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How To Train For Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp & Toubkal Mountains

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How To Train For Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, and Mount Toubkal 

(Even If You’ve No Local Mountains or Have Never Climbed a Mountain Before)

From: Dean McMenaimin. 

Army veteran, body transformation coach for men, hiker of mountains, and big eater of ice-cream. 

https://deanmcmenamin.co.uk/

So you’re getting ready for your big mountain adventure and want to be in the best physical (and mental) condition? 

I’ve got the training plan for you. 

First, a quick disclaimer: 

  1. If you have any injury concerns, it’s always best to consult with an injury specialist before taking on a physical training program to get clear on how to make it work for you. 
  2. Any form of physical training has a risk of injury, take the Bucket List Companies advice on getting insured with their recommended company the day you book your trip, so if you experience some low odds of bad luck, you’re covered. 
  3. I refer to aches, pains, and stiffness throughout this. I’m talking about the general aches and pains that come from poor strength, flexibility, and mobility, often as a result of modern living, and how to fix this with proper training which also carries over to mountain hiking.  I’m not referring to any unique injuries you may have, and if you do, please see an injury specialist to help. 

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What This Program Will Do For You 

I built this with the most common hiking related fitness issues in mind: 

  • Knee pain (especially down hill): Knee pain and stiffness often comes from lack of strength of all the muscles and tendons leading in, calves, tibialis, quads, VMO, patella tendons etc. We’ll strengthen all of these with full range movements like FHL calf raises, Tibialis raises, knee over toe squats and split squats, plus Poliquin step ups. 
  • Tight calves and shin splints: We do thousands of calf raises every day walking around on flat, unnatural surfaces, rarely using full ranges of the ankle. Which makes for tight and weak calves and shins. We’ll fix this with full range calf training and Tibialis raises.
  • Lower back: Stiff and achy lower backs are often the result of poor hip strength and mobility, plus weak spinal erectors. The hip mobility drills, side planks, RDL’s, and core work will help you build a lower back of steel and strong core to protect your back. 
  • Lots of general aches, pains, and stiffness stem from poor mobility, lack of strength and frequent full use of your joints (don’t use it, you lose it), and poor posture (basically modern living). These issues are often amplified on big physical adventures such as EBC, Kilimanjaro, Toubkal, etc. The mobility and strength training here will help you eliminate any weak links and hike stronger 🙂 
  • The strength and mobility work covers you for EBC, Kilimanjaro, and Tobkal,I wouldn’t do anything different. There’s just some differences in distances covered each day, so that’s the only place you may want to have slightly different emphasis on the distances you build up to during training for your trip (There’s a section on this later). 
  • It’s also a great program to prepare you for general hiking all over the UK, so get stuck in regardless :). 
  • If you’re already following your own program you enjoy and don’t want to change much, I’ll add some notes at the end of essential parts to swipe and plug into what you’re already doing. 
  • Personally, I’ve only experienced the Kilimanjaro Marangu route and this program will prepare you for that just fine. Apparently, Kilimanjaro is harder than EBC and Toubkal, so whichever you’re doing, this will help. 

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How To Practice a Success Mindset 

Success with any program isn’t being able to stay motivated or stick to it perfectly. It’s about staying consistent, no matter how imperfect the process looks for you. 

If you start this 3-6 months out from your trip, and only manage 50% of the program, congratulations. You just got a whole lot stronger, flexible, and physically ready for your adventure. 

Some weeks you’ll get a good run at it, and others life has other plans. That’s normal. Here’s two critical traits to work on: 

1- ‘Wipe the Slate Clean Mentality’ 

Whenever you feel you’ve screwed up, missed workouts, fell off the wagon, whatever. Just wipe the slate clean and get back to your plan asap. Sure, take some lessons from what happened and use them to get 1% better. But don’t dwell over failures. Just move on. 

2 – The 1-10 Dial. 

Some weeks you’ll hit all your workouts but others you just won’t have time, energy, or the motivation. Let’s say level 10 is living like an athlete with multiple workouts per day. Most of us normal peeps are at around level 7 with 3-4 workouts per week on a good week. 

