It should not surprise anyone that climbing Kilimanjaro takes good fitness. You are ascending to 19,340 feet under the power of your own two legs. And at that altitude, the oxygen is half of what it is at sea level. There are two challenges here. You need enough leg strength and endurance to climb. You have to acclimate to the altitude.
Bearing these components in mind, there is training you can do that will greatly help you in your efforts.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is kind of a misnomer because it’s a hike! That means there are no mountaineering skills needed. You don’t need to rock climb, or use pick axes. There is no need for ropes and harnesses. You just walk.
Hiking should be the main exercise you do. All forms of walking will help, but the best hiking would be on trails that have sufficient elevation gains. Additionally, try to hike for 4 or so hours to build endurance. Both strength and endurance are important.
On Kilimanjaro, most days you will gain about 2,000 feet in elevation per day. On the summit attempt, you will climb 4,000 feet then descend 9,000 feet. You can be on the trail for as long as 15 hours. This is what you are preparing for.
2. STAIR CLIMBING
If making it to the trails is not a realistic option for you, you can still find ways to simulate hiking by stair climbing or on a stair climbing machine. Many people have successfully climbed Kilimanjaro while never stepping foot onto a real mountain beforehand.
Approach stair climbing and using a stair machine in the same way as you would hiking. Make sure your sessions include enough altitude gain and time.
3. TRAIL RUNNING
Why run? Because it not only will build leg strength and endurance, but it will improve your cardiovascular and respiratory function. Remember we said that there are two challenges on the mountain, and your ability to use less oxygen than normal is increased with cardio exercise.
Trail running is better than pavement running or using a treadmill, but use your judgement about what you can do without getting injured.
4. WEIGHT TRAINING
On Kilimanjaro, you will carry a daypack. Doing weight bearing exercises for your legs will help you. Squats, leg presses, one legged squats are the recommended exercises. Secondary exercises are leg extensions and hamstring curls.
What about the upper body? If you like, do them. But they won’t matter on Kilimanjaro.
Crossfit is so popular now. If this is your main form of exercise, you do not have to stop. Keep it up because general fitness is key for acclimatization. The fitter you are, the easier it is to acclimate. However, we strongly urge that Crossfitters add hiking or stair climbing to building hiking endurance.