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 BenefitsThere 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 AlternativesBelow, 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.
To test the Charge 4’s tracking accuracy, I did a few things. First, I walked 75 steps (manually counting them myself), to see if the tracker accurately tracked them all (it did). Then, I tested it on a run, which is where I found some discrepancies. I went to the Saddle River Pathway in New Jersey for this part, which is one of my favorite places to run because the six-mile trail (12 miles roundtrip) has markers along the way for every .1 mile so you can keep track of your distance.Mile 1 of the Saddle River Pathway.Cheryl CarlinOne note about my running test: I’ve been running for over 10 years now and have been at various fitness levels as well as speed levels. I used to be able to run five miles without taking a break but now, after taking some time off from running, I can only do one mile without stopping. Because of this, I now use the run/walk method after my first mile. This has been helping me re-build my endurance, but I’ve noticed that it also confuses some fitness trackers, including past Fitbits I’ve used, and I wanted to see how the Charge 4 would fare on a combination run/walk for four miles.I ran for my first mile and used my Nike Run App as well as the mile markers to compare with the readings on my Charge 4. At the one-mile marker all three said one mile exactly.However, I decided to run/walk for mile two. At the mile two marker my Nike Run App was spot on again, but my Fitbit was .06 off.I did another run/walk for mile three and then ran the entire time for mile four, for a total time of 52 minutes. By the end of my four-mile session (as measured by the trail’s mile markers) my Nike Run App said 4.02 miles, while the Fitbit said 4.13. This isn’t a huge difference, but it is something to note if you normally do run/walk type workouts. I have tested the Charge 4 multiple times after this first run and if I run the entire time or walk the entire time it’s accurate but it always slightly off when I combine both activities.Battery LifeFitbit says that the Charge 4 has a seven-day battery life, which I put to the test, as well. After a day of minimal activity, where all I did was make sure I hit my 15,000 step goal (without any type of workout), the watch was still at 93% battery life at the end of the day, which is great for a full day of walking! However, this isn’t how I usually use my activity trackers, since I’m a pretty active person: I run at least one mile every day, as well as make sure I walk enough to always hit my 15,000 step goal. On top of that, some days I do a 45-minute workout class.So, for another experiment, I tested the battery life by charging it fully and then tracking how long it took the battery to drain based on my normal level of activity. The Charge 4 lasted about 4 days without charging, which is still a long span of time, losing about 25% battery life per day. By the night of the fourth day I was at 5% so I plugged it in overnight to charge. (I’ve charged it during the day as well and found that it only takes an hour and a half for the watch to charge fully from 0%.) I consistently also wore the tracker to sleep every night, unless it was charging, which didn’t affect the battery life very much when I woke up in the morning.ComfortWhen wearing my smartwatch all day, I can usually always sense that it’s on my wrist, but the lightweight feel of the Charge 4 is a big plus. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m wearing it until I get a notification or alarm, which comes in handy when I want to track my sleep especially. Sleep is an important part of fitness recovery but I’m not the best sleeper, if I’m being honest, since I’m very sensitive to light and noise. Even though my smartwatch has a sleep tracking function, it always felt too heavy on my wrist and I couldn’t bear keeping it on all night. Since the Charge 4 is so lightweight I have been able to wear it to bed almost every night without even noticing it’s on (and yes, my sleep score according to the Charge 4 is in the poor to fair range, so it’s something I need to work on).
No matter what workout you choose, be sure to spend a few minutes stretching before and after your workout. Stretching is especially important when you’re getting back into a fitness routine. A good warm-up includes dynamic stretches, and when you are done working out, finish with some more cooldown stretches—like these.
Active vs Passive Rest Days
Another reason not to jump into a six-days-a-week workout routine: Recovery is part of being active. “When you take a day off, your body isn’t. It’s actually working very hard to repair and replenish itself after all the work you put it through,” says Sikorski. “Rest days are key to long-term wellness. This is a lifestyle you’re creating now, so be realistic about your frequency,” she adds.
Be sure to schedule rest days into your routine. You can choose between active rest days—when you’re still doing some sort of active movement, like a leisurely walk, some light stretching, or a fun bike ride—or a passive rest day, like when you don’t leave your couch and set your Netflix account to binge mode. Both are entirely acceptable (and needed!)—active rest days help your body recover by increasing blood flow and aiding in muscle repair, and can also help you work on things that are great for your body, like flexibility. Passive rest days, on the other hand, are important for when you truly need your body to rest. Just be sure to keep active rest days to low to moderate intensity (experts advise keeping your activity to about 60% to 70% of your maximum effort), and listen to your body when deciding what type of rest day is right for you.
Importance of Healthy Habits
Other healthy habits besides exercise are important to incorporate as part of your new routine. Things like eating healthy, fueling foods; working on reducing stress; focusing on mental health; and getting enough sleep should all be priorities as you incorporate exercise into your life. “Working out is ‘work’—it takes more time and energy, so you might feel fatigued initially because you are burning more calories and the body is trying to adapt to the increased stresses in the tissues,” says Wu. “If I’m so exhausted that I’m walking around like a zombie, I might opt for some more sleep on a particular day,” she adds. So it’s OK to tuck in a little early and hit snooze on some days…your body will thank you.
Chances are, your body is going to let you know that it’s working hard in other ways, so it’s important to listen to it and learn the difference between hurts-so-good and hurts-not-so-good. “If something feels weird or gives you pain, stop doing whatever that is,” says Sikorski. “There’s actually a not-so-fine line between muscle discomfort from a good workout, and pain lets you know something’s not right.”
Like we mentioned above, proper warm-up and cooldown are important for your workout. This is especially true when it comes to injury prevention, and can also help with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
A good warm-up preps your body for the increase in activity and a cool-down allows your heart rate to return to a normal resting rate, says Wu. Don’t cut corners here: “Muscles that have not been accustomed to strenuous activity for sometime will experience some form of DOMS , which basically means you are going to be tight and achy for 24-72 hours after your workout,” says Sikorski. (You may also experience this if you work out regularly but up your intensity.) “A proper cool-down session can reduce some of this soreness.”
Another safety tip to keep in mind is form. It’s important that you take it slow and focus on how you’re performing movements. Quality trumps quantity, especially when you’re just getting back into fitness. “Slow down,” stresses Sikorski. “Be deliberate and conscious of your movements. Take the time to focus on your form, on your breathing, on your control.” This is extra important because proper technique and form are crucial for avoiding injury, adds Wu.
Mistakes to Avoid
The biggest thing to keep in mind is to take it slow. “People have a tendency to overdo it initially, and they end up [with injuries] because the body is not prepared for the extra activity,” says Wu. “Low-intensity workouts are a good way to reintroduce the body to activity, frequency, and duration.” After a week or two, you can bump up the intensity, she says, as long as you’re not losing form.
These tips will hopefully help you as you restart your workout journey. No matter what, remember that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed at times. Don’t get discouraged—you got this!
A version of this story was previously published on March 24, 2016 and has been updated.