Finding Neutral

When talking about fitness and posture, you’ll often hear people refer to a neutral spine, but finding neutral can be harder than it seems for a natural position our body is supposedly supposed to have.  Most often in fitness when instructors say neutral they are referring to the low back and pelvis, but all our joints have a neutral position.  Experimenting with where your neutral is in the low back and pelvis is usually the easiest place to start.  So let’s experiment with finding neutral in different positions.

Neutral Lying Down

The easiest way to find neutral is to lie down on the floor with knees bent, feet on the floor.  This is the easiest position to find neutral because you can actually feel the floor (or not feel it).  When you press the lower back toward the floor, known as imprinting, you can usually feel the floor touching your lower back.  Conversely, or neutral you should have a slight arch in the lower back.  There should be some space between your spine and the floor.  There doesn’t have to be a lot of space and everyone’s neutral can be different.  Generally, the rule is that you should be able to fit one or two fingers between your back and the floor in neutral.  But create more and less space.  Notice where you feel the most comfortable.  Check for any sense of strain.  Try to feel out what your neutral feels like.

When you rock from neutral to imprint the motion should feel like it comes from the abdominals–not the butt, back or legs.  This is not a huge movement.  Make it large and chances are other parts of the body are getting involved.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wc6_IdfiPuo 

I’m not knocking instructors here.  I am one.  But I’ve trained with people who told me my neutral was way beyond my neutral, creating a really large arch in my back.  Have a dialogue with any instructor if something doesn’t feel right to you.  Any instructor worth their certification will want to know what you feel and talk to you about it.  What looks neutral to someone’s eye is helpful, but not guaranteed to be accurate.  You need to learn what you feel in your body.  And neutral should not feel like a place you have to strain to be.  It might feel different then you are used to, but not bad.

Neutral Sitting Down

Left: I’m slumped like I probably sit a lot throughout the day. Middle: I’m trying to sit neutral. Right: To actually get neutral I have to move forward on the chair or my legs are in the way of me getting in my neutral position.

Next you can try finding neutral while sitting.  If you are sitting on the floor with your legs straight out, finding neutral is probably impossible for most people.  It will probably be easier to sit in a chair or at least sit slightly elevated.  If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, the instructor probably referred to your sitz bones.  Those are the bones on either side of your butt.  To sit neutral you need to be on top of them.  When we sit most of us, even in a chair with our legs bent and feet on the floor, will tuck under and rock back onto a more fleshy part of our butt.  Sitting on the floor will exacerbate this even further.  The average person is probably not going to risk rocking beyond neutral and creating too large of an arch in the back when sitting, though it can happen.  Check to see if you are sitting right on top of those boney protrusions in your butt.

Neutral Standing

Yes people stand the way I am on the right.

When standing you can’t feel the floor beneath your back or the seat beneath your sitz bones, so it gets hard to sense yourself in space.  You can tilt the pelvis under or stick it out, but you can also push it forward in space or back in space.  This is where it’s time to start playing a game and checking in with your own body.  I often check-in to see my alignment when I’m standing in line or pumping gas.  Start by accessing where your weight is. Do you have more weight over your toes or in your heels?  If you look sideways in a mirror is your pelvis pushed forward or back?  Generally, although we are all a little different, you pelvis should be over your heels and over your knees. Then your shoulders should be stacked over your pelvis.  Look in a mirror and experiment.  Then try to find that position without the mirror.  It can feel different every day.

Neutral Moving—Like a Squatting or Walking

Yes, people squat the way I am on the right. When you see it, it helps you feel it.

Our body can move in so many ways.  The pelvis and spine should not stay neutral through all of them.  It’s able to move, round, arch, twist and we want to maintain all those types of movement.  That being said when you exercise it’s important to ensure the back is safe, so if your pelvis is supposed to be neutral, it’s important to learn what that feels like.  Starting with standing is helpful.  Then consider neutral in other types of movement.

