Training for Kilimanjaro

You should devote at least 8 to 10 weeks of serious training before you depart to Tanzania if you want to be totally fit for your Kilimanjaro climb.    

To climb any high mountain, you need to train for both strength and endurance, not just for the uphill but also and, even more importantly, for downhill. 

Below are 5 components that are important to incorporate into your Kili training program.  Use them all, do as much of every one as you can.  Vary how much you do every day; vary how much you do every week.  Make some days really hard.  Make some days light.  Take a rest day or even two every 5 – 7 days.  Be smart, avoid injury, do yoga regularly.  You will be glad you did!  Enjoy, the rewards are many. 

Building strength for endurance

Hiking hard uphill outside in rough terrain is the best cardio training for mountain climbing.  But if you don’t have that opportunity, use these guidelines to train where you are.

Mountain climbing requires strength, for climbing and descending, coupled with endurance. On your Kili climb you will be walking up to 8+ hours some days.   

During your 2-to-3-month training period you should change up strengthening and endurance exercises so you don’t do the same set of exercises for more than a week.  To gain overall fitness it helps to give your muscles different routines to build all muscles evenly and not allow your body to get “use to” any specific strengthening routine.

Below are links to a couple of strengthening routines you can follow to get started. The first link uses weights for the exercises and probably requires access to a gym.  The second link is with body weight only and should be adequate as a beginning training sequence for preparing your body to climb Kilimanjaro.  Look at both.  I suggest you start right away with the body weight only “7 strength training exercises” and graduate to the weight training routines as your strength / endurance increases.  Once you feel like you’re ready to move on to other strengthening for endurance exercises, look up “strength for endurance” exercise routines on the internet and choose new ones you like.

Experience on the trail

This is the most important part of your training.  You need to walk… no matter where this might be.  Walking in city streets works, if that is all you have.  Better if you can walk somewhere that has uneven footing.  Alleyways, dry rivers, road construction zones, be creative.  If you have a natural outdoor environment that is best. Look for steeper climbs and descents like mountains, hills, stairways, stadiums.  Places that will challenge your cardio and muscle strength both up hill and downhill.  Remember to emphasis the downhill!!  Most people train only for the uphill and then struggle on the LONG descent.  Remember climbing Kili is 13,000-vertical feet of climbing and descending.   You will take 5 days to ascend but only 2 days to descend. Oh, did I mention be sure you train for the downhill??

Mix up your trail training. Longer hikes some days, shorter hikes others.  Keep it interesting, keep it fun.  Climb at higher elevation whenever you have the opportunity.  Get your pack organized with everything you will need to carry while on Kili.  Extra layer, rain jacket, 2 liters of water, shade hat, warm hat, gloves, camera, power bar.  Weigh the pack so you know how much you’re carrying..  Always carry it whenever your training..  But also carry it whenever you can, to work, grocery shopping, to the gym.  Being one with carrying your pack will make climbing with it up Kili much easier.  When doing your walking training, some days add a couple pounds and some days reduce a few pounds.  Vary it up.  Remember walk outside as much as possible on uneven terrain whenever you can.  Wear the shoes you will climb Kili in.  Don’t forget to train for the descent!  Stair master and treadmill machines don’t do down hills..  As you get stronger you will enjoy the training more and more..  Get ready, your about to feel better and stronger than you have in years. 

Steady state cardio. After a few weeks of walking, walking, walking with your pack on.  Combine your experience on the trail with “steady state” training.. Do it faithfully to be ready for your climb.  Load your pack, pick your best outdoor rough terrine walking area and start with a 20-minute cardio routine, working up gradually to 30 minutes, 90 minutes and eventually many hours.  Remember you will be hiking on Kili uphill, at altitude for up to 8 hrs in one day. During this “steady state” training you should aim for a heart rate level of 65 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate (max heart rate is 220 minus your age). You may want to get a heart rate monitor of some sort.  Aim to do at least 30-minute of this steady state cardio program three to five times a week while doing your normal daily training walks for your climb.

High intensive interval training (HIIT).  The essential framework of high-intensity interval training is always the same: Brief, all-out work periods, separated by rest periods that you wish were just a little longer. The work-to-rest ratio can vary from 1:1 (for example, 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off) to 4:1 or more. But no matter how long you rest, the key is that you bring everything you’ve got to your intervals.   These can be done anywhere and in many ways.  Running, biking, Nordic skiing, treadmill, stair master or just up and down stairs in your work or apartment building even jumping jacks or burpees!  Always remember to work in plenty of downhill training for the long Kili descent…  The number of rounds you should do for your HIIT training can vary from just a few to 90 minutes depending on the time you have and what else you are doing for exercise that day.  

Get ready to feel awesome!!  Did I mention the descent off Kili is tough and long??  Be downhill ready.