Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t the most brutal and difficult mountain in the world to climb, but it’s certainly not easy either, especially considering you will have a 50% reduction in the amount of oxygen that you can take in by the time you approach the summit. So, of course, you’ll need to prepare, but how to train for Mount Kilimanjaro?

Begin with getting a full medical workup before you start training with resistance exercises such as free weights or machines, along with frequent walks or hiking. Weight resistance exercises should include the legs as well.

As the saying goes friends don’t let friends skip leg day. Physical preparation is only a part of it, however, as no matter how hard you work your muscles, you can breathe well enough to get all the oxygen you need. This won’t be the case on Kilimanjaro, so aerobics are also sensible.

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Wondering how hard it is to climb the mountain? I’ve written another post covering exactly how hard it is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Things to consider when training

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro won’t exactly be like strolling through the park on a fine summer day. With lowered oxygen levels, long before you get to the worst of it at the summit, a walk will feel more like a jog. The heavier the physical exertion, the more it will feel like you are running wind sprints with lead ankle weights.

The body’s muscles can only do so much without oxygen. Oxygen makes its way to the muscles, especially muscles under strain, where it begins the arduous process of breaking down glucose. The reason that it breaks down glucose is that the process creates a byproduct called adenosine triphosphate, otherwise known as muscle fuel.

Of course, less oxygen means less glucose breakdown and, the less breakdown there is, the lower the amount of available fuel for your muscles. The idea behind working your muscles is to teach them to do the most with the least. The harder you work your muscles, the more they have to use the energy your oxygen intake provides.

Here are a few tips to succeed with the training:

  • Create a routine, months ahead of time, and stick to the routine
  • Drink more than the recommended daily water intake
  • Consume twice your body weight in grams of protein
  • Stick with whey (if applicable) and soy if not
  • Improve your oxygen intake and lung capacity
  • Focus on calves
  • Climb everything
  • Daily stretches to improve flexibility

Muscles don’t grow overnight and your lung capacity won’t expand in one day. These things take time so patience is most certainly a virtue that you should embrace. Don’t overdo it either. The idea is to prepare yourself to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world, not end up in the hospital with a hernia.

Before you start your training

If you are already into hiking, then you probably know by now that the body’s needs drastically increase when you place it under stress. That means that no matter what your typical routine is, you’re going to have to make a new one.

Muscle training means water and lots of it. It also means increasing your protein intake, as the protein in the foods we eat aids muscles by rebuilding the fibers, bigger and better after you spend an hour and a half destroying them in the gym.

You won’t see the kind of gains that will put you in a competition for Mr. or Ms. Olympia, mostly because they have access to some of the best supplements on the planet. The other reason is that you will be incorporating aerobics into your routine, which hampers muscle mass gains.

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will have to find another way to incorporate protein into your diet. Soy protein is an option but it’s much slower than whey protein when it comes to your body utilizing it.

Weight training for Mount Kilimanjaro

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Weight training is repetition and memory or, rather, muscle memory. Starting with warm-up exercises using a weight that you could easily toss around the house, you’ll end up doing 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions for each muscle group.

There are several rules to weight lifting that you should know if this is your first foray into the gym.:

  • Never attempt to lift more than you can handle
  • Always stretch and warm up before you begin
  • Consume a number in grams of protein that is equal to two times your body weight, daily
  • Never work the same muscle group within 48 hours of the last time you worked it
  • Use a spotter when you are lifting weight amounts that you have never attempted before
  • Never hold your breath when at the peak of a lift
  • Breath in through your mouth and out through your nose

When you lift, you create microscopic tears in the muscle that you are focusing on. You have to give it a 48-hour period to heal, which means rotating the muscle groups that you focus on through the weeks and months.

Breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose helps you to avoid “panic breathing”, which can over-oxygenate your blood and cause you to hyperventilate, which can be dangerous if not controlled. It will also teach you breathing discipline, a must-have skill on a mountain.

Aerobics training for Mount Kilimanjaro

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Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays should find you on the treadmill, exercise bike, out on the trail hiking in fast-step, jogging, wind sprints, or doing bleacher runs. You should incorporate your anaerobic leg workouts with aerobics days, as your legs will need some time to recover.

Bleacher runs and wind sprints are the hands-down best methods for training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Wind sprints are all about expanding your lung capacity and training to control your breathing. At the end of every wind sprint, practice breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose. Control your breathing.

Bleacher runs are great because they are about as close as you can come to running up a steep hill.

Flexibility training for Mount Kilimanjaro

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Stretching exercises comes with the territory, whether you are running wind sprints for the day or about to hit the weights. You have to stretch out your muscles and get the blood flowing before you begin. If you neglect stretches and warm-ups, the odds that you will pull or tear a muscle increases dramatically.

Stretching also helps to improve your flexibility, a nice trait to have when climbing a mountain. Every day, when you do your stretches, try to reach just a little farther than you did the day before. If you can reach a little farther, hold it there for thirty seconds.

Make this a routine, every day, even on days when you break from training altogether.

Speak to mountain climbing experts

The mind is more powerful than the body and knowledge is definitely power. Visit forums, and talk to people that have made the climb before, specifically Mount Kilimanjaro. Pick their brains for every tip and trick in the book.

You will find more knowledge and tips from speaking to veterans than you ever will reading a book about it. Knowledge is every bit as important as physical training for your body.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read books on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro because you certainly should. While the hike up most of the mountain is considered to be only moderately difficult, the ascension to the summit is far more difficult.

Hiking in preparation for Mount Kilimanjaro

Some people, like those who live in geographically flat areas, such as Florida, may find it difficult to find places where you can hike up and down steep terrain. However, there are always alternatives, no matter where you are at.

If you lack elevation to tackle, wear some light ankle weights. If you’re close to the coastline, hit the beach up. Trekking through beach sand is nowhere near as easy as you think, especially if you have some weight on your back.

Speaking of weight on your back, in preparation for Mount Kilimanjaro, you should prepare by hiking with the same supplies that you will bring to the mountain. The idea is to replicate the hike you’re training for as close as you can.

Everything that you will be carrying up the mountain should be on your back when you are hiking in preparation. It may sound difficult trying to incorporate weight training, aerobics, and hiking all into the same week, however, hiking can simply take the place of your aerobics training for the day.

Your ultimate goal is to build your hiking legs up well enough that you can easily handle an 8-hour hike, including carrying the weight on your back that you will have when the real deal rolls around.  A few months of this and you should be more than ready to tackle what Mount Kilimanjaro has to offer.

Final thoughts

If it sounds pretty arduous, it’s supposed to be. You don’t just book a ticket to Mount Kilimanjaro for the following week when all you’ve ever done is drink beers on the sofa and play Elden Ring.

Mount Kilimanjaro is not the hardest mountain to climb but it is a big test on your way to something even bigger and more dominating.