Today tracking your runs is easier than ever before. Basically you just need a smart phone which is already a device most people have in there pockets. Sensors like accelerometers and GPS are as common as WiFi or Bluetooth. Combined with external sensors that are widely available for any platform and Apps to review and analyze your runs, the smart phone is now the center of sports tracking. But sometimes it’s hard to get to know the best devices and software that serves ones personal needs. This Strava review shows in detail my experiences with one of the Apps out there.
After using GarminConnect (with a Garmin heart rate monitor) and Movescount (with a Suunto watch), I discovered Strava as I was searching for a suitable tracking App that works well with the Apple Watch I bought last June. I’m using Strava to track and analyze my training ever since and want to share my experiences with it in this Strava review.
Strava is out there since 2009 and the company has the goal to help people improving as the name suggests (Strava is derived from the swedish “sträva” which means to strive). It is basically a social network that connects already millions of athletes from around the globe. It offers tools to track and review training sessions and connect to other athletes and is useful for the newbie as well as the pro athlete.
For my part I use the Strava website, the iOS App on iPhone and the Apple Watch as a remote and heart rate monitor. So my experiences relate to this type of usage which can be a bit different on other platforms.
Both the website and the App offer a feed showing the latest activities of you and other users you follow. The website is not only a cheesy copy of what the App shows, it uses the additional space for even better illustration of your data. Like in the calendar view or the activity journal to which I also refer to as the bubble view. I call it that because of the bubbles indicating type and volume of your training session. In this view you can also change what is represented in the size dimension of each bubble. You can choose from distance covered, time and altitude gain. The focus not only on distance and time but also on altitude is something I, as trail and hill focused runner, love about Strava. I suppose this has to do with the roots of cycling and not just running that Strava has.
Another thing I really like is the focus on segments. Let’s face it, if you’re training for a specific race you often have repeating loops that are great to compare your progress with. Strava automatically recognizes if you’ve done a route before and lets you compare the trainings easily. If you covered segments that have been saved by you or other runners before, you can even better compare two trainings with each other.
Tracking your runs is as easy with Strava as with most other tracking apps out there. Just press the record button on the phone or on the Apple Watch and get going. If you want to, Strava lets you know about your progress during a run acoustically. The Strava voice will tell you start, pause and stop of a workout and notifies you after every (half) kilometer and tells you the total distance and time and the pace of the last kilometer. You can also monitor the progress of your run on the phone, where you can also see where you are right now. The App for the Apple Watch displays your pace, distance, time already covered as well as your current heart rate. I haven’t found the possibility so far to customize the display on the watch, so it would be great if Strava lets you do that in future so other data like the altitude or information about segments can be displayed.
Strava also notices if you are standing still for example to enjoy the view. At the end of a workout you see the total time of your run as well as the time you were moving forward. That is a great feature if you want to check your pace on the run without the breaks or if you needed to wait at some street crossings.
Tracking runs with Strava is pretty reliable, I don’t have many issues with it. The only problems I had so far were related to the Apple Watch that sometimes stopped the run accidentally because of the rain that was touching the surface and somehow took control. Also when you go running for 5 hours or more the battery of the watch runs low and you don’t have the heart rate data for the entire run.
If you don’t want to track your runs with Strava you can still use the other great features. Strava connects to many different tracking devices and companies like Garmin, Suunto, Fitbit and many more. If you have any other device that can export GPX, TCX or FIT files, you can upload those manually on the website. You can also enter an activity manually if you know the distance and time you covered.
Apart from the workout related tracking data, you can enter more information of your activity. You can tag your run, set a type, write down additional notes and let Strava know which shoes you used. If you should think about buying new shoes Strava will so automatically notice you.
In general I guess it’s save to say that Strava can be used as a very detailed and intuitive training log.
Strava offers a wide variety of review features even in the basic version that can be used for free. As one would expect Strava shows you data like distance, time, calories burned and altitude gain of your run. But that’s not all. Especially on the website you can easily analyze your run from beginning to end and check your tracked data for any point on your run. You have an interface that shows the place on the map, a table with data (pace, SAT and altitude) for each kilometer and a graph with an altitude profile and the pace and heart rate data over time. If you go over any point in the graph with your mouse, the specific data gets displayed in an additional window. This is a great way to review a run with Strava but it would be awesome if also any interval of a run could be analyzed further by selecting a specific segment. This is a feature from Suunto’s Movescount that I still miss in Strava.
