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Fitness for Kilimanjaro

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By Turtle - Posted on 27 September 2008

People planning a Kilimanjaro trek often want to know "am I fit enough for the climb?" Plenty of people with only average fitness levels make it to the top of Uhuru Peak, but on the other hand lots of marathon runners and other super-fit people have to turn back before reaching the summit. Success or failure depends more on how well your body adjusts to the altitude than on your fitness level (and the two are not so closely related). However, being in decent physical shape is still highly recommended, so that you will be able to enjoy the trek instead of suffering from exhaustion and sore muscles for 7 or so days!

If you're unsure about your fitness, we've done a survey of some of the fitness guidelines suggested by various Kilimanjaro tour operators below.

If you feel you need a pre-climb training plan to improve your fitness, start out with our simplified version: Walk. Lots. Preferably hills. We've also pulled together some more detailed training plans.

Kiliwarriors suggest running/walking 6 miles (10 km) on a hilly course as a fitness self-test. If it takes you more than 2 hours, you're definitely not fit enough, and less than 1 hour 15 minutes would be above average fitness for a Kilimanjaro climber. They say that from 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes would be about average for their clientele.

Team Kilimanjaro describes a simple "Multistage Fitness Test" you can do to estimate your VO2 max (VO2 max is a measure of your body's maximum oxygen uptake rate during exercise). The test involves running laps on a 20 m shuttle course while listening to an mp3 that sets a steadily increasing pace. The point in the mp3 at which you're no longer able to keep up the pace is used to estimate your VO2 max, and you can use this number to compare your fitness level to the general population.

We think that these are useful general tests to gauge your aerobic fitness, but they don't really capture the type of fitness that is most important for climbing Kilimanjaro. Rather than pusing your aerobic limit for a relatively brief duration, you will be walking at a moderate pace ("pole pole") over longer distances on your Kili trek. What's most important is being able to walk for around 6 hours a day for 7 days or so, plus an exhausting 12-16 hours on summit day (depending on the route you take). You should plan your training to include as many long walks or hikes as possible, preferably in hilly terrain to get your leg muscles used to ascending and descending (since you be doing a lot of both on Kilimanjaro!)

Turtle says "pole pole"