While for many, the idea of a holiday might be lounging by the pool and sipping on cocktails, in recent years, active escapes have become more popular than ever before. But just because Mt Kilimanjaro is on your bucket list, doesn't mean you can book the tickets and knock it off. No, you need to be physically ready so your body doesn't break down (un)expectedly. Fortunately, professional mountaineer Justaz Leonidas has teamed up with adventure travel company Intrepid Travel to put together a 10-step training guide to make sure you're ready to tackle the tallest mountains and longest hikes.
Start walking now (it’s never too early to start training)
This may seem like the most obvious step to start with (pardon the pun), but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it. The best way to prepare for a really long walk? Do some really long walks. You should start with small-ish distances and work up to the length you’ll be trekking on your trip. When you start your training, leave a day in between each walk to let your body recover. But as your body gets fitter, try to do back-to-back sessions each day – it’ll help build your stamina for the relentless nature of a ten-day trek, where you won’t have the luxury of rest days. Ideally, you want to be able to walk 4-6 hours – comfortably – before you leave.
Make leg-based cardio part of your routine…
As well as doing long walks, you should also work some leg-based cardio into your daily routine. Cycling is awesome for building up muscle in your legs, but soccer, football, squash and swimming are all great too. If you’re more into gym workouts, mix up your spin classes or cycling bursts with squats and lunges (the more weight, the better).
…and take the stairs every chance you get
Stair climbing is also a good one for building up calves and quads, so take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator when you’re at work or the train station.
Make sure you’re walking properly
You’ve been doing it since you were around one year old, but it’s super important to monitor how you’re walking and if you’re doing it correctly. Make sure you’re hitting the ground with your heel first, then rolling onto your toe, which propels you onto the next step (this will help reduce the risk of shin splints and tendon pulls – ouch). Walk with your head up, eyes forward and shoulders level.
Mix up your training terrain…
When you’re on your trek, it’s unlikely you’ll be walking on level footpaths and roads, so avoid training solely on level footpaths and roads. Instead, try to train on surfaces that will be similar to the trails on the trek. If you’re heading to Everest or Kili, aim to train on steep, rocky terrain and loose shale; if it’s Kokoda, try to find muddy paths. It’s really important you prepare your feet, ankles and knees for the stress they’ll experience on the trip.
…and walk in all types of weather
It’s also unlikely you’ll get ten straight days of perfect weather on your trek, so prepare yourself for all conditions by walking in cold, windy, rainy, warm and humid conditions (where possible, of course!).
Try using walking poles
When you’re navigating Kili’s gravel trails or lumbering down Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail, walking poles will become your new best friends. They take the pressure off your knees on the downs and give you extra support on the ups. Incorporate poles into your training sessions so you get used to walking with them.
Train with a backpack
On almost all of our trekking trips, you won’t be carrying your main pack, but you will need to carry a small daypack, stocked with essentials like your camera, snacks, sunscreen, water and wet-weather gear. So with all your days/weeks/months of training, make sure you’re challenging yourself with a weighted bag. If you really want to push it, take a few extras, so it’s a little heavier than what you’re planning to hike with on the trip – it’ll make the eventual trek feel like a walk in the park (chortle).
Keep the tank fuelled
It’s SO important you’re stocked with enough water and food during a trek (hydration is key!). Nuts, dried fruit, muesli bars and chocolate are all good, quick sources of energy and protein; keep a selection of these healthy snacks in your daypack. Also, bring along a reusable canteen; alpine streams are usually a great source of fresh water, but our guides provide boiled (and cooled) water daily throughout your trek. While you’re in training-mode, try to eat and drink ‘on the go’ as much as you can, so your body can get used to digesting during strenuous exercise.
Invest in a good pair of shoes
Your feet are your most crucial body part on a trek, and it doesn’t take much to keep them in toe-tappingly tip-top shape. First, invest in a pair of good-quality, water-resistant hiking boots; you want plenty of support and ventilation too. Then, wear them in. How do you do this? Wear ‘em everywhere. On your training runs, on walks to the shops, to work, to formal events (well, maybe not). You get the idea though; by wearing them in as much as possible in the weeks and months leading up to the trek, it’ll help avoid blisters, bunions and lost toenails. Then, stock up on a few pairs of really good hiking socks (preferably a wool/nylon blend), that will wick moisture and keep your feet dry. If you want to get a bit crazy, wear two pairs while walking to
Every now and again you get to spend time on a trip with a living legend, and Justaz Leonidas is one such man. He has now summited Kilimanjaro (5986m) more than 300 times, and the majority of those summits he is accompanying a group of travellers who have challenged themselves to make it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain.