What is Strava, and how does it work?

We break down all things Strava, including how best to interpret your performance stats, to KOM and Local Legend lingo busters. Get the most out of the popular multisports app with our ultimate Strava guide...

What is Strava? Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

What is Strava?

Strava is a well-known digital platform for multisport tracking where users can make free accounts and become a part of the Strava community. Once joined, you can record and upload workouts, add friends and like each other’s activities, known as giving ‘kudos’. The platform has a smartphone app that can sync directly with your smart watch or bike computer, you can include photos and comments on uploaded activities and join various challenges, as well as set yourself distance goals each month. Strava is the Swedish word for ‘strive’ and the company aim to promote an ethos of personal development, acceptance and mutual encouragement across their users.

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Is Strava good for beginners?

Many beginners may be enticed by sporty friends to download Strava and keep track of their activities, whilst becoming part of a wider online sporting community. This can be useful to get to grips with different routes in your area, compare your performance over time, and a useful means to start holding yourself accountable for keeping fit. Best of all, all your sporty friends probably already have Strava, and you can link up with them, have a nose into what they’re up to, and impress with your own fitness escapades.

Is the Strava subscription worth it?

Recently, Strava has introduced a subscription option where only paid members can access tools such as route builder, goal setting, training plans and fitness over time analyses. Arguably most useful, though, is the ability to create routes, which you can then upload to your fitness device and follow on the fly. As for whether you should invest in this, it’s worth really considering your reasons for using the app and what you find useful. If you are new to an area or often like to explore new places, it may be worth investing in the £47.99/year to get access to this facility. Or if you’re really into your metrics and wants all the juicy details on the development of your fitness over time, the insight of your cumulative fitness, fatigue and form can be illuminating, but bear in mind that these stats are only available if you use the app often and train with power meter and heart rate data. Also handy is the ability to take a look at your training log, which can be set to show all types of activities and give totals at the end of each week, a useful way to visualise training bulk and future training planning. Along the same vein, we liked the ‘matched activities’ information available to subscribers, which allows you to compare your efforts over the the same routes over time. If you are only a casual Strava user, or are not yet Strava-obsessed, then perhaps you wouldn’t get the most out of the subscription option since you can still interact with other users and upload workouts on the free version of the app.

Is Strava dangerous?

Long-time Strava users may remember the fly-by feature where you could see a map of all Strava athletes who were also tracking their ride/runs that you come into contact with when on your own activity. This allowed you to have a nose into other local athletes’ training and routes and find out more on that speedy guy with the aero wheels you saw 10km into your own ride. However, this feature is now opt-in only due to safety concerns over the potential for athletes to be followed or intercepted on their workouts, especially for athletes who often follow the same route in isolated locations or during antisocial hours.

Another means to safeguard your data is to put your account on ‘private’ mode and create a ‘privacy zone’ to hide the exact start and end locations of activities so that your home address is not evident when uploading workouts into the community. For your loved ones’ peace of mind, you can choose to set up ‘Beacon’ which will send a text to a designated contact with live tracking details to follow as you complete your activity. In summary, Strava can be dangerous in terms of it being a social media platform, which will always carry certain cyber risks, but the Strava team has put measures in place to protect users against harmful activity and a bit of cyber common sense should keep users safe.

What does Strava do?

What you really want to know is: what exactly the app can offer you, and is it worth creating yet another social media account? Well, let’s get into it…

Your profile and personal activity tracking

Like may social media profiles, you have the option to upload a photo of yourself, write a short bio, and your profile will also display your weekly totals of swim/bike/run, or whatever activities you most often do. The bottom of your profile will also show your routes, segments, posts and any gear you have inputted as often in use (this can be useful to know when you pass the 500-mile mark in one pair of trainers and it is time for new ones). Also in view is your ‘trophy case’ showcasing all the challenges you have successfully completed and what clubs you are a part of. Of course, you have the option to set all of these details as ‘private’ and only those whom you allow to follow you can see this information.

The Strava Community

Follow friends’ accounts, exchange comments and kudos on their activities, join clubs, and take a peek at their photos, whilst judging their activity name choice (yes this is a very important part of the posting process) – all of this is a big part of being a Strava user and you will learn quickly that Strava scrolling can be pretty addictive. One of the major selling points to Strava is that it is now so widely used amongst the fitness community that you’re bound to find people you know already on the app when you sign up, a ready-made support base of fellow sports enthusiasts just waiting for you. There are all sorts of challenges to motivate and keep you on track towards your fitness goals, these include 5k, 10k and half marathon monthly challenges, as well as total distance challenges each month, and even partner challenges like ‘run a total of 50 miles in April’ to raise awareness for Prostate Cancer.

Special Strava features:

Segments – Also motivating is the ‘personal achievement’ tracking during activities, which lets you know when you have ran your fastest 5k, fastest split, or where you rank in the top ten on a segment  (a segment is a section of road/trail and has been mapped and named as it’s own segment). Athletes can like to challenge themselves by racing the top times along these segments to see if they can rank a high score, we call this ‘segment chasing’ and many watches and bike computers can even be set to give alters to indicate the start and end of a segment when you’re out training.

KOM and QOM –  The KOM refers to the ‘king of the mountain’ and is the fastest male athlete on a segment. QOM, you guessed it, means ‘queen of the mountain’ and refers to the fastest female athlete on any given segment. These revered titles are competitively won, the name originates from gruesome mountain ascents where the fastest riders up really were treated like royalty.

Local Legend – Introduced only in the past year, this title is reserved for the athlete who frequents a segment the most often out of all athletes who traverse it. Hence the name, ‘local’, this title is generally only won by locals who often ride/run along a certain segment which is likely to be in the area they live. This title is a nod towards inclusivity as it does not take into account an athlete’s pace or distance, this is merely about frequency, which gives athletes of any pace the chance to proudly grab the title.

Streak challenges – This is a relatively new type of challenge where a user can take on a streak goal, an example of which is uploading an activity four times a week for four weeks, with each activity needing to last at least 30mins. You can check your challenge progress under the ‘challenges’ tab, and you are awarded with a virtual rosette when a challenge is completed. Signing up to (free) initiatives such as this is a great way to hold yourself accountable and to commit to regular weekly exercise.

What is the Strava syndrome?

Likelihood is, if you’re asking this question, then you don’t have the Strava syndrome. This term is used by the Strava golden oldies, the Strava-obsessed, the avid Strava scrollers, those who spend most of their run contemplating the perfect ironic-sounding title for said run. You know who you are. If there’s one drawback of Strava, or similar such sports tracking apps, it’s that there is a possibility to become too competitive with your peers and negatively compare your performance with theirs. This can happen to anyone. Getting too in your head and self-depreciative about your performance is nothing to be ashamed about, in an era where people now publish their exercise results across social media platforms, are we really surprised that such issues can sometimes arise? When this happens it can be helpful to bring yourself back to your ‘why’, your reason for exercising and why you love what you do. If your why has been obscured by a burning desire to create the funniest Strava post that will accrue the most kudos, perhaps it is time to gently re-evaluate your priorities and re-find your love of the sport. Remember, if it’s not on Strava, it did still happen, no matter what your sports watch tells you to the contrary.

Persuaded to give Strava a try? Download the app here

Please note that all information and opinion in this article has been independently given and is not affiliated with Strava in any capacity.

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Top photo illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.