For all its expected physical and psychological benefits, mountain climbing can easily earn itself a bad reputation for the torture it seems to mete.
Most of adventurous Kenyans who have stuck to it, however, swear that once someone loses weight through hiking, they never regain it easily.
Nicholas Shiribwa, a trainer who organises hiking tours shies away from confirming or denying the rumour but says hiking is a very effective exercise.
‘‘I have been hiking for the last 10 years and I can confidently say that there is a way that a hiking workout supersedes a gym workout,” says Mr Shiribwa who founded Shiwan Adventures.
In aerobics or Zumba, for instance, exercises are repetitive but with mountains, the terrains are not the same.
The trainer who has climbed more than 30 mountains says hiking increases the heart rate hence it is a good cardio exercise, it regulates the blood sugar, builds bone density, strengthens the core and various body muscles, improves balance and controls weight. Other benefits, according to Mr Shiribwa who is eager to spread the gospel of hiking for fitness, says it “boosts self esteem, lowers the blood pressure and cholesterol.”
Mr Shiribwa believes that everyone can fall in love with climbing mountains and hills and that people who fear the outdoor activity are not properly trained to tackle the tough terrains.
“You cannot not just join a team and then start hiking straight away without preparing,” he says.
“People who do that do not enjoy themselves and if you do not enjoy hiking you will never do it again,” he adds.
Hiking is growing more popular as Kenyans seeks to unwind in beautiful terrains.
But mountain climbing without preparation leaves a person sore, breathless and unable to complete daily tasks long after the experience.
Before hiking, some workouts should be done.
“We prepare an exercise programme for you to do in a gym. If you cannot make it to the gym, we gauge your fitness levels and then you start exercising at home in preparation for the hike,” he says.
Burpees prepare the entire body for a hike by helping with cardio, flexibility, muscle building and lung capacity.
Participants begin in a standing position, then squat with their hands on the ground, then kick their feet back in a plank position, return to the squat position and eventually stand up again.
He says that apart from being unfit, something else that turns people away from hiking is negative surprises. “Get enough information about the mountain. Know some of the challenges that you may experience and get solutions of how you can overcome them,” says Mr Shiribwa. Additionally, start by climbing a less strenuous hill or mountain as you graduate to tougher terrains.
“We begin with friendly terrains to train the legs. Sometimes a person may think they are ready but their legs are not strong enough,” he says, adding that they can begin with treks and then assess a participant before giving them a go-ahead to climb mountains.
Mt Longonot and William Hills are best for trekking for beginners.
In the early stages, beginners can also do marathons to prepare for hikes.
The treks and marathons are followed by moderate hikes, which include the Aberdare Ranges and the Table Mountains.
These, Mr Shiribwa says, help hikers learn how to manage mountain sickness while burning more calories.
After many test-runs, seasoned hikers can then tackle Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro.