The Mountain Climber Is the Ideal Core Challenge for Men Over 40

Author, fitness model, and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.

When I taught my bootcamp class as a trainer for more than 10 years, one of the simplest exercises was the mountain climber.

I say simple, but that doesn’t mean easy—the mountain climber is much more challenging than you think, especially if you’re not doing it properly. The older men in the class often served up unusual variations of the exercise, and a few of them were proud they could keep pumping their legs for 60 seconds. However, when I corrected their form, their duration dropped dramatically.

Before I became a personal trainer, I also had some difficulty when I learned how to do the mountain climber correctly. But, when done properly, the mountain climber helps to strengthen core, and even helps to address some upper body weaknesses. That said, it’s critical for the older man to nail down the nuances of the exercise to maximize its benefits, which include honing your level of conditioning and athleticism.

To set up, get into a plank position, as if you’re doing a pushup. Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders with your feet about six to 12 inches apart. Your body should be in a straight line, from your head, through your shoulders, hips and knees, to the heels of your feet. To help get in that straight line position, lock in your abs and glutes by squeezing them as tight as you can.

Before starting the movement, it’s important not to let your hips dip below that straight line. That shift puts pressure on your lower back and disengages your abs and glutes. If you’re not strong enough to hold your body in that straight line position, you can let your butt rise up toward the ceiling a bit—but don’t let it rise higher than the level of your shoulders. You should also avoid leaning back so your shoulders are behind your hands. That pushes your butt higher toward the ceiling in more of a pike position, like doing a downward facing dog in yoga. That’s much easier than keeping your body in a straight line, but you put your shoulders in jeopardy.

To start the movement, alternately drive your knees up toward your chest, as if you were running in place. Keep in mind that this is not a speed contest—you’re main concern is keeping your body in perfect position. Most people go too fast to get their reps in as quickly as possible, sacrificing form and increasing the chance of injury, which is the last thing you want.

If you don’t have enough core and upper body power to maintain proper position during the exercise, as a variation you could use a box to elevate your upper body just as you would for a pushup. That will take some of the pressure off your core and upper body.

For this exercise I prefer to use time instead of reps. This way, you’re less likely to try to speed up to finish. To start, try 4 sets of 20 seconds per set, and build up to 45 to 60 seconds over time.

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