Training to Climb Kilimanjaro

Aerobic training

Aerobic training (also known as cardio) uses oxygen to adequately meet the energy demands of exercise via aerobic metabolism. The types of exercise that use aerobic metabolism are generally light-to-moderate intensity activities like long distance jogging, swimming, cycling and walking. This differs from anaerobic exercise like high intensity weight lifting and sprinting which uses anaerobic metabolism to supplement the aerobic system due to increased energy demands.

Aerobic exercise builds the cardiovascular system which is key when training to climb Kilimanjaro, as a strong cardiovascular system will help you process limited oxygen in a more efficient way.

Going as slow as possible, even when you are on the lower reaches and feeling great, is key to your success on Kili. You will hear your porters say Pole Pole, which means Slow Slow in Swahili. This is possibly the best advice you will get!

Your body needs time to acclimitize to high altitude and a strong cardiovascular system can help but not if you have pushed yourself too hard. A good recent example of how a strong cardiovascular system can trick one comes from an accomplished Australian marathon runner who collapsed at Stella Point because he had gone too fast early on in his hike.

If you are relatively unfit I recommend setting yourself a 3-6 month training regime where you focus on long distance walking / running (6-12 km at least three times a week). You can do this on a gym treadmill but remember to set a consistent pace and vary the slope – a slight incline is best.

For relatively fit people who already undertake a fair share of cardiovascular exercise we recommend maintaining your regime until 1 month before your climb. At this point we recommend increasing the duration, but not intensity, of your exercises.

Compliment for your training

In addition to aerobic exercise you should also be doing light strength training, particularly for your legs, core and upper body.

In terms of your legs we suggest for the following exercises:

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Front and Reverse Leg-curls (thigh muscle and hamstrings)
  • Step aerobics

Building the strength of your core muscles (stomach and lower back) and upper shoulder muscles is also important as you will be carrying a lightweight pack for up to 6-7 hours a day. We recommend the following exercises:

  • Sit-ups
  • Kettle-bell rows / swings
  • Shoulder presses
  • Back and shoulder flies

Practice Hiking

Climbing Kilimanjaro is in fact just one long hike. The best way to prepare for a long hike is to do a few yourself.

We recommend doing at least two long distance hikes (over 5 hours). If you can do back to back days that would be even better. Doing a few practices hikes as part of your training to climb Kilimanjaro has a few benefits:

You get to experience what a 5 hour hike on difficult terrain feels like, going up and down (for most people going down is often more grueling as your knees and joints can take a battering)

Mental Determination

The thing that gets climbers to the top of Kilimanjaro is there mental determination. There will be times during the summit night that you will want to give up and go back down.  Being able to dig deep and pull on your mental reserves is so important.

There are activities to train your mental strength. Most require some form of pushing your body to the extreme to what you think your limits are, and then pushing through to accomplish your goal.

We recommend long distance running, particularly marathons, but half marathons can do the same thing if you are not accustomed to running long distance. This type of activity really requires one to draw on their mental reserves to get to the finish line.

In belief

We truly believe most people – regardless of age or physical condition – can climb Kilimanjaro. Moreover, needs to ensure their cardiovascular system is firing on all engines and that they have the mental strength to see the hike to the end.Over and above the importance of training to climb Kilimanjaro is the having the knowledge of how the body acclimatizes to altitude.

Feel free to ask us any questions about training to climb Kilimanjaro in the comments below.

If would like a detailed mountain trekking training programme we highly recommend this 12-week course from Big Mountain Training.

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