Let’s say level 0 is pizza, beer, and netflix after work. Basically zero effort. Level 2-3 might be just making time for your mobility work. Of even committing to just 1 set of every exercise. Or just getting 1 of the exercises done. Basically, doing what’s within your control, no matter how small. 

Failure comes from having an on and off switch. Success comes from turning the dial up and down to adapt to the ever changing obstacles of life. 

Results come from consistency, not perfection. This is how you create consistency. 

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How To Be Effective With Your Training Time 

This is a short, minimalist program to cover all the basis of strength, improved joint health and mobility. It’s simple so you can put it to action. 

But it might seem like a lot for you if you’re just getting started with fitness or new to following a professional program, that’s ok. It’s also going to take a bit of your time studying the exercise video demos. So don’t worry if you’re unable to get the full workouts done in your first couple of weeks. The main thing is getting started and building on it. 

To save time initially whilst becoming familiar with the exercises and your new routine, just do less sets… Rather than 3 sets of each exercise, do 2, or even 1 in the beginning. Each week or fortnight, increase the sets until you’re flowing through the full prescribed workouts. 

Consistency over perfection is key. Life will get in the way, you may find your fitness or ability is way lower than expected with some of these exercises, and that’s all fine. Progress comes from patience, persistence, and perseverance.

Equipment Needed

You could do this program with only a set of gymnastic rings (or a suspension trainer), pull-up bar, and simply add your rucksack with weight in to load up any weight lifting exercises. 

Ideally though, you would have access to gymnastic rings or a suspension trainer, a pull-up bar, resistance band, a pair of adjustable dumbbells, and a slant board. 

I want to make this program as easy to access as possible though, so I’ve added notes for alternatives of certain exercises on each workout. 

I’ll also add some recommendations for good places to buy equipment near the end of this,  if you want to build your own home training set up. 

Understanding The Program Terminology 

Where you see: 

1a) FHL calf Raises 2 x 15-25 x 30 sec 

1b) Tibialis Raises 2 x 15-25 x 30 sec 

1c) Poliquin Step up 2 x 10 x 30 sec

The 2 x 15-25 x 30 sec means you’ll do 2 sets or 15-25 reps resting 30 seconds between each set. 

Where the exercises are listed in a,b,c format it means: 

Do 1 set of these exercises in sequence, resting between each exercise. Then you’ll repeat the sequence to complete another set of each exercise, and repeat until all prescribed sets are done. 

Most of the workouts are listed in this fashion, except mobility training blocks don’t have rest between sets of each exercise. 

Warm Up Sets 

You only see the working sets prescribed for each of your strength exercises, you also need 2-3 gradually heavier, or easier variation warm up sets of around 5 reps to prepare you for the harder working sets. 

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How To Structure Your Training Week  

The program’s split into 2 phases. Phase 1 has 1 workout. You can do this 2 or 3 times per week for around 6-8 weeks.

If you can make time for 3 workouts per week, great. You’ll likely see faster progress. 

BUT. 

2 workouts per week is awesome and probably more practical if you’re limited with time and also need to get your trekking days in too. 

If going with 3 workouts per week you could run it like this: 

Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Or… 

Tue, Thu, Sat etc. 

With your non strength training days being more active recovery or ‘rucking’ days. 

For 2 workouts per week it could be any day as long as you have at least 1-2 active recovery days in between your strength training days. 

Phase 2: 

This phase progresses you by accumulating more variation in your strength and mobility movements to become a more complete program. You’ll also continue progressing performance in your movements from phase 1. 

I recommend sticking with this and progressing with these movements for anywhere between 12 – 24 weeks. You could even keep it going much longer. 

It has 2 separate full body training days. Rotate through these with the same weekly structure that worked best for you in phase 1. So on a 3 day per week cycle that could be…

Monday: Full body 1 

Wednesday: Full Body 2

Friday: Full Body 1

Monday: Full Body 2.

And so on.. 

On a 2 day per week cycle it would be the same way you did on phase 1, but alternating between full body 1 & 2. 

