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Training for Mountaineering

What kind of physical condition should I be in for mountaineering?
Climbing requires strength & endurance. Being in sound physical condition is the single most important aspect for climbers to maximize their climbing potential. The better your physical condition, the more likely you are to perform well and have an enjoyable experience. Climbers typically underestimate the fitness level needed to fully enjoy their climb. Additionally, inadequate fitness has a direct effect upon the atmosphere, pace, and overall enjoyment of the trip for all team members.

Physical conditioning should be approached on two fronts:

Cardiovascular conditioning. Traditionally improved by activity sustained for at least 45-60 minutes,    4-5 times per week. Suggested activities include running, bicycling, swimming, stepping, etc. Proper stretching and warm-up are very important. 

Strength conditioning. Traditionally improved by training with free weights or Nautilus machines.

  • General conditioning for mountaineering: Hike steep outdoor trails with water weight added to your pack. A physical goal for the climb should be to ascend 3,500ft carrying 15-30lbs in a 2-3 hour period. Increasing amounts of water in collapsible plastic jugs can be carried to vary the workout and slowly work up to a heavier pack. (Water weight is suggested so that when the climb up is complete the weight can be dumped to save knees on the downhill return). If you are training in a gym you can use a “Step-Mill” machine that is similar to an escalator or even better an elliptical trainer. If not in a gym stairs or small hills also work well.  If you train indoors, be sure to work gradually up to training with a heavy pack & boots.
  • Conditioning your mind: One of the things that is often overlooked, yet is just as important as the physical training is the mental training and preparation. The best mental training you can do is to do each workout with your goal in mind, and the best way to do that is to simulate your workout to the desired goal. Example – Your goal is to climb Kilimanjaro, and you need to be able to hike for up to 12 hours at a time at high altitude in a cold, wet, muddy environment. Begin your workout with a warmup, which should be at a moderate to slow pace for 10 minutes. You are getting your mind set to begin the main part of your workout which should be at a higher intensity. During this high intensity workout, you should be breathing hard, sweating, feeling like you may want to stop at any moment. A good high intensity workout is running bleachers, or running hills. The reason for this type of workout is less about the physical training as it is the mental training. You are trying to simulate what it will be like on the mountain. The lower half of the mountain will be like a warmup, and as you climb higher your breathing will become more labored and at times you may want to stop or quit. But as you are in the middle of your high intensity workout imagine you are on the summit day pushing to the top. But it is not enough to make it to the top, you must also have enough strength and energy to make it down. Once you do 20 or 30 minutes of high intensity focusing on the summit, slow back down with a water break or a moderate paced exercise. You are enjoying the summit, or in this case your slowed heart rate. After a short 2 to 3 minute slowdown, or break begin another high intensity round. This will simulate the extra effort that it will take to get down the mountain. You must know that after a difficult journey to the top, you must summon enough mental strength to get yourself down. After the second high intensity round warm down for about 10 minutes, and enjoy your successful climb of Kilimanjaro. Never underestimate any mountain. Being over prepared is better than being under prepared. Make sure that you have a solid base of workouts before you try to over exert yourself too soon in your training. If you do this mental training several times a week along with your other workouts you will be better off than 90% of the people that step onto the mountain.

Enjoy and Good Luck,

Branndon Bargo

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