When you train to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, you should concentrate on both your fitness and your heart rate. Muscles become stronger if they are used regularly, at a suitable level and for a sustained period. This is known as the training effect. 

The heart is the most vital muscle to train, so that it can pump more blood more efficiently and deliver more oxygen. Your cardiovascular system (your heart and lungs working together) is severely tested by climbing altitude. Resting heart rate tends to increase at altitude. The increase is significantly larger at higher altitudes, however it should decrease as you acclimatize. Resting heart rate is, therefore, a good indicator of your body’s adaptation to altitude. 

Training programs differ widely. Most people use hiking, running, or cycling as their prime activity. We think it works best if you do both cross training and interval training.

  • Cross training involves mixing in another form of exercise. For example, if the core discipline is running, we recommend cross training once a week by cycling or hill walking. Hill walking includes carrying a daypack with 10kg/22lbs of weight in it.
  • Interval training involves varying the effort level sharply every couple of minutes during a single session. Challenge the heart to prepare for the varying effort. We suggest a rest day after every training day or a week.

Fitness, strength and stamina are all important for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Don’t rely on a single form of exercise. The smooth surface of a treadmill does nothing to prepare the leg muscles for climbing loose scree or difficult, steep terrain, or perhaps a strong head wind. Try to include some brisk hill walking or cross country jogging in the months or weeks prior to your departure. Whatever the exercise, minimize the risk of straining the muscles by warming up slowly beforehand, including stretching, then cooling down gently afterwards. Stretching beforehand reduces the risk of injury. Afterwards it helps to prevent stiffness the next day. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your training sessions.

More Essential Tips

  • Start training well before you leave. If someone is fit a month of special effort might be enough, but if unfit, begin three to four months or more in advance.
  • Also, if you’ve never used trekking poles before it’s better to practice using them. They are very important and a great companion on the mountain.
  • Get used to boots, especially when they are new, to avoid blisters.
  • It’s also best to consult a medical doctor before your trip in case your doctor has any recommendations to offer based on your medical history. If you take prescription medicine, you want to make sure you bring enough to last more than the entire trip (just as a precaution).

And take a few rest days before you leave for Tanzania! You’ll want to preserve some of those calories because you will need them on the hike!