Strava doesn’t only allow to review each run by itself but also sports some nice features to analyze your training over time. The calendar view gives a quick overview of your training volume in the past weeks and months. It offers a view of an entire year with bars representing your training session as well as a month view showing more details of your runs. There is also a table view for all your activities showing the most important data but I definitely prefer the weekly bubble view that I already described above. Segments and comparable runs are another clever thing in Strava that offers you an easy to use way of comparing the most comparable parts of your training.
If you’re an iOS user you probably check your fitness and other related data in Apples Health app. I’m pretty happy that Strava also offers integration with Apples Health kid for further review of combined body data within Health.
In Strava you can easily interact with other runners by following them and giving them Kudos (likes) for their activities or by commenting. Apart from these obvious features Strava lets you also share your activities on the big social networks Facebook and Twitter. All this is pretty standard and being implemented in many other tracking apps and sport related social networks out there. However I would like to shed some light on two other features in Strava that brings you closer to other athletes and lets you compete with them.
Strava gives you a lot of challenges in running and cycling, some return on a monthly basis and some are related to special events like a popular race. When you take part in a challenge you can check your progress in Strava and with this you know all the time if you are on track or not. Most challenges will push you to achieve a certain distance or altitude gain within a month or another time period. This is great if you need an extra motivation or some predefined goals or want to compare your achievements with thousands of other runners. Also you get a nice trophy if you’ve completed the challenge that will be visible in your trophy collection.
Segments are not only a great way to check your improvement and compare your activities but also offer a competition with Strava runners that live nearby. You can try to beat other athletes on their preferred segments or create one yourself to challenge others. Strava offers a comprehensive segment explorer that lets you find a segment that fits your requirements. You can check the charts for each segment and filter it by time, age group or weight group and set yourself goals you want to achieve for a segment.
Most tracking and review features of Strava that I described above are completely free of charge which is great. But like any other company Strava also needs a way to generate some revenue and therefore offers a premium package that give you even more possibilities to track your improvements and connect with other runners. The cost for this is $ 60.- per year at the moment. I’m currently a premium user and used the additional features for some months now. So I don’t want to miss these features in my Strava review.
If you are more serious about your training, the individual coaching options might help you. You can let Strava create a personalized training plan for distances of 5k up to marathons. Strava gets help with this by McMillan Running, an online training plan calculator. For this you need to provide your specific running goal and the amount of training you’re willing to do. If you are ready to start, Strava notifies you on a daily basis what training is up. Also some training videos are available to premium users explaining some training runs and techniques. There are just a few yet so I hope Strava is delivering more videos in future. All in all I think these features are very usable for advanced beginners who want to train for a specific goal and need help in planning their training.
Premium users can enjoy even more detailed analysis of their runs. You can compare each kilometer, the change in pace and intervals if your tracking device supports laps. You can also check easily how your pace and heart rate zones are distributed within the training run or race. With the Suffer Score you have also an additional metric that indicates how intense your training was. The Suffer Score gets higher the closer you train to your maximum heart rate and the longer you run. The premium charts for segments offers filtering as I described further above already. Apart from some other minor enhancements like GPX file download or personal trophy collection, I especially like the heat maps. Heat maps are a great and fun way to show you where you run the most within a certain time frame. With this you always have an overview of your preferred training territory. The advanced analysis features are something I recommend all ambitious runners that can profit from detailed review of their training data but are only usable if you track your runs regularly, especially your heart rate and GPS data.
The premium package also sports some live functions like Beacon. Beacon is all about security and lets you share your position during a run with your family and friends if you want to. If you get injured or something else happens during a run, help can easily find you if you are no longer able to move. Strava can also provide you with live feedback of segments you are currently running and lets you display data from connected devices on your phone while tracking a workout. These live features are nice to have but don’t fall into the must have category if your focus is on improving.
After my Strava review I can really recommend to use this App not only to track your runs but also to analyse your training. With Strava you have a virtual partner in achieving goals you set yourself in running. I use Strava (Premium) for almost a year now and don’t think that I’ll change to another service soon, because I’m pretty happy with it. There is room for improvement in functionality but the current degree of features and reliability is very satisfying.
Below I list you some links for further reading and to the Strava Apps in the different stores. I hope I helped you with this review and as always hope to read your opinion in the comments section.