Think of a squat.  Often when people do a squat they tuck their tailbone between their legs as they bend their knees, but the pelvis should remain neutral.  So even when you are doing a big range, full body motion, it’s beneficial to consider what your pelvis is doing and how it’s moving.  Ask, how is this large movement affecting my back?

When you walk if you have a tendency to tuck the tailbone under, you may reduce the range of motion in your leg and how your glutes (or butt) can fire to propel you forward.  In the United States, many people have a pelvis that is tucked under and a lower back without it’s natural curve.  So when in doubt stick it out.

I’ve read articles that state that fitness professions and physical therapists put too much emphasis on posture and alignment.  The reality is everyone’s body is different.  I’ve worked with people that don’t feel comfortable in what looks like neutral for their body or don’t find relief in what appear to be neutral positions.  That’s why it’s important to tell any practitioner you are working with what you feel.  We may be experts in our field, but you are the best expert in your body.  And no human is made in perfect symmetry, which certainly throws a wrench in the perfect posture game.  That being said, it’s not about perfection.  It’s about what feels good and finds you relief.  It’s about having some control of how your body moves in space.  The more you can experiment with your body, the more comfortable you will be in your body.  Your neutral may be different than your neighbor’s neutral.  Each day the body is a puzzle we have to figure out and experiment with. Play with yours.

Plank Story: Elementary school games

This lovely lady helps make life extra fun.

This is an oldie, but a goodie from over a decade ago.  My friends were turning twenty-five.  It may be laughable now, but we were struggling with aging and growing up.  I’m actually more comfortable with getting older now than I was then.  Since today is Julie’s, my best friend from elementary school, birthday, it seemed only fitting to pull this from the archive.  Happy Birthday, Julie.  And to every twenty-five-year-old: it’s going to be okay.

Elementary School Games

Upon turning twenty-five, in Peter Pan fashion, Julie planned a birthday party for herself filled with elementary school games like bombardment, kick ball, and spud.

On average, I’d guess the attendees at the party were between twenty-five and thirty-five.  The point is, we would be categorized a young, at least according to my grandma.

After five hours of playing games designed for children, I injured my hip (which would result in a visit to a physical therapist), Julie’s right ear became permanently attached to her right shoulder due to a kink in her neck (that required massage and physical therapy to undo), and Matt hurt his back (a previous injury that within a year would cause him to visit a PT too).  There were others limping and moaning in the group.  I am unaware of how everyone felt when they awoke the next morning, but I suspect others were also feeling muscles and joints they’d spent their entire lives trying to ignore.

Playing elementary school games did not have the desired effect.  We didn’t feel young.  The pain and stiffness made us feel really old.

Now, in fairness to all of us, we played these games for eight hours on and off with easily a solid five hours of play time.  An elementary school gym class usually lasts under an hour.  Perhaps even in our younger years we could have pulled, tweaked, and torn something if we’d had the stamina and attention span to play anything for an entire workday.

We also may have pushed through some of the pain in a joint effort to convince ourselves that we were still young—a choice that would, in fact, make us appear a bit infantile.

Knowing that a game called spud could knock you back for a week wasn’t a depiction of the glorious days of youth we were seeking.  But the day was a lot of fun with a lot of laughs.  A good laugh will always make your feel young.  Laughter can make you forget any worry.

We may have had more fun playing then we did when we were kids.  And all the injuries are now resolved or stemmed from earlier injuries from when we were really young, which shows that you can get hurt at any age.

I’d like to say that the lesson learned is that age is only a number and that our bodies are as svelte as they were in our youth, but I found the opposite was true.  Eight hours of playtime took a harder toll on our muscles and joints than it had a decade or two ago.

But that’s the truth. That’s life.  Workouts get harder, cells die, full time jobs and kids get in the way of fitness routines.  Yet all of that isn’t an excuse to stop moving.  Stopping will create immobility.  Yes, we ached, but were being active, making fitness fun.  I have no doubt that moving through all the aches and pains will keep us younger longer.  We’ve got to move.

Over ten years later, Julie and I still move together.  She’ll walk with me.  She’ll run and hike with me. For my birthday she swam in Jell-o with me.  She got me into kick boxing, and she once made me ride a divvy bike.

