Even though you will be hiking rather than climbing and you might even know people that have made the summit before you, do not be overconfident. Kilimanjaro is no ‘walk in the park.’ Kilimanjaro is a serious obstacle to overcome and requires that you be adequately prepared before you can conquer it.
It stands to reason that climbing a mountain, especially one such as Kilimanjaro requires a certain degree of physical fitness. This is, of course, very true – hiking is a physically taxing activity. But it’s only part of the equation. If you’re planning to climb Kilimanjaro, there are quite a few things you should be doing besides going to the gym.
What’s the Best Way to Train for Climbing Kilimanjaro?
Let’s go over the kinds of physical activity that will help you on the mountain. Lifting weights may help you look more impressive at the beach, but your ‘bis and tris’ aren’t going to get you to the summit.
From the outset be aware that this is a strenuous multi-day hike, so you need to be fit specifically for this activity. Being fit for hiking is different than being fit for other sports as different muscle groups are needed.
The most successful preparation for Kilimanjaro incorporates a mix of hiking, strength training and cardio.
The best possible training for hiking up a giant mountain is simply to hike up smaller ones. If you live in an area where this is possible, take advantage of your location. Go on day hikes 2-3 times a week for about 2-3 months before your trip. Try to simulate the conditions you will encounter on Kilimanjaro. Hikes that have elevation gains (and losses) are the best workouts. Get your body used to being on your feet for hours at a time. Carry your daypack with at least three liters of water.
Don’t worry about speed – your guides are going to make you walk slowly. Concentrate on maintaining a steady pace. Do not be concerned if you walk slower than other people. Building your endurance is the main objective here. Most of the days on Kilimanjaro you will hike no more than 5-6 hours, and that figure includes about 90 minutes of breaks.
If you don’t have easy access to mountains or even decent hills, then train as much as possible on a Stair Master. Although you may look goofy, you should wear a backpack while you do this. You have to get used to carrying some weight. A pack with 15 pounds would be sufficient. Again, set the pace slow and go longer (shoot for one hour). Don’t go super fast for 20 minutes. This is not how to build stamina.
The muscles used in hiking include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abs, and hip muscles. You will notice all of these getting firmer and stronger as you hike during your Kilimanjaro preparation. Strength training will allow you to receive faster and more gains than hiking alone.
Do exercises that focus on your leg muscles. If you are unfit, then use light weights for the first two weeks. The weights should be increased progressively at least every two weeks to stimulate sufficient muscle growth and development.
Strength exercises can be performed with either free weights or machines. Your exercises should also be tailored to your age, condition and strength. Those who are not regular weightlifters should be extra careful that all the exercises are performed correctly and that basic safety procedures are followed. If in doubt, ask your local personal trainer to show you how to perform each movement. The last thing you want to happen is to get injured with preparing for your climb.
Make sure to give your muscle groups enough time to rest after strenuous exercise, especially if you use weights, as this will reduce injuries and help your muscles to develop adequately (48 hours is usually a good resting period). Use this time to do other types of training.
While your legs will be working the hardest during your climb, it is a good idea to include some upper body training to your program this will ensure that you maintain a healthy muscle balance while you strengthen the muscles you are going to need to carry your pack and support your back. This training will also help to increase your overall strength and fitness level.
Cardio (or aerobics) keeps you in shape by getting your body to run as efficiently as possible, which means it takes less oxygen to operate your key systems. Think of it like getting a car ready for a long, tough trip. It doesn’t need an overhaul, just a tune-up to improve fuel consumption – to ensure the engine runs as smoothly as possible. With cardio, you’re not getting more muscles, just improving the efficiency of what’s already there.
This is especially important on high altitude peaks like Kilimanjaro because most issues there are caused by the low oxygen environment. At high altitude, the body at rest already breathes faster and deeper than at sea level to compensate for the thinner air. On top of that, hiking increases the body’s oxygen requirements. Doing cardiovascular training strengthens your heart and helps it more efficiently pump blood and oxygen throughout the body.
Don’t forget the importance of rest. The idea is to train for five or six days of the week, for eight consecutive weeks, resting one or two days per week. Do not do your strength training on the same day as your hiking or cardio workouts!
At least three days before your trip, stop training in order for your body to fully recuperate and be ready for the challenge of Kilimanjaro.
People who are not in shape currently should start their training a bit sooner, and add more exercises.
The harder you train, the easier the climb will be.