Planks, crunches, Russian twists — we’re no strangers to the classic ab exercises. But if you want to dial up the intensity without slogging through tons of reps, consider adding mountain climbers to your core routine. These sweat-inducing ab exercises demand stability from the shoulders and core, while delivering plyometric training via the quick (but controlled) knee drives. Strength and cardiovascular endurance aside, this bodyweight move will also help build range of motion in those pesky tight hips (mobility FTW).
Even better: Taking your fitness to great heights (without actually going anywhere) takes no time at all. Just a few sets tacked onto your usual circuits or Tabatas is all you need to feel the fire in your abs. Refresh your fall fitness routine with these five mountain climber variations from our favorite Daily Burn 365 trainers.
1. Army Crawl Mountain Climbers
If you’re training for an upcoming Spartan race, mud race or obstacle course, you’ll want to perfect this mountain climber variation. The gritty move mimics the experience of treading through mud and barbed wire. Engaging your abdominals muscles, obliques, shoulders and arms, this exercise challenges your stability, too.
How to: Get into a forearm plank position with a neutral spine and hands curled into fists (a). Bend your right knee and inch your right foot toward your right elbow. At the same time, maintaining your forearm plank, bring your left arm forward (b). Then, bend your left knee and inch your left foot toward your left elbow and bring your right arm forward (c). Place your left foot over your right foot to get into a forearm side plank with your body facing the left side. Engaging your core for balance, lift your left hand to the sky with your fingertips reaching for the ceiling (d). Return to the starting position and begin the exercise on the left side this time (e).
2. Plank Jack Mountain Climbers
Combine your love for jumping jacks and planks (just us?) in this ultimate heart-pumping core move. This mountain climber not only tests the limits of your heart rate, but also works your abs, thighs and glutes as you hop back up to standing position.
How to: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders aligned with your hands (a). Using your lower abdominal muscles, do three jumping jacks, landing softly on the balls of your feet. Be sure to keep your upper body still and your shoulders and triceps engaged (b). Bring your feet together and hop forward to meet your hands. Stand up tall and repeat (c).
3. Kickboxing Mountain Climbers
This kickboxing-inspired mountain climber brings your heart rate up — with an uppercut. (Or try a jab, cross, hook and uppercut to change it up!) To make things extra intense, set a 10-second timer on your smartphone, and each time you hear a beep, you either drop back down into a plank position or stand up to do quick uppercuts. You can do anything for 10 seconds, right?
How to: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders aligned with your hands (a). Engage your abdominal muscles and hold the plank for 10 seconds (b). Hop up to bring your feet to meet your hands and prop up to stand (c). Turn your right hip and bring your left shoulder forward. Keep your elbows in as you punch upward and bring your fists to your face. You can slightly bend your knees (d). Do uppercuts for 10 seconds before you return to plank Follow the same steps with the uppercut, except turn your left hip this time (e).
4. The Slow-Mo Mountain Climbers
Sometimes you need to dial it back to be able to really engage your muscles and make things extra challenging. And these slow, isolated movements do just that. If you feel strong enough, you can add a push-up after each movement, or use a Bosu or stability ball to hold your plank. The incline will help challenge your abs and obliques even more.
How to: Start in a high plank position with your hands flat on the floor, directly under your shoulders (a). Bend your left knee and bring it towards your left elbow, then alternate sides and bend your right knee to meet your right elbow (b). Next, bend your left knee again and bring it to your outer left elbow. Repeat the same movement on your right side (c).
6. Cross-Body Mountain Climbers
A little cross-body action can really turn up the intensity of the classic mountain climber. Start with 20 seconds on the clock, and maximize your effort with quick foot action. You can eventually work your way to 30 seconds, and then a minute.
How-to: Start in a high plank position (a). Maintaining a stable spine, pick up your right foot and bring your right knee towards your left elbow. Return to the starting position (b). Then pick up your left foot, and bring your left knee towards your right elbow. Return to the starting position Continue to alternate sides (c).