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How To Make Progress 

Your first couple of weeks on a new phase is about learning the new movements and skill development. You won’t be able to train new movements hard until you’ve mastered technique. It takes time. Once you have your form nailed, each workout I want you to make progress by beating your previous score (this is why you need to start keeping a training diary). 

For example, if last week you got 3 x 15, 13  on the FHL calf raise, this time you want to get at least 16, 14  reps. If you hit 3 x 13, 11, 7 on the goblet squat, this week aim for at least 14,12, 8 reps. 

Keep this focus going until you reach the top end of the prescribed rep range on all your sets. Then it’s time to increase the weight (or difficulty/variation on bodyweight exercises), drop the reps back down to the bottom of the prescribed range, and start slowly increasing the reps again. Rinse and repeat this process for as long as possible. 

Your first point of progres will always be improved form and control, though. If you feel you can do better with owning the movement by slowing it down and staying in more control (which increases difficulty itself) always make this step first, before adding reps or weight. 

Basically, by the end of each phase, you want to have taken your ability with all these movements from where you’re at right now, to improved form, range of movements at your joints, and ability to lift more weight/do more reps. 

Rucking Progression & Distances To Build Up To…

I recommend 1-2 days per week of trekking, building up your distances and weight carried towards that of your trip, from around 3-4 months out. Obviously, the more time you give yourself the better. 

The maximum weight you’ll likely carry in your rucksack on the EBC, Kilimanjaro, or Toubkal trek with the Bucket List Company is around 9kg. So, start with 5kg for a couple of weeks, then increase to 7kg, and then 9kg. 

Build up to around 80% of the max distances of your trip by 3 weeks out, then start to scale back your efforts to make sure you’re feeling fresh and well recovered for the trip. 

Getting out on the hills is ideal, but few have this luxury. If it’s not an option for you, just find ways to walk more on your daily commutes, with bigger walks on weekends if possible, whilst building up your rucksack weight, and you will do fine. 

Distances for each trip…

Everest Base Camp: 

You’ll trek roughly 10-18 km each day on EBC. The treks on this seem to be a lot longer than Kilimanjaro, but nowhere near as physically or mentally difficult. So use 18 km as your target distance to build up to. 

Kilimanjaro

From personal experience on Kilimanjaro Marangu route, you’ll do 10km from Horombo Huts to Kibo Huts (which is fairly easy), rest a few hours, then trek a hard 5.5km (6-8 hours) through the night up to the summit (where you may reflect deeply on your life), and then trek 15 km back to Horombo Huts from the summit. 

Although the leg from Horombo to Kibo before ‘summit day’ is classed as a separate day of trekking from summit day, it’s still 30.5 km within a close proximity, with sleep deprivation, effects of altitude, and one of the hardest summits you’ll ever do flung in to boot. Don’t take it lightly 🙂

Experienced tip from the top:  

If I were to do this again, I’d build up to a couple of back-to-back trekking days covering similar distances, or at least 80% of, with a camp and a couple of hard UK mountain summits in-between the distances. 

But maybe no closer than a month out from the trip, just in case I picked up any niggles or strains, to give me good recovery time before the big one. 

Toubkal: 

On Mount Toubkal summit day you’ll hike a total of 30 km. It’s only 5.9km from the refuge up to the summit, but after summiting you’ll have lunch back at the refuge then the afternoon is spent reversing day 3 back to Imlil for your lift back to Marrakech.

Sounds like a very similar scenario as the Kilimanjaro summit day. So for our Toubkal Trek with Keith and the Bucket List Company, I’ll personally take a similar approach to my tip for the Kilimanjaro trek.

But, Keith tells me Toubkal is way easier than Kilimanjaro and EBC. 

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Active Recovery Days 

On your non strength training and rucking days, do something active. I recommend whatever you enjoy doing that’s low intensity as it promotes recovery and keeps you fit and healthy. 

It can be swimming, cycling, climbing, yoga, or simply a daily step target.I also think it’s smart to practice a short daily mobility routine, even if it’s just 10 minutes. Just stay active. 

