Mountain climbers provide the perfect combination of strength and endurance: They'll work your entire body while giving your heart rate a good spike. But as with any intense full-body exercise, your form is crucial if you want to get the most out of your effort.
To stay injury-free while sculpting your abs and arms, avoid these four common mountain climber mistakes.
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1. Rounding or Arching Your Lower Back
To say that mountain climbers are challenging is an understatement. As you get fatigued, you may start to arch or round your lower back, but this makes the exhausting exercise a waste of time, says Cameron Yuen, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York.
"The goal of the mountain climber exercise is to maintain a rigid spine within a neutral range, while moving the limbs," Yuen says. "When you let your spine excessively arch, you're no longer working your abs to build strength."
Plus, excessive arching or rounding can cause irritation in the joints of the lower back, especially if you make this mistake for several sets, workout after workout.
To fix your form, think about flattening out your back while in the high-plank position, Yuen says.
"A good cue to help with this is to think about shortening the distance between the front hip bones and the bottom of the rib cage," Yuen says. "This will increase the contraction of the abdominal muscles, which then causes your low back to flatten out."
2. Excessive Lower Back Movement
Rotating, extending and/or bending the lower back as you perform mountain climbers is another error you'll want to avoid, Yuen says. Typically, excessive lower back movement happens when you're lacking in core control or hip mobility.
"If the muscles surrounding your trunk are not strong enough, it becomes very difficult to stabilize in the high-plank position," Yuen says. And if you have limited hip range, your lower back will naturally round and move to do the exercise.
While you perform mountain climbers, you want as little spinal shifting as possible. Too much movement in the plank position can irritate your lower back, taxing the joints.
To correct this error, get in a strong starting position before you begin moving and take your reps slowly, Yuen says. Make sure your back is in a neutral alignment and focus on maintaining this position as you perform the exercise slowly and with perfect control. Once you've mastered this, you can speed up the tempo.
3. Leaning Your Head Forward
Ideally, you want to do your mountain climbers with proper alignment from your heels all the way to the back of your head. Your neck muscles can get fatigued as you perform this exercise, though, leading to a forward head position, Yuen says.
This mistake may not lead to any kind of immediate pain or injury, but it will put a strain on the neck over time. Plus, leaning the head forward can impair your breathing and reinforce poor posture in other positions that you definitely don't want to become a habit, Yuen says.
Tuck and retract your chin slightly and hold this position throughout the exercise. "You can also think about getting long or tall through the neck," Yuen says. "This is generally a better cue than just looking up." Avoid looking up or into a mirror.
4. Winging Your Shoulder Blades
Mountain climbers are a great shoulder exercise, but if you do them with poor form, you'll hurt, rather than strengthen, your shoulders.
While you may not think often about your shoulder blades while you work out, they may wing or fan out off the back as you get tired during this exercise, Yuen says.
This won't help you generate strength while performing this exercise and can often cause weakness, instability or even pain in your shoulders.
Instead, your shoulder blades should rest flat along your spine. "You should feel your shoulder blades move forward on your ribcage as you do this move," Yuen says. "Try to maintain this position throughout the duration of the exercise."
Think about keeping the shoulder blades glued down and back along the spine and ribcage, Yuen says. To do this, think about pushing the ground away from you, increasing the distance between your chest and the ground.