Prior to commencing or altering your physical routine, you should consult your physician. The old rule is that you should be able to run two to three miles in 30 minutes without being “out of breath”. Although being able to do this might be a good indicator of your physical readiness to take on this trek this is not a prerequisite. After all, there are plenty of people who reach Uhuru Peak without ever running in preparation.
There is some ambiguity as to the best training methods for Kilimanjaro, because there are few people who will be able test their bodies at high altitude prior to arriving in Tanzania. There is no target mileage distance, no magical heart rate and no definitive telltale factors to indicate that you are on track. Generally, the very best training technique will mimic what you are doing most on the mountain …. climbing, descending on slopes between ten and forty degrees. You simply need to hike. Ideally your routine should include aerobic, strength and endurance work. Your training does not need to be a monotonous course of repetitive exercises but rather a consistent effort of strengthening your muscles and lungs, improving your trail sense and getting in tune with the types of activities you’ll encounter on this trek.
Physically you need to be strong. Your legs are the obvious component but not to the exclusion to the rest of your body. There are many aspects of physical strength and you should consider not only your muscles but also your ligaments and bones. If you begin an unfamiliar strengthening program it is wise to consult your doctor first. Some people have found it helpful to use the services of a personal trainer, while others prefer to rely on their own intuition. Never push yourself too hard or try to make-up for lost time by over-exercising, which can cause injury.
We are often asked by our travelers to provide specific training information. The training guidelines that follow are based on personal experience recommendations by past trekkers and commonsense mountaineering guidelines from various climbing organisations. It is important to note that people have successfully reached the summit with little previous hiking experience, while some extremely fit individuals have succumbed to the effects of altitude and been unable to achieve their goal. In the end, it may come down to the strength of your willpower and how your body deals with altitude. Since there is no way to recommend a training routine for these two factors, we will focus on physical strength.
You’ll need to take several day hikes (the more the better), familiarizing your body with uneven footing, balance, and varying degrees of exertion. Make sure you wear the boots you intend to wear for your climb, and carry a full day pack (begin without one as needed, and work up to carrying more than what you expect to carry on Kilimanjaro), so you can familiarize yourself with subtleties of how your equipment feels, your level of comfort, and how you will arrange your day pack, water bottle, etc. The better prepared you are for the small things, the more you can focus your attention and strength upon the task at hand.
You don’t need to train at altitude for your Kili climb. Climbing at high altitude in order to train for Kili is unnecessary and possibly detrimental (unless you regularly do this sort of climbing).
Fact: The body “declimatizes” 1000 ft. per day upon descending from higher altitude.
Finding small, steep mountains to climb (with 30 to 40 degree inclines…even if your ascent is simply 1000ft.) will suffice for your training. We recommend hikes of seven to nine miles (carrying a full day pack, of course). At one month to three weeks prior to departure, you should go on an all-day hike (eight + hours), loaded with water, etc…, and include as much vertical ascent and descent as safely possible. If you have booked a trek which includes an overnight trek to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit, you need to be prepared for a 12 + hour hike (or 15 + miles (27 + km)), as this day will likely take you from 14 to 17 hours to complete. Within three weeks to a month of departure you should tone down the activity, and decrease the duration and intensity of the hikes. Within two weeks to a week of your departure date, go on shorter, non-strenuous hikes, perhaps without a day pack.
If hills or mountains are simply not accessible, there are some alternatives. If you live in a city, train on stairs. Stair steppers are a good supplement to your regime, but are not an adequate substitute for hiking.
It may be unwise to begin running if you’re never run before. If you are not a consistent runner, consult with a doctor before you decide to take up running. If you are a consistent runner, modify your course to take in as many hills as you can, always opting for unpaved trails when possible. Protect yourself from injury when running off-trail by running with proper foot-ware. It’s not necessary to train for speed or distance, nor is it advisable to choose running as your only training method.
Devise a plan with a trained professional if you are new to weights. The focus should not be raw strength or a particular muscle group, but overall muscle efficiency. At high altitude, every pound of body weight will feel heavier, so building bulky muscle is not helpful. Thus, practicing high repetition with low weights and deliberate full movement is the most practical method of weight training. You should be able to effectively perform a particular repetition ten to 20 times with a chosen weight. If you cannot perform an exercise with precise and full movement at least ten times, then the weight is too heavy.
Ultimately, as with any exercise, do not over-exercise a particular muscle group. You don’t need to join a gym, nor do you need to adhere to lengthy and outdated weight training methods. Consistency is the key, and it doesn’t have to be painful. There are even a series of exercises you can perform without weights, such as lunges, squats, abdominal crunches, and push-ups. With weight training (even if your body is the “weight”), form is infinitely more important than the weight itself. Incorrect form can cause injury. If you have never performed these exercises before, seek professional advice to ensure that they are appropriate for you and that you are doing them correctly.
The most important value of cross training is moving out of the standard routine, allowing a more complete, well-rounded fitness level. Take one day that you would normally run and instead go to a yoga class, go for a bike ride, use the stair machine, or play a game of tennis or pickup basketball. Consider adding low-impact activities such as swimming and/or yoga to your training regime.
The best-prepared climbers will have taken the following into account in their training:
a. Variation – Will ensure that your entire body is strengthened, and will help you avoid injury. Mixing things up also keeps your interest and enthusiasm high.
b. Rest – A critical component to any physical routine, especially in the 2-3 weeks before your departure. You should not tax your body too heavily in the two weeks before the climb. Arrive in Africa rested and well. This is critical.
c. Consistency – The key to success. As a general guideline, by one month prior to your climb, you should work up to at least 45 minutes of aerobic activity 4 or 5 times a week. After this you can taper down, and within one week of your departure, try not to do much but eat well and rest.
Every extra pound of weight you carry up the mountain will feel like 10 near the summit of Kilimanjaro. Consider having a body-fat composition test. Men (as a guideline) should be at or below 19%, while women should aim for 23% or below.