Training to Climb Kilimanjaro: How to be Prepared for the Summit
training-to-climb-kilimanjaro

Training to Climb Kilimanjaro – How to be Perfectly Prepared for the Summit

Training to climb Kilimanjaro is as much about your physical endurance as it is about your mental stamina.

The former is important as you will be trekking between 5-10 miles a day for the duration of your climb (which can be up to 9 days if you have booked onto a long route). The ability to draw on physical reserves as your energy depletes is key.

However, if you read about or speak to high altitude climbers they will all say that your mental stamina is just as important as your physical endurance. This is definitely true of Kilimanjaro, particularly on summit night!

Here are 4 things you can do to be perfectly prepared for the summit.

Quicklinks

Training to Climb Kilimanjaro

Aerobic training

Aerobic training (also known as cardio) uses oxygen to adequately meet the energy demands of exercise via aerobic metabolism. The types of exercise that use aerobic metabolism are generally light-to-moderate intensity activities like long distance jogging, swimming, cycling and walking. This differs from anaerobic exercise like high intensity weight lifting and sprinting which uses anaerobic metabolism to supplement the aerobic system due to increased energy demands.

Aerobic exercise builds the cardiovascular system which is key when training to climb Kilimanjaro, as a strong cardiovascular system will help you process limited oxygen in a more efficient way.

There is a flip side though. The more fit you are, the harder and faster you can push yourself, and the quicker you think you can ascend Kili.

This is a huge mistake!

Going as slow as possible, even when you are on the lower reaches and feeling great, is key to your success on Kili. You will hear your porters say Pole Pole, which means Slow Slow in Swahili. This is possibly the best advice you will get!

Your body needs time to acclimitize to high altitude and a strong cardiovascular system can help but not if you have pushed yourself too hard. A good recent example of how a strong cardiovascular system can trick one comes from an accomplished Australian marathon runner who collapsed at Stella Point because he had gone too fast early on in his hike.

If you are relatively unfit I recommend setting yourself a 3-6 month training regime where you focus on long distance walking / running (6-12 km at least three times a week). You can do this on a gym treadmill but remember to set a consistent pace and vary the slope (a slight incline is best).

For relatively fit people who already undertake a fair share of cardiovascular exercise we recommend maintaining your regime until 1 month before your climb. At this point we recommend increasing the duration, but not intensity, of your exercises.

Strength Training

In addition to aerobic exercise you should also be doing light strength training, particularly for your legs, core and upper body.

In terms of your legs we suggest for the following exercises:

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Front and Reverse Leg-curls (thigh muscle and hamstrings)
  • Step aerobics

Building the strength of your core muscles (stomach and lower back) and upper shoulder muscles is also important as you will be carrying a lightweight pack for up to 6-7 hours a day. We recommend the following exercises:

  • Sit-ups
  • Kettle-bell rows / swings
  • Shoulder presses
  • Back and shoulder flies

Practice Hiking

Climbing Kilimanjaro is in fact just one long hike. The best way to prepare for a long hike is to do a few yourself.

We recommend doing at least two long distance hikes (over 5 hours). If you can do back to back days that would be even better. Doing a few practices hikes as part of your training to climb Kilimanjaro has a few benefits:

  • You get to experience what a 5 hour hike on difficult terrain feels like, going up and down (for most people going down is often more grueling as your knees and joints can take a battering)
  • You get to wear in your boots. There is nothing worse than arriving in Kilimanjaro with unworn-in boots. This can seriously stymie your summit attempt as you will get blisters and sore feet early on in your hike.

Mental Stamina

So often the thing that gets climbers to the top of Kilimanjaro is there mental stamina. There will be times during the summit night that you will want to give up and go back down.  Being able to dig deep and pull on your mental reserves is so important.

Thankfully there are activities to train your mental stamina. Most require some form of pushing your body to the extreme, or to what you think your limits are, and then pushing through to accomplish your goal.

We recommend long distance running, particularly marathons, but half marathons can do the same thing if you are not accustomed to running long distance. This type of activity really requires one to draw on their mental reserves to get to the finish line.

Most people who run marathons will  tell you the last mile was all mental. If you can get in that state of mind at least once before Kilimanjaro then you will be perfectly prepared for the final push up the slopes of Kibo.

In conclusion – training to climb Kilimanjaro

We truly believe most people – regardless of age or physical condition – can climb Kilimanjaro (within reason, of course!). All one needs to do is ensure their cardiovascular system is firing on all engines and that they have the mental strength to see the hike to the end.

Over and above the importance of training to climb Kilimanjaro is the having the knowledge of how the body acclimatizes to altitude. This page provides detailed information on the latter.

Feel free to ask us any questions about training to climb Kilimanjaro in the comments below.

If would like a detailed mountain trekking training programme we highly recommend this 12-week course from Big Mountain Training.

Haven’t booked your Kilimanjaro hike yet and looking for the best and most affordable Kilimanjaro Tours – click here for recommendations.

Click the link for a complete Kilimanjaro equipment packing list.

