The Perfect Training Workout to Climb a Mountain


What does it take to get ready to climb Africa’s highest peak? (Photo: Thinkstock)

In just three weeks I will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for my honeymoon. We are doing the Marangu route with Intrepid Travel, a five-day hike along the most direct path to the summit of Kilimanjaro that goes through forests and alpine meadows, over rocky ravines and past lunar landscapes to the summit of Africa’s highest peak.

Naturally everyone keeps asking me if I am in training. The truth is that it is hard to “train” for Kilimanjaro. The climb is not technically difficult, but the altitude can make it a real beast, so hiking and endurance training are pretty much the only things you can do to get ready.

I enlisted the help of celebrity trainer Emily Cook Harris, the founder and head trainer for EMpowered, to devise a training routine for the weeks leading up to the big climb.

Related: I’ve Climbed Kilimanjaro More Than 250 Times

“You need strength to safely and effectively climb a mountain, as well as the muscle endurance to do so for hours,” Harris told us. “So we’ve put together a full-body strength training circuit, emphasizing your lower body and core. You will move immediately from one exercise to the next to get both strength and cardio benefits from this one circuit.”

The keys here are:

Minimal rest period. Your endurance must be high in order to be successful in climbing a mountain.

Elevation. Your body needs to be more efficient at utilizing oxygen because there is less oxygen available at higher altitudes. The better your cardio conditioning, the easier it will be to breathe!

Uneven terrain. Strength training in multiple planes can help prevent injury when faced with unpredictable terrain while climbing. We want to move the body in many different planes to prepare for the uneven terrain.

Related: I Lost My Home, My Job, and My Marriage — So I Climbed Kilimanjaro

A strong body will make for a more enjoyable climb. You’ll be able to take in the sights and fully engage in the experience rather than thinking how tired your legs are or getting injured (no fun).


1. DB alternating step-ups (1 minute)

Holding two dumbbells by your side, step up on an elevated platform. Engage the core and drive through the heel as you stand to activate your glutes. Once both feet are on, step back down. Repeat movement, starting with the opposite leg. Move quickly with good form for 1 minute, alternating legs.

2. Curtsy step-downs (30 seconds each leg)

Stand with one foot on an elevated platform and a slight bend in the knee. The other leg is crossed behind at a diagonal. Slowly hinge at the hips and lower the crossed leg toward the floor, keeping the core engaged. Tap the floor with the back leg and then stand back up on the platform. Repeat for 30 seconds on one side, then switch legs and complete for 30 seconds on the other side.

3. DB renegade row to pushup (1 minute)

Begin in a high plank position with dumbbells in hand, shoulders over the wrists. Perform a row with each arm, driving the elbows past the ribs while keeping the hips parallel to the floor (tip: widen your feet for more stability!). Then complete a pushup, lowering your chest toward the floor and keeping the core engaged. Alternate between the row and pushup for 1 minute.

4. Kneeling get up with knee drive (30 seconds)

Start with both knees on the ground, torso upright and holding one dumbbell at chest level. Bring one knee forward so the foot is flat on the floor in a 90-degree angle. Push through the heel and drive the back knee forward as you stand. You should feel your core and standing leg glutes engaged. Slowly go back down to the kneeling position and repeat by bringing the other leg forward, alternating for 30 seconds.

5. Superman (30 seconds)

Lying on your stomach, extend arms out in front of the body. Simultaneously raise arms, legs, and chest off the ground to make a U shape, while keeping a neutral neck. Hold for a couple beats then slowly lower back to the floor. Repeat movement for 30 seconds.

6. Walking lunges (1 minute)

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step forward with one leg and bend both knees to a 90-degree angle. Make sure the torso stays upright and the front knee does not go over the toe. Press through the heel of the front foot to stand up and swing the back leg forward into another lunge. Continue traveling forward, alternating lunges for 1 minute.

7. Wall sit with med ball tap knee to wall (30 seconds)

Lean against a wall with feet at shoulder width and knees bent in a 90-degree angle. Hold a medicine ball with arms extended, and slowly raise the ball overhead to tap the wall. Then lower the ball to tap the knees, keeping the shoulders down and core tight, pressing your back into the wall. Repeat movement for 30 seconds.

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