Fitness and training for Kilimanjaro
One question we get asked a lot is 'how fit do I need to be to climb Kilimanjaro? Whilst a high level of fitness will make the climb a lot easier it by no means requires super human fitness. We often take people who have left their fifties well behind them and are not in peak physical condition. In fact, if you are carrying a few extra pounds this is a great way to lose weight! That being said, a solid Kilimanjaro training plan will allow you to better prepare for the climb and give you more opportunity to enjoy yourself when you're on the mountain.
What all successful climbers share though is a real Kandoo attitude and that means high levels of grit and determination. Summiting Kilimanjaro is a long slow grind but provided you have the determination to do just one more step even when you are tired we can help you get to the top.
If you are comfortable walking for 6-7 hours with an ascent of 1000m then you are certainly fit enough to succeed on Kilimanjaro. Similarly if you can do a full hour spinning, a vigorous aerobics class or can jog at a decent pace for 45 minutes then there is no reason why you can't summit Kilimanjaro.
The bare facts about the climb are that you will probably be walking 6-7 hours per day with a rough ascent each day of 1000m.
The best training by far to climb Kilimanjaro is to get your walking boots on and get lots of miles under your belt. Whether this is two to three hours walking locally or full days away on your nearest hills, you just need to clock up lots of hours on your feet as more than anything else it is just walking every day for 7 days that people find tiring. And the best cure for this is to have spent lots of hours just walking.
Hiking practice allows you to understand the stress your joints will be put under and how well you can deal with this. It also allows you to wear in your boots as this takes some time and can often be uncomfortable. Start with a comfortable distance that suits you and slowly try to work your way up to a 5-6 hour trek. If you can do this a few times then you'll be in good stead to climb Kilimanjaro.
Aerobic (or cardio) training will be a key factor in allowing you to climb Kilimanjaro. Aerobic literally means 'requiring free oxygen' and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism.
Aerobic exercise builds up your cardiovascular system allowing you process limited oxygen in a more effective way. This is key for Kilimanjaro as it is a long distance exercise at altitude which will give the body less oxygen per breath.
Aerobic exercise, unlike anaerobic exercise, requires oxygen for elongated periods of time. Examples of aerobic exercise would be lane swimming, long distance jogging, walking and cycling.
One crucial thing we tell our customers is don't rush up the mountain! Trying to ascend too quickly is a huge mistake. Our porters can often be heard saying "Pole Pole", meaning 'Slow Slow' in Swahili. Because of the altitude your body needs time to adjust - no matter your fitness levels! However, having a good cardiovascular system will help with this, but it wont prevent it. Kilimanjaro is not a sprint, it's a marathon! We recommend putting the slowest hiker to the front of the group.
Depending on fitness, we recommend a 3-6 month Kilimanjaro training plan. Your hiking practice will help, but we also suggest running 6-12km three times a week. If you're using a treadmill remember to set a slight incline.
Any Kilimanjaro training plan should also include strength training. Although not as important as your aerobic training, strengthening your upper body, core and, in particular, your legs, will greatly increase your chances of success. You'll be on your legs at least 7 hours a day, you therefore need them to be strong enough to take the punishment.
To strengthen your legs we recommend doing the following exercises:
Front and reverse leg curls
Remember when doing these exercises to keep watch of your technique. Exercises done with poor technique will more often than not harm you instead of help you.
Building upper body and core strength is also crucial as you'll not only be standing for hours, but you'll also be carrying gear.
We recommend the following exercises to strengthen your upper body and core:
Back and shoulder flyes
Kettle-bell rows / swings
Remember to stretch after all exercise sessions! Increasing flexibility will allow your body to recover more quickly overnight after trekking all day. No one wants to trek for 7 hours after waking up with stiff joints aching all over!
The importance of stretching
Most sports injuries occur due to poor stretching. This is particularly true on mountains where repetitive movements over tough terrain put a lot of stress on joints and muscle. To loosen your muscles and increase suppleness we recommend adopting a regular stretching regime. Spend 10 minutes every morning stretching your main muscle groups.
So get that date with destiny booked, put on your boots and get out there walking!
Just as important as physical stamina is mental stamina and attitude. There always comes a point (most often during summit night) that you will want to quit and just head back down the mountain. Keeping a positive attitude and digging deep to push through is incredibly important and a valuable skill.
Training your mental stamina is no easy thing, but there are ways to accomplish it. You essentially need to construct an activity that pushes your body to what it thinks is its limit, then you need to push past that to reach your goal.
A great way to achieve this is long distance running such as half marathons and full marathons. A marathon will push you to your limit whilst having an achievable goal in sight - the finish line. If you can do this with a friend or training partner then all the better as you will both push each other to achieve more. Remember, it's that final push when your head is telling you to stop that will allow you to get into the state of mind required to scale Kilimanjaro.
Understand the climb and apply to your training - We highly recommend you to be training 4 – 5 times a week with heavy weight in your back pack and at the same time don't forget to do interval training. Remember, on your climb you will be moving up and down hills on steep and challenging terrain up to almost 6 hours in most of the days and 14 hours on the summit attempt. So, It is important to be ready so you can easily manage the distances and miles you are walking and getting specific conditioning for the climb.