Recommended Gear for your Kili Adventure

This resistance training mask from the guys at Training Mask helps simulate the effects of altitude. Used primarily by athletes to improve performance at sea level, the manufacturers claim the mask can help prepare trekkers for altitude. We have not personally tried the mask but from our research online the reviews seem rather positive. Check out the training mask on Amazon now

About the Author Mark Whitman

Hi, I’m Mark! Welcome to Climb Kilimanjaro Guide – the Web’s No.1 Trekking Guide to Mount Kilimanjaro. This site is your one stop shop for everything Kilimanjaro. To date over 2 million people have visited ClimbKilimanjaroGuide.com, many of which have gone on to summit Kili! I hope you find all the answers you are looking for, but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to drop a comment below! Happy Trekking!

Leave a Comment:

18 comments
Annie says July 17, 2014

Hi,

I am thinking of climbing kili in september and have not started training. I am 47 and not fit My main source of exercise in walking at the moment. can easily walk 20 km per week. My concern in I have sore knees from years of wear and tear from weight gain and early years of sport.
Do you think I could start training now two month out from the climb? I am also carrying a bit of extra weight!!
Would appreciate your thoughts.
Cheers
Annie

Reply
    Mark Whitman says July 17, 2014

    Hi Annie, Thanks for getting in touch and for your question. If you are thinking of climbing in September and you are not in the best of shape then I would definitely start training from today. As I mentioned in the article cardiovascular exercise is the best form of training for Kili. Brisk walking or a slow jog on a treadmill 3-4 times a week for 10-12 kms each time is what you should be aiming for. Starting out you can do shorter intervals (4-5 kms). On Kili you will be trekking upwards of 10 km every day with summit night and day being very long (close on 17 km and 10-15 hours of trekking). You will need to have the physical stamina as well as the mental strength to push yourself to the summit. I very much encourage you to do some practice hikes before departing to get the sense of trekking 5-7 hours a day. My main concern for you is not so much the going up, but the coming down, which is very tough on knees and joints. Descent from Uhuru Peak is steep, rapid and long – over 12 kms and 2,700 meters in altitude. You will want to use trekking poles which can reduce the impact on your joints by up to 20% coming down. See here for my recommendations – https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/kilimanjaro-kit-list/kilimanjaro-gloves/
    I believe most people can climb Kilimanjaro – regardless of age and physical shape – the challenge is really one of preparation and will. Make sure to be as best prepared physically and mentally before departing. Once you arrive in Kili make sure to pace yourself and conserve energy as much as you can. Summit night is a very slow and arduous experience. There will be moments where you will seriously question what you are doing. Your mind will be the first to give up – its mechanism of saving the body, but you will be surprised how far you can push your body until it really gives up. This doesn’t mean you should put your body in danger but does mean that you need to acutely listen to your body to understand how much further you can push it, it’s usually significantly further than the first few doubts that start cropping up in your mind. Finally, remember to have fun, enjoy the hike and amazing scenery. Getting to the top is only part of the journey and getting down safely should always be the priority. Happy to field any other questions. If you haven’t booked do drop me a line here and I’ll see what I can do to help: https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/mount-kilimanjaro-tours/

    Reply
Clare says July 23, 2015

Hi there,

I’m 21 and climbing Kili in September. I think I’m relatively fit and have been doing walks primarily to make sure my boots are worn in, The main thing I am worried about is altitude sickness. I wasn’t sure if it was worth getting an altitude training mask or taking any of the medication recommended in preventing and treating altitude sickness.

Thanks

Reply
    Mark Whitman says July 25, 2015

    Hi Clare, altitude masks are still unproven in terms of performance enhancements for high altitude trekking / climbing. The jury’s out. We do howvere recommend taking diamox, as long as you get clearance from your GP. Read more about it here: https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/using-diamox-on-kilimanjaro/

    Reply
    Davis says January 15, 2017

    The resistance training mask does not help in any way beyond strength development for your diaphragm. The negative pressure generated by this strain also draws low pressure in the areas your lungs do not need it! If you want to really train for altitude, go to your local scuba shop, get certified with nitrox (a higher nitrogen percentage), and go swim around in a pool, take deep breaths and swim around to get the blood flowing. The research coming back on those masks is showing complete flop for altitude training.

    Reply
Naimeesha says September 15, 2015

Great suggestions!

I will be going in July next year (2016) and am extremely excited but also very anxious. I get bored quite easily and this will be my first big hiking experience.

I have been more or less regular with my fitness but may have to UP the cardio – since I have a lot of time to prepare, I think I will do okay – hopefully.

Naimeesha

Reply
    Mark Whitman says September 16, 2015

    Thanks Naimeesha!

    Reply
    Ash says January 4, 2016

    I’m also planning on doing the Machume climb in July 2016, however, I only manage to push 1.5km in 15minutes over the treadmill.

    Which route you planning on doing Naimeesha?