Get the most out of your ab workouts

Most people I’ve met want fabulous abs.  Others are looking for ways to strengthen and support their back knowing that abs play a roll.  Whichever desire motivates us (and sometimes it’s both), we often make time for ab exercises.  That’s great, but if you’re going spend time doing ab workouts, let’s make sure you are working them the best you can without hurting other parts of your body.  Here are some ways to get the most out of your ab workouts.

 

  • Knees over Hips

It’s really easy for the knees to creep in, but keeping them over your hips will create a lot more ab work.

There are lots of exercises for the abs where the legs are in the bent in the air.  Often on these exercises the knees start to creep in over the stomach instead of staying over the hips.  If that happens because you are taking pressure off the back, that’s a form of modifying, but know that you want to build up to being able to support your legs in tabletop position (with the knees and hips at 90-degrees).  It’s not worth straining the back over, but when you can keep the legs in that position you’ll be targeting your abs more.  If your knees are accidently creeping in, experiment with getting them right over your hips.  You should feel your abs working a ton more.  If you don’t, make sure you abs are working and staying engaged.

  • Maintain Imprint

It’s hard to tell her, but my low back is really arching and I’ve lost the connection with my abs.

Imprint is when you press your lower back toward the ground, slightly tucking the tailbone between your legs.  We use it as a tool to keep the back safe while doing exercises with the legs in the air.  When we are imprinted with the legs in the air, it’s extremely hard to hold imprint.  Very fit people often take this challenge for granted.  If you move the legs too far away from your torso and lose imprint, you might feel like you are make the exercise bigger.  The bigger motion may mentally feel better like we are doing more, but really, if the back arches, you have lost the connection with the abs and are putting the back at risk.  That doesn’t mean you can’t safely do an exercise in neutral with the legs in the air.  But it’s one thing to make a decision to work in neutral and another to lose your connection and wind up in neutral, or worse beyond neutral with a large arch in your low back.  If you are UNABLE to maintain imprint when you intend to with the legs in the air, it’s not worth moving the legs much.  Move less.  Get more ab work.  The movement might feel a lot smaller, but your abs will be getting a much bigger workout.

  • Variety

We have multiple abdominal muscles.  They can bend us side to side, curl us up, rotate us and support our spine.  Use them all.  People often focus on curling up and down and oblique twists, but remember you can work the abs by lifting the upper body off the floor or bringing the legs into the air when you are lying on your back.  You can work the abs in a plank position without the body even moving or you can sit tall and hinge away from your thighs and work your abdominals on the long end.  You can sit still and actively engage your abdominals and release them. Change up your routine and get the most out of your ab work.

  • Stop Flinging and Thrusting

It’s really frustrating when you can’t do an exercise yet.  But using momentum to get yourself up puts your neck and back at risk without strengthening your abs.  Trying to build strength that way will never get you the results you want.  You’ll always have to thrust yourself up.  Break down the exercise.  Try to stop worrying about whether you get up and instead work to feel your abdominal muscles as much as you can.  This can be really frustrating, I know.  But think of the line, “it’s the journey, not the destination.”  That’s true when we are working the abs.  Thrusting the body up to make it look like we are doing a particular ab exercise isn’t really doing it.  Doing the part you can currently do may not feel like you are doing the full exercise either, but at least you are working your abs.

  • Work Eccentrically

Remember to work the abs on the long end.  An eccentric contraction is when the muscle gets longer.    You don’t always have to round forward or curl to work the abs.  You can sit up tall and hinge away from your legs.  This will help with upright posture.  We live in a world where we slouch so curling up all the time can exacerbate the problem.  When you do exercises that bend you backward and focus on the upper back, recognize those are important for the abdominals too.  The abs need to extend and lengthen.

  • Check-in: Do You Feel Your Abs

Look how uncomfortable and tense my neck and shoulders are here. When that happens other muscles are firing to do the work of the abs.

