Training for Kilimanjaro (II): work it!

If half the challenge of reaching the summit is in the brain, then the other half is pure, unadulterated physical effort.  Make no mistake – training for this takes time, commitment and loads of patience.

I am not an expert, but I have consulted some I and did my own research on the side.  The result is a training routine based on a few simple concepts that made the most sense to me, personally.  Save for the first part, which caters to mountain trekking specifically, this routine can generally be used for conditioning and toning up, irrespective of fitness level. Here are the few simple rules I follow:

1. Train by simulating the conditions of the Kili trek, to the best of your ability. Ideally, this would entail lots of outdoor walking and hiking (3-6 hrs/day @3-4 days a week).  Since I live in an urban environment, however, I have to make do with my gym membership – at least during the week.  Every single one of my workouts thus begins with one of the treadmill exercises below:

a) Alternating low speed and high incline segments (4km/hr @ 15% incline) with high speed and lower incline segments (6km/hr @ 7% incline).  Each segment should initially be 10 mins (for a total of 1hr), gradually increased to 15-20 mins for a total of 90-120 mins on treadmill.

b) low speed (4.0 km/hr) at high incline (13.5-15%) for 70, 90 or 120 mins.

2. Help your muscles help you.  The Kili trek will entail approximately 80km over the course of 6 days, all the while carrying a 10kg backpack – you don’t want all that effort to be absorbed by your lower back.  So work at strengthening the V-Core (abdominals), the glutes, the upper legs and the calf muscles – their stamina will be critical during the ascent.  There are any number of ways to doing this: gym floor machines (abductor, adductor, etc), TRX, power plate, etc.  I am partial to TRX because I like the idea of using the weight of your own body to strengthen it.  Also, it’s extremely versatile.  Here’s part of my TRX bible:


4. Have fun.  Training all by your lonesome can be a boring, isolating and limiting experience.  I usually complement my treadmill and gym floor workouts with any of the following classes, to ensure a more structured and complete workout: intensive V-core, TRX, body conditioning or kettlebells.

3. Take it easy.  All this training is good in preparation for the ascent, but consistent, vigorous workouts can also lead to back problems and muscle tension.  Stretching for 10-15 mins at the end of each workout is therefore essential.  1-2 yoga or pilates classes/a week will also help relax your muscles and help them regain flexibility.

Conclusion: my routine generally involves an obligatory session on the treadmill (1-2 hrs), in combination with gym floor exercises (machines and/or TRX), and a class (V-core, body conditioning or kettlebells).

Average time: 2-3 hrs

Average calorie burn: 700-1000

Frequency: 4-5 times/week