A Kilimanjaro climb is a very special type of adventure, beyond a traditional vacation. Unlike popular beach vacations or simple hiking tours, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro requires certain preparations. After all, this adventure takes hikers to the highest point of Africa at 5,895 m/19,340 f. This is often the highest altitude many climbers to ever achieve, making this trip a true adventure of a lifetime. In this way, Kilimanjaro adventures are dangerous and unless the trekking party is staffed by the professional guides and equipped with proper equipment, the hikers are exposed to certain high altitude-related risks.
The old saying is that ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ This can hardly be more true than when you are taking on a challenge such as Kilimanjaro. Start your pre-climb training early, then build it up gradually. There is lots to consider here. When should I start, what activities should I be doing? Should I train alone, or get specialist help? What about my diet ?
Everyone is different, so there is no single correct answer. But simply ‘doing nothing’ is not an option. The day after you have decided to climb, that’s the day to begin your training!
Here are 4 things you can do to prepare and train for Mt Kilimanjaro.
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.
There is a flip side though. The more fit you are, the harder and faster you can push yourself, and the quicker you think you can ascend Kili.
This is a huge mistake!
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 acclimatize 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 Kilimanjaro workout regime where you focus on long-distance walking / running (5-10 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 Kilimanjaro training regime until 1 month before your climb. At this point we recommend increasing the duration, but not intensity, of your exercises.
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 the following Kilimanjaro training exercises:
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:
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 Mt Kilimanjaro has a few benefits:
So often the thing that gets climbers to the top of Kilimanjaro is their mental stamina. 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.
Thankfully there are activities to train your mental stamina. Most require some form of pushing your body to the extreme, or 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 distances. This type of activity really requires one to draw on their mental reserves to get to the finish line.
Most people who run marathons will tell you the last mile was all mental. If you can get in that state of mind at least once before Kilimanjaro, then you will be perfectly prepared for the final push up the slopes of Kibo.
Many people ask, can I train for the altitude on Mt Kilimanjaro?
Generally, it is very difficult to effectively train for the altitude on Kilimanjaro. You can certainly pre-acclimatize by climbing a lower altitude peak like Mount Meru, before attempting Kilimanjaro. And this will definitely help!
But training for high altitude at a low altitude using altitude training masks or specialist altitude training equipment is more complex, as the benefits of altitude training (i.e. acclimatization) relies on highly complex anatomical processes.
A few sessions in an altitude mask might mimic the lower oxygen experience of high altitude hiking, but one really needs to sustain conditions at high altitude for acclimatization to really take effect. In other words, the benefits of altitude training wear off as soon as (or shortly after) you stop a training session.
In short, if you want to do Kilimanjaro altitude training, the best method is to pre-acclimatize on a lower peak like Mount Meru or Mount Kenya, directly before climbing Kilimanjaro.
We truly believe most people – regardless of age or physical condition – can climb Kilimanjaro (see: can anyone hike Kilimanjaro). All one needs to do is 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 having the knowledge of how the body acclimatizes to altitude. For this I recommend reading our guide to altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro.
A trek in this mountain is a life-time awe experience, a world class achievement that we are at Smile with Us will be happy to be part of while you take on. Focus is to get you to enjoy every moment of the trek as you find your way to the top. A team of well-motivated professional guides and porters will take on the lead as you take the challenge.