It’s really easy to move through an exercise, especially one you think you know well, and miss all the gains.  Take time to notice if you are feeling your abs.  If the answer is no, it’s time to alter the way you are doing the movement so you can feel them.  If the answer is yes, next ask whether you feel anything else.  Is your back or neck sore or working?  If they are straining, it’s also time to alter the exercise.  If they are working, it’s possible they are helping the abs and there might be a way for you to feel your abs even more.    Do your shoulders pop up to help the abs?  Can you relax them.

Plank Story: Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro

We are currently standing on Mt. Kili with the peak behind us. That’s how big the mountain is.

Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro was a spectacularly grand adventure and simultaneously self-inflicted torture.  On the first night I accidentally peed in my sleeping bag and broke my headlamp.  The sleeping bag and headlamp were both much needed tools on the mountain.

That’s me and Matt sitting on the right in the orange jacket. Photo from ready_freddy_123 on Instagram     

Day Three

On Day three I wrote in my journal: When you look back on this trip as a positive experience, remember it is not.  You are miserable.  This is terrible.  You did this to yourself.  Vacation normally flies by but if you want vacation to pass slowly hike Mt. Kilimanjaro.

That was a breaking point for me.  I’d been up the first two nights shivering.  Lack of sleep and freezing nighttime temperatures forced me to figure out how I needed to get by on the mountain.  That night I put on nearly all my clothes and threw some heat warmers into my sleeping bag and finally slept.  A good night’s rest is a fabulous thing.

Days four, five & six

Photo from ready_freddy_123 on Instagram

Sleep and keeping warm made days four, five and six much better for me.  But that’s when others in our group started going downhill.  There was vomiting and diarrhea happening all over camp.  But to everyone’s credit they pushed through.  My stash of Imodium made me a very popular person on the mountain.  Two Imodium can get you a full-sized Snickers on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Having been in high altitudes, I anticipated struggling on day four when we hit 15,000-feet.  But I wasn’t having a tough time.  I was doing great.  Well, I call it mountain good.  All movement is slow.  At sea level you’d think something was wrong with you, but the mountain has a different wellness scale.  If you aren’t vomiting or crapping your pants, you are doing great on Kilimanjaro.

Trying to trek across the dusty trails of Mt. Kili is the most humbling experience I’ve ever had.  There I was feeling impossibly cold with all my gear from EMS, REI and Cabela’s.  I was exhausted and unwell a lot aka “mountain good.”  But the porters would get up in the morning, give us tea, prepare us food, break down camp, pack up camp, carry all the parts of camp plus water to the next camp hours before our arrival, set up camp, start dinner, transport our private toilet and clean that toilet daily.  That’s what they did.  Some of them wearing only penny loafers and long-sleeved t-shirts. The rest of us had the goal of getting ourselves from point A to point B.  And when we arrived at camp, the porters sang for us.  My personal struggles and watching what the porters did, often with a smile, reminded me how easy my life at home is.

Look closely for little specs. Those are people zig zagging up that wall. Photo thanks to ready_freddy_123 on instagram.

Day Five

Day five I conquered the Barranco Wall.  I didn’t know it was coming, but it’s basically hours of switchbacks up the edge of a cliff.  Most of our group thought this was the best day on the trail.  It was certainly the most fun to hike, but I’m terrified of heights.  If there wasn’t a whole team of people assuring me it was safe and porters walking with objects balanced on their heads, I may have turned back.  And when someone in your group is vomiting at every switchback while the guides hold her hair back, you put on your big girl panties and tell yourself, “if she can do this, I can do this.”  We each had our own battles to fight on any given day.

Though we all had a lack of appetite, our meals with our fellow hikers were some of our best moments along the route.  We laughed, we teamed up against the guides who wanted us to eat more, we warmed our fingers under our butts and on cups of tea before trying to read our oxygen levels, and we talked about our bodily functions as if that was normal dinner conversation.  In an instant we became family with strangers.

