What Muscles Do the Exercise Mountain Climbers Work?

Woman in yoga position

Mountain-climber exercises are often included in boot camp or interval-style classes to challenge your major muscle groups. The movement is done by holding a plank position while you jump your knees, one at a time, quickly in toward your chest to raise your heart rate and build strength. Include mountain climbers in your workouts to build core, leg, shoulder and back strength.


The front sheath of the abdominals, the rectus abdominus, is active the entire time you do a mountain climber. The transverse abdominus, the internal abdominal muscle that acts like a corset around your internal organs, is also targeted. To benefit these muscles during your mountain-climber repetitions, brace your abdominals and keep your hips parallel to the floor as you bring your knees in toward your chest. Maintain as much of a plank position as you can, and avoid hitching your butt up or down.


The buttock muscles are made up of the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. All three of these muscles work to pull your knees in during the mountain climber. You need strong glutes to stabilize your pelvis and prevent injuries ranging from illiotibial band syndrome to shin splints.


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. Keep your weight evenly distributed on both legs -- rather than putting all of your weight onto your front foot -- to evenly work the fronts and backs of the thighs.

Secondary Muscles

The mountain climber is a full-body exercise because it engages multiple muscles as assisters. These assisting muscles keep your body stable during the movement and support the primary muscles as they do their jobs. The back muscles -- the latissimus dorsi and erector spinae -- and the three-part shoulder muscle, called the deltoids, stabilize you in the plank position. The calf muscles of the soleus and gastrocnemius activate when you jump your legs. Your oblique muscles, which are at the sides of your abdominals, assist in keeping your trunk still.