Despite being a non-technical climb, climbing Kilimanjaro is a tough challenge that calls for serious training and preparation. In this guide we will cover the fundamentals of getting ready for the climb and provide actionable advice to help you put together a solid training plan for Kilimanjaro.
In general, it is recommended that you start training at least three months before your climb. This will give you enough time to build up your strength and endurance. Your training plan for Kilimanjaro should include a mix of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and hiking.
Cardiovascular exercise is essential for building endurance and preparing your body for a Kilimanjaro climb. Outdoor exercises such as running, walking, stair-climbing and cycling are all useful, along with using gym-based machines such as treadmills and stair-masters.
It is important when training your cardiovascular system to be in the right heart rate zone. Remember that a Kilimanjaro trek is not a sprint, but a long and slow walk up a mountain. Your training should reflect this, with an emphasis on longer duration sessions at a lower intensity. For instance, a 90-minute walk on a treadmill at a 5% incline will be better training for Kilimanjaro than a 20-minute HIIT session.
We’d suggest a minimum of 3 sessions a week as part of your Kilimanjaro training plan. As these are generally low-impact sessions, you can train more than this without serious risk of injury or soreness.
Strength training is important for building strong leg muscles and a solid core for your training plan for Kilimanjaro. Squats, lunges and step-ups are all great exercises to build strong legs, whilst crunches and a static plank will give you a strong core.
As with cardiovascular training, you should try to mimic what your body will be doing on Kilimanjaro as much as possible. Therefore, using light weights or even just body weight, increasing the reps is more useful compared to heavy weights but only a few reps each time.
We’d suggest 2 strength sessions a week if you have the capacity alongside the cardiovascular training.
As you’ve already read, the more you can train as if you are already on Kilimanjaro, the better prepared you will be for the climb. This is why hiking is one of the best exercises to add to your training plan for Kilimanjaro.
It’s not just the physical benefit of hiking that makes it so useful, but it also gets you familiar with uneven and undulating terrain, plus you a chance to test out your equipment. For all of your training sessions, we’d suggest you try to wear your hiking boots and your backpack (even on the treadmill and stair climber), but on a hike, you also get to test your other hiking clothes and hydration system.
We’d suggest that you try to hike at least once a week with your full kit and a loaded backpack, starting with around 2 hours but increasing to 4-5 hours as you approach your climb. Also, it’s useful to test back-to-back hiking days to understand how your body recovers overnight.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is not just a physical challenge, it is also a mental one. As we’ve seen during all of our expeditions, the climb can be long, gruelling, and mentally exhausting. Therefore, it is just as important to prepare yourself mentally for the climb so that you can stay focused and motivated to the summit and back down.
One way to prepare yourself mentally is to practice positive self-talk. We’ve seen plenty of people who’ve told them before they started that they can’t do it, but then a few days later we celebrated with them at the summit. You should tell yourself that you can do this and that you are strong enough to make it to the summit. Everyone has the mental strength to summit Kilimanjaro!
Do I Need to do Altitude Training?
At almost 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) Kilimanjaro is a high-altitude climb, which means that you will be exposed to lower oxygen levels.
Altitude training can help you acclimate to these conditions and reduce the risk of altitude sickness, however, it is not essential in your training plan for Kilimanjaro. The vast majority of people that summit Kilimanjaro without any problems have had no altitude training. As long as you have engaged an ethical guide company and have chosen a route with a good acclimatisation plan, then you can summit Kilimanjaro.
If you do have the opportunity to hike at a high altitude before your Kilimanjaro trek or use altitude chambers/tents, then this can only help you adapt and overcome any altitude sickness issues.
Training for Kilimanjaro
In our experience, rarely, someone won’t be able to summit Kilimanjaro, which is why we have over 98% summit success. However, what we’ve learned is that the more physical preparation a climber does and the stronger their mindset, the more they will enjoy the climb.
Training for Kilimanjaro doesn’t need to take over your life, but starting at least 3 months before with several cardio and strength sessions each week, plus a weekend hike, will give you the best chance of summiting and enjoying yourself throughout this incredible journey.