Summit Day

On summit day, the guides wake you up at 11pm to start hiking at midnight.  You try to get some sleep the night before.  I’d been so nervous about reaching the top of this mountain, and right before falling asleep I thought, “I’ve been so worried about this hike and I’m doing so much better than I expected.  I’m going to do this tomorrow.  And it’s going to be really emotional when I get to the top.”  With that thought came a sense of calm.  The most peace I’d felt on the mountain at night.  The most peace I’d felt about this entire trip in months.  I fell asleep and slept two hours, which is pretty good for summit night.

I awoke with a mixture of nerves and excitement.  When we started hiking I was doing well.  I was keeping up with the group.  We were moving slowly.  A couple people in our group were sick and we had to stop occasionally.  I was impressed with myself that I wasn’t vomiting.  Again, on this mountain there is an entirely different scale of how you rate your daily successes. The people pushing through puke endlessly impressed me.  Having been altitude sick, I didn’t understand how they could keep moving, but up they went.  The guides were encouraging of everyone who was ill.  They reminded them this was normal and it was okay.

I was doing fine until I wasn’t.  It felt like a rapid deterioration.  My brain felt like it was shrinking.  I can’t quite explain what that feels like.  It’s not actually painful.  It doesn’t feel like a headache.  I felt like I weighed 500-pounds and that gravity was crushing me.  I could barely stand.  My entire back hurt, but my neck was in agony as if my head was massive—too much for the small muscles of my neck to support.  I’m pretty sure I was falling asleep while walking which made me tense, but not as nervous as the fact that I felt like I really couldn’t coordinate my trekking poles anymore.  And I lost some control over my left leg.  I would take a small step and drag my left leg along.  After a short break with some water, I tried to move again.  Ten steps later I required another break.  I think I attempted this three times, when I knew I was not going to make it up the mountain.  I remember feeling at the time that I never needed to feel bad about not summiting because I didn’t have a choice.  One of the guides who had been encouraging the pukers for days looked at me and said, “Do not force this.  The mountain will be here.”  I wondered if he thought I was weaker or if he was assessing different symptoms.  My next thought was I’m never coming back to this mountain.  Then I cried.

The Descent

I headed back down the mountain with Paulie, my favorite guide from the group.  He took my trekking poles and probably supported half my body weight for the return trip.  I took regular breaks.  It was like doing the walk of shame.  Everyone hiking up stepped to the side for me to descend, and I couldn’t look up at anyone.  It was demoralizing.  I was frustrated, embarrassed, disappointed and yet truly felt acceptance for the need to turn around.  I was okay with what was happening, but I still cried on and off for the two hours it took me to get back to base camp.  All I wanted was my sleeping bag.  I’d made it over 17,000-feet. (Technically I got credit for 17,800-feet.)  Once back to base camp I slept for six hours until my fellow hikers were back from the summit.  They all made it to the top.

If you think the trip wasn’t great, know this was the night sky I got to look at every night. Photo care of ready_freddy_123 on instagram

I tell this story and I suspect the trip sounds awful.  It wasn’t.  I don’t regret any part of my journey.  I wish I made it to the top, but it’s also okay that I didn’t.  Looking back I love even the parts I hated.  Every day that the mountain moves further in my past, I love the trek more.   It’s why if I ever think of going again, I need to reread day three in my journal.

Once we’d descended all the way and left the gates of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the guides drove us to lunch.  A man was playing the guitar, they served green beans, and I was done hiking.  I was intensely, truly happy.  It was one of those moments in life where you are acutely aware of your happiness.  It’s one of the ways that Kili remains humbling.  I was reminded of how little I really need to be happy.  Basically green beans and a seat.  Those were the basics, but my happiness was derived by more than that.  I was happy I’d come.  I was happy I’d hiked.  I was happy to be with the people sitting next to me.  I was happy it was over.

Oh, in case you are still wondering why it was I peed in my sleeping bag on night one.  I didn’t wet the bed.  Well, not exactly. Technically, the bed was pretty wet.  It was so cold that I didn’t want to get out of the tent to go to the bathroom.  I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag to go to the bathroom.  Erroneously I assumed that I could pee into a container without getting out of my sleeping bag.  I couldn’t.  But it took me a while to realize that I was failing at that task.  Slow to catch on: another example of mountain good.

