Fitness Preparation For Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the highest point in Africa – it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world! Any climber who attempts to climb Kilimanjaro should prepare mentally and physically with an exercise regime and an understanding of altitude.

Fitness Preparation For Mount Kilimanjaro

Every year an estimated 35,000 or more climbers take on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, statistics show a failure rate of anywhere from 30%, to even as high as 50% of all climbers. Meaning anywhere from a third to a half of all climbers turn back.
While Kilimanjaro is a ‘walkable mountain’ - meaning there is no need for specialized equipment to reach the top - it does not mean that it is an easy climb. Hikers should be physically fit, but at 19,340 feet (5,895 m), simply being in top physical shape may not be enough. Training for Kilimanjaro is essential for a safe and successful summit.

How to Prepare for High Altitude?

Climbing a mountain is not merely about one’s cardiovascular endurance. Lower saturation of oxygen experienced at higher altitudes has a physical effect on all bodies; even the most athletic. While cardio exercises certainly help prepare the body for the physical activity every hiker will engage in during the climb, aerobic exercise alone cannot fully prepare for the conditions at 19,000 feet/5790 meters.
Mount Kilimanjaro is at an altitude of 19,341 feet/5,895 meters, meaning that every breath accumulates less than half the amount of oxygen that one breathes at sea level.
Now, those who already reside at higher altitudes are at an advantage. Their bodies have adapted over time to the less saturated oxygen. However, that ‘advantage’ is not necessarily everything - because no one lives at the high altitude of the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. No matter what your normal altitude level, there will be some amount of acclimatization for all hikers.
It is imperative to allow for adequate acclimatization to a successful climb; meaning, don’t try to run up the mountain. Schedule your climb with adequate days to ensure your body is appropriately (and safely!) adjusting to the increased altitude.
Prepare for the altitude of Mount Kilimanjaro by training on a regular basis at least 8 weeks before beginning your climb. Physical exercise is important, and a routine should be at least 4 times a week, and include aerobic exercises, strength training and hiking. Also consider the use of altitude simulators to give you even more of an advantage and help you reach Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak.

Aerobic Training for Kilimanjaro

Every climber should engage in regular aerobic training to prepare for Kilimanjaro. Cardiovascular exercise or simply, ‘cardio’, can be exercises such as running, jogging, cycling, and even aerobic dance classes. Cardio is an effective method of training for climbing Kilimanjaro because it increases heart rate and breathing.
Cardio is not the only exercise to focus on, but it is an important one to get your body in good physical condition. Try to regularly participate in aerobic exercises that simultaneously develop leg muscles to get your legs toned for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Training by cycling or trail running are great options.
We suggest 3-4 days a week of 40 minutes or more of aerobic exercise to keep the heart and lungs in good shape for the upcoming trek. It doesn’t have to be grueling, even dancing can be effective, as long as it gets your heart rate up!

Strength Training for Hiking the Mount
No one climbs Kilimanjaro by heart alone (physically or metaphorically). Climbers use their legs to get them to the top, so make sure your legs are strong!
Set aside 2 sessions a week for strength training, especially for legs. However, don’t focus only on the legs. Be diverse in your exercises and include back, chest, and arms as well. You will be carrying a day pack during your trek, after all.
Kilimanjaro climbs include 6-8 hour days of ascending hikes for 5 or more days, and a very long descent. Your legs need to be ready for this tough climb, so ensure you are getting the muscles toned. The climb up will be a challenge on your calves and hamstrings, while the descent will put your quad muscles to the test.
You aren’t aiming for definition and bulk with this weight training; you want your muscles to be strong and able to endure hours of hiking at a steep incline.

Stretching and Warming Up is a Must
Make sure to always warm up the muscles with light exercise before beginning strength training or targetted aerobic activity. This helps to avoid muscle strains, pulls or even worse - a tear! No point in having to sit out a week or longer recovering from a muscle injury just because of skipping a five-minute warm-up.
Five minutes of brisk walking or a light jog, followed by stretching is not to be missed.
Remember, training is as much a process of caring for your body as it is targeting specific muscles or improving endurance. Push yourself, but respect your body’s boundaries and gradually increase the difficulty of training. Always warm up before a workout, and take time to stretch your muscles after a training session.

Practice Hiking at Altitude

Hands down, the most effective activity to prepare for climbing Kilimanjaro is to hike as much as possible! Reaching the summit is essentially a very long, multi-day hike at increasingly higher altitudes. Hiking at high altitudes is the best way to prepare your heart and lungs for what’s to come.