I recommend at least 1 x 30-40 minute session per week of steady state cardio, kept at a pace you can maintain a conversation at throughout the session. This will improve your cardiovascular fitness plus boost your recovery from other workouts. 

It has to be kept in that conversational zone, though, otherwise it just becomes another hard session for your body to try and recover from, rather than a recovery aid. Ideally, it will be done on a rower, bike, or swimming pool to keep the impact on your joints low. If no access to any of this you could go power walking, whilst listening to the Bucket Lister Podcast 😀

Another way to judge the intensity of this session is using the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale of 1-10. 1 being easy and 10 being max effort. Keep it between 6-7 RPE. 

Now, let’s dive into your strength training program… 

(CLICK ON THE EXERCISE NAMES FOR DEMO VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE)

PHASE 1 

Mobility Training Block (also serves as warm up)

Complete 1 set of each exercise in sequence with no rest between sets, and repeat until all 3 sets of each exercise are completed.

  1. Hump & Dump 3 x 5 
  2. Deep Lunge Rotation  3 x 3 
  3. Prone Y to Handcuff to Cobra 3 x 5 
  4. 90/90 Rotation Progressions 3 x 10

Ankle, Knee, Calf & Shin Strength 

1a) FHL calf Raises 2 x 15-25 x 30 sec 

1b) Tibialis Raises 2 x 15-15 x 30 sec 

1c) Poliquin Step up 2 x 10 x 30 sec

Full Body Strength Circuit 

Complete a set of each exercise in a circuit fashion, resting 60 seconds between each set, until you’ve completed 3 sets of each: 

2a) Heels Elevated Cyclist Goblet Squat 3 x 10-15 x 60 sec 

2b) Press-Up Variation 3 x 8-15 x 60 sec 

2c) Inverted Row 3 x 5-10 x 60 sec 

PHASE 2 (2 Separate Training Days) 

Full Body 1 

Mobility Training Block 

Complete the following mobility exercises in circuit fashion, with no rest between exercises, until all sets or all exercises are done. 

  1. Hump & Dump 3 x 5
  2. Deep Lunge Rotation 3 x 3/3 
  3. 90/90 Rotation Progressions 3 x 3/3
  4. Knee over toe split squat 3 x 5/5 

Ankle, Knee, Calf & Shin Strength 

Complete 1 set of each exercise in sequence, resting 30 sec between each set/exercise, the repeat until you’ve completed 2 or 3 sets of each exercise. 

1a) FHL calf Raises 2-3 x 15-25 x 30 sec 

1b) Tibialis Raises 2-3 x 15-15 x 30 sec 

1c) Poliquin Step up 2-3 x 10 x 30 sec

Full Body Strength Block 

Complete a set of each exercise in a circuit fashion, resting 60 seconds between each set, until you’ve completed 3 sets of each: 

2a) Romanian Deadlift 3 x 6-12 x 60 sec 

2a) Bodyweight Inverted Row 3 x 5-10 x 60 sec 

2b) Ring Press-Up 3 x 5-10 x 60 sec 

Rotational Strength 

3) ½ kneeling rotation 2 x 8-15 x 30 ses 

Notes: If you don’t have dumbbells you can wear a loaded rucksack and do a good morning exercise in place of the RDL, although you may become limited to how much weight you can add and progress eventually. You could also opt for bodyweight straight bridge progressions, shown here: 

https://youtu.be/8fOLh9ICIGg

If you can’t do ring press ups (yet) then just stick with the press-up progressions from phase 1 and continue making progress with those until you are able to start on rings. 

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Full Body 2

Mobility Training Block 

Complete the following mobility exercises in circuit fashion, with no rest between exercises, until all sets or all exercises are done. 

  1. Hump & Dump 3 x 5 
  2. ½ Kneeling Rotate & Bend 3 x 5/5
  3. Prone Y to Handcuff to Cobra 3 x 5 
  4. Side Plank Progressions 2 x 20 sec

Ankle, Knee, Calf & Shin Strength 

Complete 1 set of each exercise in sequence, resting 30 sec between each set/exercise, the repeat until you’ve completed 2 or 3 sets of each exercise. 