For tips on hiking Mt. Kili.

For more of Freddy’s photos on Instagram.

Tips for Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro

When I was planning my trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro, I wish I could have found a list of tips for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro to help me prepare.  What’s out there is every tour organizations plug for why they are the best at getting people to the top, but not really helpful info from someone who had done it.  For the 35,000 people who hike the mountain each year, this lack of information is a gaping hole in the internet where you can usually find answers to everything.  Everyone has a different experience, and you may discover you have different needs than I did.  But after hiking, these are the things I wish I could have known earlier.  Each of these helped make my hike better and easier.  There is no particular order here.  I’d want them all.

Tips for Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro

  • Balaclava: Bring a balaclava for the journey. A thin one like they wear in the television show Survivor works best.  This becomes a very versatile tool.  You can cover your face to protect from dust and sun.  You can cover your nose to help warm the cold air a little so your nostrils get less dry and sore.  And you can keep your head warm at night.  Plus it helps mask the greasy hair you’ll eventually develop.
  • Pillow: Sleeping is hard on the mountain.  Making it as comfortable as possible helps.  I used the My Pillow Travel Size which had the added bonus of being compressible so I could fit it in my stuff sack with my sleeping bag.
  • Join a Group: I knew I wanted other people for the hike, so part of my decision in selecting which tour group to join was based on how many people were part of the group.  We had a group of eight and it was perfect.  Meeting new people provides a distraction and creates a fun dynamic.  I wouldn’t want to hike with less than five people.  And I’m not sure how solo trekkers do it.
  • Electrolyte Powder: You drink 4-6 liters of water a day.  Sometimes a little flavoring helps.  Plus, I’m sure getting electrolytes doesn’t hurt.
  • Comfy Camp Shoes: I hemmed and hawed over whether this was worth taking and I brought a pair of sneakers that I thought would be versatile.  I wished I had something I could have slipped on over thick socks.  At night when you get up to pee, you want to make the process quick and easy.
  • Pee Container: If you don’t want to leave your sleeping bag, you can bring a container for urine that you use right outside the tent (or inside if you are brave).  This was definitely handy, but was usually filled by one person on one pee, so it won’t keep you from ever having to get up.  But it’s cold at night, so it’s nice not to have to leave the tent as often.
  • Two Headlamps: You’ll use your headlamp every night and in order to summit.  It’s imperative.  I always pack two when I hike and have never needed both, but on this trip I broke my headlamp on night one and hadn’t packed a second.
  • Doggy Bags: Not having a dog, I would never have thought to bring those little rolls of bags dog owners follow their pooches around with. They are very handy for a variety of needs.  If you happen to be one of the many unlikely folks on the mountain who vomits, you can use these bags as a vomit respectable.  It’s another way to get to stay in your tent if you are sick at night.  Plus they can be a garbage bag, a sand collector, or a way to organize items.
  • Diamox: This is a medication that can help alleviate altitude sickness. It needs to be prescribed so talk to your doctor.  I would not hike without this.  I’ve been in high altitudes without Diamox.  If your doctors agrees it’s safe for you, take the Diamox.
  • Imodium: More than half our group had some unpleasant bowel trouble.  Imodium may have been the most sought after item on the mountain.  Just plan on needing a full supply daily and be happy if you don’t require it.  Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.  Pepto Bismol was regularly consumed by our group too, but it wasn’t as vital as Imodium.
  • Baby Wipes: They are really the only way to get clean.  And if you wind up needing the Imodium you will also be really glad to have them.   I brought basic wipes and ones that are more sensitive and meant for your face.
  • Sleeping Pad: Our tour group provided foam sleeping pads.  I still brought my air pad, and was so glad I did.  With my pillow and two pads I was really comfortable.  Plus it helps keep you warm.  When my feet were off my air pad, but on the one provided they got cold quickly.  Those in our group who hadn’t brought an extra pad wished they had.
  • Pantiliners (Women Only): I always wear these when I hike.  If you have to squat to pee or you are ever going to find yourself in a position where you need to pee and may not be able to wipe, these help keep you and your underwear dry.
  • Swedish Fish, Jolly Ranchers or another sweet candy that travels well: For everyone in our group who got sick, the only thing they could stomach were Swedish Fish.  Plus, after long days of hiking a little treat of something sweet feels like a small miracle.  And if your throat gets dry, a hard candy to suck on can help alleviate the tenderness.
  • Quality Crew: Make sure you do your research and find a quality tour group to travel with. We ended up going with ClimbKili, and I was really happy.  There are higher end outfitters out there, but our guides and porters were outstanding.  Our tents were always clean.  And they boiled water so we could wash our hands with warm water.  Other groups provided cold water.  That may seem like a small detail, but it makes a big difference on the mountain.  ClimbKili also carry a private toilet tent.  And the food was really quite good for hiking a mountain at high altitudes, which can make cooking a challenge.  The porters were helpful and sang to us.  The guides went above and beyond to help us all succeed.  And I felt I trusted them and believed they had all our best interests in mind.  As an added bonus they taught us Swahili along the trail.

