Hiking up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is not for the faint of heart. With 7 days of hiking, covering a distance of 70km/43mi and over 4,000m/13,000ft in elevation gain, it’s definitely a hike you need to be prepared for. Nothing contributes to a personally successful adventure more than your level of fitness and training.
For our Tanzania: Kilimanjaro Gay Climb, you are preparing for:
- Trekking with a 5-6kgs (11-13lbs) load in your daysack that you will carry for up to 6-7 hours per day in the ascent (porters will be carrying the tents, food and cooking equipment)
- Trekking 10km/6mi + per day as you approach high/base camp
- A 12+ hour final push to the summit and subsequent descent on summit day
- Using core strength and flexibility to navigate uneven terrain
Ideally you should give yourself at least 4 months to adequately prepare in a relaxed manner. It can be achieved in a shorter time frame, but training while the clock is clicking can be frustrating and might lead to injury. Below is our guide for getting those glutes, quads, calves and core prepared for this epic adventure.
Aerobic (or cardio) training will be a key factor in allowing you to successfully trek 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, unlike anaerobic exercise, requires oxygen for elongated periods of time. Thirty minutes to an hour of jogging, cycling, climbing stairs, swimming or even just brisk walking are all good aerobic exercises. Aim to exercise at 70% of your maximum heart rate for the best results.
Leg and core strengthening
Go to any gym and you’ll come across plenty of contraptions designed to increase the strength of your calves, thighs, hamstrings, glutes and core. These are fine though the usual warnings apply: always read the instructions carefully before using any machine and never be too ambitious and overload the machine with too much weight. Either course of action could lead to serious injury and the cancellation of your trek altogether.
If you don’t have access to gym equipment, however, don’t worry: there are exercises that you can do without the need for machines. Lunges, where you take an exaggerated step forward with one leg, dropping your hips as low as possible while keeping your torso upright, are great for thighs, hamstrings and buttocks. A reverse lunge, which is the same as a regular lunge only you take a step backwards, until your forward thigh (ie the one you didn’t take a step backwards with) is parallel to the floor, is also good, particularly for the hamstring. Calf raises, where you position yourself with the front half of your feet on a platform, then gently raise and lower yourself on your toes so that your heel is alternately higher and lower than the toes, is also useful. For your core there are a number of exercises you can do without equipment, the good old-fashioned crunch, where you lay on the floor and lift your torso up towards your knees, is perfect for strengthening your core abdominal muscles.
We think it helps to concentrate on aerobic exercises one day (say three times a week) alternating with leg & core strengthening exercises for the other three days – then rest on the seventh day.
Do a few dry runs
The best fitness and training program mimics the physical and technical demands of your trekking objective, so train by going trekking (including the use of any convenient hills)! The closer you get to your program date, the more your training should look to resemble the trekking itinerary planned and booked for you, with the aim to cover up to 10kms in a session, as well as include some multi-day activity.
The best training for a trek on Kilimanjaro is to get your hiking boots on and get lots of miles covered. 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 for multiple days that people find tiring. And the best cure for this is to have spent lots of hours just walking.
Effective trekking practice allows you to understand the stress your joints & muscles will be put under and how well you can deal with this. It also allows you to wear in your boots (and any other elements of your trekking gear) as this takes some time and can often be uncomfortable. Trekkers should start with a comfortable distance that suits them and slowly try to work their way up to a 5-6 hour trek. If you can do this a few times then you’ll be in good condition to climb Kilimanjaro. Where trekkers can build in several consecutive days trekking, that is great as this will give you a good indication as to your ability to cope with consecutive days trekking on the mountain.
Psych yourself up
After your months of training, take stock of your accomplishments and admire that body-ody-ody, henny! Read through the Tanzania: Kilimanjaro Gay Climb itinerary a few more times and make sure your biggest and sexiest organ (your brain) is prepared for this epic trek. Being prepared physically and mentally will mean much better odds of a successful summit.
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