1a) FHL calf Raises 2-3 x 15-25 x 30 sec 

1b) Tibialis Raises 2-3 x 15-15 x 30 sec 

1c) Poliquin Step up 2-3 x 10 x 30 sec

Full Body Strength Block

Complete 2 working sets of the Russian step up per leg, before moving  onto the full body circuit where you’ll complete a set of each exercise in a circuit fashion, resting 60 seconds between each set, until you’ve completed 3 sets of each: 

2) Russian Step Up 2 x 8-12 x 60 sec 

3a) Heels Elevated Cyclist Goblet Squat 3 x 10-20 x 60 sec  

3b) Active Hang to L Hang Progressions  3 x 10-20 sec x 60 sec

3c) Standing 1 arm press 3 x 6-12 x 60 sec

Notes: If you don’t have dumbbells for the step ups or squats, you can wear your rucksack with added weight. You can also do another press-up variation in place of the standing 1 arm press. 

Recommended (Optional) Daily Mobility 

Daily physical hygiene is important to good health and fitness. And probably the most important things to work on and maintain is your mobility and flexibility since we lose this as a byproduct of modern living. 

It’s also a great fallback of bare acceptable minimal movement for the day on times life takes over or you just aren’t up for a full workout. 

Here’s simple routine I’d recommend as daily practice, which can be as little as 10 minutes: 

  1. Neck Mobility Drills x 3
  2. Hump & Dump x 5
  3. Deep Lunge Rotation x 3/3 
  4. 90/90 Rotation progressions x 6
  5. Ankle circles x 3/3

Do 3 rounds of the circuit or however many you have time for. 

Essential Swipes If You Want To Stick to What You’re Already Doing

If you’re already a fitness enthusiast, following a good program and don’t want to change it, that’s cool. No one program is the holy grail and you can reap the benefits with a few tweaks to what you’re already doing. 

Like Bruce Lee said: 

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is specifically your own”

Plug these in somewhere in your routine every week: 

  • The mobility work. If you don’t already do any specific mobility training, this can change the game for you. 
  • A set or two of the knees over toes split squats, Poliquin step ups, FHL calf raises and tibialis raises. 
  • If you aren’t already doing so, a set or two of RDL’s or back extensions. 

That’ll do. 

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Putting It All Together 

In an ideal world, you’d start at least 6 months out from your trip with 2 strength workouts, 1-2 trekking days, and 1 x 30-40 minute active recovery cardio sessions per week. Building up to your top distances and weights lifted around 3-4 weeks out. 

From 3-4 weeks out, keep training but do less volume. Drop a set or 2 of each exercise on your strength days, so shorter workouts, and gradually reduce the distances of your trekking days. 

This will let you recover plus reduce the risks of any last minute injuries before your trip. 

In risk of sounding like a broken record, perfect on paper is hard to replicate in real life. All this is just a guide and something for you to aim for so you head in a positive direction. Expect set backs, off weeks, and a bumpy road. Stick with the process and you’ll be grand. 

Equipment Recommendations 

Below are some companies I’m affiliated with because I use and recommend their equipment to clients who are very happy with them: 

>> Tap Here For Adjustable Dumbbells and Bench From Brain Gain Fitness <<

>>Tap Here For Gymnastic Rings, Weighted Vests, and Much More From Bulldog Gear<< 

Final Words 

Remember, consistency trumps perfection. Put the program into action to the best of your ability, consistently, and it’ll help prepare you physically for your trip. 

It’s been a pleasure designing this program and I’d love to hear how you get on with it. I’m also happy to answer questions, and give advice on any challenges you may be finding with it. If you’re already in The Bucket List FaceBook group, tag me in (Dean McMenamin) on any questions in there, or you can email me at [email protected].

Additionally, for the guys reading this, I also have free body transformation guides for men over 35 on my website, the nutrition, habit creation and mindset guidance in those downloads will help support you a ton on this, get it here: 

https://deanmcmenamin.co.uk/

Good luck on your climb! 

Dean 

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