    Reply
Melissa says June 11, 2016

Hi, I am planning to hike Kili in February 2017.
I am fit and do a lot of exercise. I was thinking of volunteer working in Tanzania for three weeks before my climb. Do you think this will be beneficial?
My only concern is, I won’t get much exercise in those three weeks, but I will try. Thanks.

Reply
    Mark Whitman says June 12, 2016

    Hi Melissa, I definitely think volunteering will be beneficial for you personal and for those you are helping, and will likely have neglible impact on your Kilimanjaro climb. From an acclimatisation perspective there certainly isn’t any benefit of spending time on the lower reaches and flatlands below Kilimanjaro. You might want to take a few days over one of the weekends and climb Mt. Meru, which would be super beneficial for your Kilimanjaro ascent!. Hope this helps!

    Reply
Lyne says July 31, 2016

Hi, I am 58 and want to climb Kili in February 2017, I used to run 6 to 12km 3 to 4 times a week but haven’t done much since I moved to Entebbe, Uganda in Sept 2014. I still do some exercises indoors but no special training plan, I have some issues with my knees but I stretch a lot which keeps them going. Given the fact that running outside is limited so are gyms would walking for about 2 hours on the weekends be sufficient training to prepare me for the climb. Thanks.

Reply
    Mark Whitman says August 1, 2016

    Hi Lyne, Walking is in fact the best type of exercise training you can do for Kilimanjaro. The longer the walk the better as you want to really get used to being in your boots for multiple hours a day, preferably for a few days back to back. If you can get in a few weekend practice hikes that is a great way to harden off the joints and muscles and get Kili fit. Hope this helps!

    Reply
Rashmi says August 7, 2016

Hi , we are planning to climb Mt. Kili in Oct’16. Wanted some tips. How will the weather be in October. Will it be raining through out? If we walk upto 2 hours 11k, swim for 1 mm 3 times a week, cycle for 2 days a week-7-8km , can I see myself building endurance of need to work harder? Also, can we control do It without using Diamox? If yes , how do we control and monitor breathing at altitude , to avoid sickness. Thanks .

Reply
Dee says October 2, 2016

Hi. You mentioned the activity of running a marathon or a half marathon and it’s last mile to experience ‘digging deep’ for mental reserves as the same experience of summit night on Kili. Can you recommend an alternative to this to experience the same digging deep for mental reserves I can do as I’m not a runner. I’m climbing KiLi Lemosho 8 day at Christmas this year and am training by hiking in the peak district UK where I live. I’m in my mid 50s and female. Have walked up Fuji and general fortnightly hiking but nothing more. Can you also tell me what %incline on the treadmill is suitable for Kiki climbing and at what speed. Very kind regards

Reply
    Mark Whitman says October 2, 2016

    Hi Dee, it is difficult to describe similar activities that require strong mental stamina. I guess if you can imagine be very exhausted and perhaps on the edge of giving up, then you can get a sense of what the final push to the summit of Kilimanjaro is for many people. The ability to push that extra bit is in general required on a Kilimanjaro trek. Not for everyone, but for many people. Of course this needs to be balanced with the risk of severe altitude sickness. If you are not acclimatizing well then you will have to descend. My analogy with running a marathon works for many people as Kilimanjaro is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint. Initially you will take the trek day by day, and as you approach the summit it will be step by step. The combination of hiking for 7 or 8 days and the high altitude, mean that the final push can be mentally challenging, as much as it is physically challenging. Unfortunately there is nothing in the Peak District, or indeed the UK, that can give you a sense of the experience that comes with trekking at high altitude. Fuji would come close, but is still not high enough to provide an analogous experience to Kilimanjaro. My advice would be to try achieve peak fitness for your age, follow the golden acclimatisation rules, stay well hydrated and eat well on the trek and finally enjoy yourself. The trek is wonderful – enjoy each day. Don’t think too much about the summit until you are actual setting off on summit night. Assuming you have acclimatized well and have the grit and determination to make it to the top, then I’m confident that you will get there. As for working out on a treadmill, I prefer fast sprints to slow walking. The aim of fast sprints is to work your cardiovascular system as much as possible. I find walking on a treadmill (even at an incline), doesn’t get your heart going fast enough to really improve your cardiovascular performance. Hope this helps!

    Reply
Kiki says October 22, 2017

Hi,

I am a very unfit 47-year old that has brittle asthma and fibromyalgia and weigh a 100kg. Not that I’m going to let this put me off. I plan to climb next August 2018 apart from losing weight, what strategies can I put in place for my experience to be a positive one? I need to start to plan and fitness regime in order for me to achieve my goal, I would very much like your advice and tips no matter how candid they may be.

Thank you

kiki

Reply
    Mark Whitman says October 22, 2017

    Hi Kiki, the best advice I can give you is to get your boots on and hit the hills. You need to clock up as many hiking miles as possible. This will make you hiking fit. In addition it is worth starting a aerobic fitness regime from today. Hope this helps!

    Reply
Add Your Reply

START PLANNING: Get a Kilimanjaro Quote Now!

angle-double-right
angle-double-left