Moments like this made the hike worth all the effort.

In addition to having all those items to make the journey better consider these actions:

  • Sleep when you can. You may not get good sleep at night, so nap and rest whenever you feel tired.  Don’t worry about whether you will be up all night if you nap late in the day.  You might be up all night anyway and then you won’t have slept at all.  Plus, during the day when the sun is on the tent it’s so warm and nice to curl up and take a break.
  • Start each day with one liter of water. Water is the medicine of the mountain.  You can’t drink enough.  I found drinking a liter before I got moving made me feel considerably better.
  • Take Diamox at dinner. My doctor prescribed two 125mg pills twice per day.  At first I was taking it when I woke up and went to bed.  At night I started taking it earlier with dinner in hopes that I wouldn’t have to get up and pee three times a night.  It seemed to help.  This may have been mind over matter or exhaustion, but consider taking the pill with dinner instead of at bedtime.  In addition, to help reduce the nightly bladder wake up calls, stop drinking, or at least limit fluid intake, after dinner.
  • Stay Warm. This may seem obvious, but I made the mistake in the beginning of rationing my warm clothes for when it really got cold.  This was a huge mistake.  I had plenty of warm clothes.  I didn’t need to ration anything and being warm helped me sleep and feel less miserable.  Bring enough warm hands (those packets that heat up with oxygen exposure) so that you can throw a couple in your sleeping bag each night.  Don’t let anyone throw you off what you know you need.  I get cold really easily.  At the first camp a ranger told me I shouldn’t need the gloves he saw me putting on because this “was a warm camp.”  I let that get in my head.  He didn’t need the gloves.  Good for him.  I did.  Do what you need to keep warm.
  • Know Your Limits. I personally don’t think anyone should hike Mt. Kilimanjaro unless they know they will be willing to turn back if they start having problems.  You can push through a lot, but the consequences of altitude sickness can be pretty severe.  They affect everyone differently.  Listen to your body and the guides to make the best decision possible as you hike.
  • Consider prepping for the trip by seeing how you feel somewhere high. I’m talking about 13 or 14K feet high.

Everyone on this mountain has a different experience.  I met a 75-year-old who reached the top.  I met a thirty-year-old who didn’t take Diamox and said the last hour was “kind of a challenge.”  Someone in my group said it was worth it, but she thought she took a couple years off her life.  Matt, my boyfriend, said it was the hardest physical thing he’d ever done.  I had to turn back around 17,800-feet.  It was a painful decision, but it was also no decision.  I want to live to hike another mountain.  Though I didn’t make it to the top, I don’t regret going.   If you are going to hike Kili, be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.  As they say on the mountain, Hakuna Matata.

(Note: I’m not paid by anyone or item I recommend here about tips for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro.  Just offering what helped me and providing specifics on details if I thought it was worth it.)