Training for fitness for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Any high altitude climbing will have an effect on the legs, heart and lungs and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is no exception. However the number 1 reason that folks don’t make the summit is not lack of fitness but altitude sickness. There is no need to go all out on a long fitness program to condition yourself for the climb but the fitter you are the more enjoyable the climb will be and the easier you will find the few steep sections on each route.

Not a sprint but a marathon

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is about endurance. You have to be able to walk with a small pack for up to 8 hours a day for a number of days but this is not as bad as it sounds. You also need some strength in your legs as there are a few demanding sections on each route. We recommend a cardiovascular workout of 1 hour twice a week, as well as getting out for an afternoon of hill walking or mountain climbing with the full daypack you expect to use on Kili (don’t forget the 3 litres of water!) every other weekend. Do this for 12 weeks before you head for Kili and you’ll be in good shape for the climb.

Cardiovascular training

The best cardiovascular exercise you can do for climbing is hill running but you have to be very fit already to do that! Road running and cycling are also good for the heart and lungs. If you prefer to workout in a gym, getting on a treadmill and cranking up the incline for an hour of uphill walking is great for both the heart and the calf muscles. If your going to use an exercise bike then you must do a hill program, cycling on a flat for an hour will do you little good! If your gym has a Stairmaster, these machines are also excellent for training for a climb as they simulate a lot of what you will face near the summit. If you are walking on the treadmill or using a Stairmaster it can help to train with your daypack.

Resistance training

If you can, try and get a weights session in each week for your legs. This is not compulsory but it will help a bit. When working the legs remember it’s not about how much you can lift. Keep the weight light but do 2 sets of 20. Put emphasis on your form when you’re lifting, take 2 seconds to lift the weight and 4 seconds to return it. You will feel the burn in a different way from lifting heavy weights if you’ve ever done this before. Always remember it’s about endurance, not strength.

Check out a comprehensive training program designed specifically for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.