, that move is the mountain climber.
My distaste is inconvenient, because pretty much every time I take a workout class, mountain climbers show up. And I’ll admit, there is indeed a good reason for that: The mountain climber is a really effective compound exercise that works so many muscles, from your shoulders to your core, and is great for cardio. I know that it makes total sense that trainers incorporate them into workouts. That doesn’t stop me from hating them.
After voicing my feelings to my colleagues, I learned I’m not the only one who is anti–mountain climbers. I’ve even mentioned it on Instagram, and other people have replied in solidarity that they, too, can’t stand the damn things.
For further validation, I asked Jess Sims, NASM-certified personal trainer in New York City, whether this is a common sentiment among her clients and other people in the fitness industry. “Yes! Most people have a love-hate relationship with mountain climbers,” she says. “It’s so funny because most people can’t say why [they dislike them] because there are so many things working that it’s hard to decipher what burns the most.”
Mountain Climbers Exercise Benefits
There are many reasons for why mountain climbers can feel so intense, says Sims. Ironically, these are the same reasons people don’t like them and what makes them so beneficial. They work most of your upper body, plus your core and cardiovascular system.
“You’re holding a plank position, so your core is engaged, as well as your triceps, chest, and shoulders,” Sims says. “Then you add in the cardio aspect of running your knees into your chest, which leaves you gasping for air.”
So, yes, mountain climbers are undeniably great for building strength and core stability and revving up your heart rate. But they are also more challenging than they look—so if you find them difficult or unenjoyable, you’re certainly not alone.
In addition to the strength and cardio challenge, mountain climbers also require a certain amount of hip mobility. “Folks with tight hip flexors may struggle to get their knees to their chest and end up bumping their feet on the floor on the way in,” Sims adds.
While mountain climbers are effective, there are actually plenty of other exercises that have comparable benefits that you might find less daunting—making them very fitting mountain climber alternatives when you really just are not in the mood.
7 Mountain Climber Alternatives
Below, seven mountain climber substitutes you can choose from the next time your workout calls for mountain climbers. Just swap them in for the mountain climbers exercise, or pepper them into other workouts when you’re looking for a nice little cardio burst. Start with 15 seconds of each move, and adjust as necessary.