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How to use Strava to make you fitter

Loads of us use online app Strava to record our rides. Here's how you can make the most of its features to improve your cycling fitness

Strava is a handy app for recording your rides, keeping up-to-date with rides your mates have completed, and it’s also an impressive training tool for tracking, measuring and analysing your performance. Strava even has a few of its own exclusive metrics for dialling into your fitness in a unique and useful way.

Some of Strava's fitness-focussed features are not as easy to find, while others are slightly more difficult to get your head around.

> How to make the most of Strava’s exploring features for your next adventure

We spoke to Strava’s Simon Klima, as well as ABCC Accredited Cycling Coach Tom Murray of Mint Cycling to find out which of the more advanced analytical features can be a massive help with training, as well as how to use them.

Simon tells us: “We try to cater for commuters up to Tour de France stage winners so we want to make sure that we’ve got features that work across that really broad church of cyclists.

“We aggregate data and present it in a meaningful way to riders—one that’s motivating, entertaining and shareable with the community.”

Here are the features it is worth being aware of for smashing your fitness targets:

Set some personal goals

Lots of different types of custom goals can be set on Strava to help you stay on track with your fitness or to challenge yourself.

> How to maximise your fitness when you get to 40+

“Setting weekly or annual goals can be a really good way of keeping motivated,” says Simon. A target distance (in kilometres or miles) or a target number of hours can be set on the platform, like a weekly or annual challenge. This is split across the type of activity, so you can have different goals for bike rides and runs.

Aside from volume accumulation style goals, more specific targets can be set for improvements, whether that’s hitting higher watts on different length intervals or slashing down your time on specific Strava segments.

Power goals can be set for efforts as short as 5 seconds and up to one hour, and a target date is selected to aim to reach your target.

The segment feature on Strava does not only have to be about clawing yourself higher up the leaderboard, the platform enables you to set goals that are completely personal to you. For each segment, you can set a personal goal time, as well as when you’d like to hit that target by, like the power goal.

Compare your rides with Relative Effort

Relative Effort tracks your heart rate through a workout, and it provides a score to show how hard you’ve worked, based on your maximum heart rate. With each workout, you complete you’ll receive a Relative Effort score (displayed to the right of elevation total in desktop view), as well as a total for the week.

> How training zones can help you get your greatest cycling fitness gains

“It’s a good way of comparing a short, sharp ride and a much longer leisurely ride,” Simon notes.

Balance your Fitness and Freshness

The Fitness and Freshness feature on Strava enables you to track your levels of fitness, fatigue and form over time, and it presents this data in a graph.

“The Fitness score is relative to you, you can’t compare it to anyone else’s—it’s a benchmark of your own fitness,” Simon notes.

“It is a super useful tool for peaking at a certain time of your season and giving structure in how you approach your training,” Tom says.

“Fitness and Freshness tracks the intensity, power, heart rate, distance covered in your activities and turns all of this data into a relative figure called fitness. It then plots this onto a graph, which is individual to each rider.”

“The more you train, the more your fitness figure will rise. But at the same time, because you are training, fatigue is also building, so your freshness (form) is getting worse.  

“To have form for an event, you need your fitness score to stay high, but it’s also important for your fatigue number to drop.” This also applies when taking a recovery week between training blocks (with roughly three weeks on, one week off for recovery).

> How to maximise your recovery and build your fitness

“The Fitness and Freshness graph is a really good way of monitoring these numbers and giving you direction to your season. Over time you’ll be able to understand the trends.”

Tom admits it is one of the more complicated features, but if you want to use Strava to closely track and improve your fitness, as well as prepare for events, “it’s the gold dust” he says. Now that’s some praise…

Track your activities using the Training Log

In the Training Log view, Strava uses the size and colour of circles for each activity to visually depict how much training you are doing.

> How to get the most from your limited training time

“It’s a really useful feature for cyclists to view their training load over a period of time as it breaks your load down in a manageable way of looking at it,” Simon says.

Your training can be filtered into different time periods and you can also exclude commutes.

“Activities can be compared based on time or distance or elevation or relative effort. The size of the circle is relative to what you are looking at, for example, time. The bigger the circle, the higher the number,” Simon says.

The colour of the circle also depicts what type of activity you completed, with rides outside being separated from virtual rides.

Compare rides using Weighted Average Power

“When you go out on a ride, you have headwinds and hills affecting each ride differently, so it’s really difficult to get a consistent power reading,” Tom admits. “ But Weighted Average Power looks across a ride, at your heart rate and the training zones you were in, to give a much more realistic average power.”

Strava’s Weighted Average Power smooths out the variations and enables you to compare efforts more accurately when you’ve headed out on uneven rides to those with steadier efforts, as it reflects your overall effort.

Focus on strengths and weaknesses with the Power Curve

Strava’s Power Curve graph enables you to see the maximum power you have sustained for a given length of time, with readings for as short as one second and up to the duration of your longest bike ride for the selected period. This maximum output can be displayed in either Watts (W) or Watts per Kilo (W/kg).

> What is the most effective time of day to train?

“The Power Curve is super useful as it shows your strengths and weaknesses,” Tom says.

The graph provides a visual overview of your fitness as you can see your power PBs from a selected period of time—for example, the last six weeks, all of 2021, 2020, 2019, etc, or a custom date range. What’s more is that the graph can display two lines, so that’s two different power curves at the same time. This allows you to compare efforts from different periods.

“You can use the Power Curve to see how you are adapting as a rider. In addition to answering the question ‘are you getting fitter in general?', you’ll be able to see if you’re getting fitter at a certain type of effort, whether that’s your one-minute power or 20-minute power, or a length of effort in between,” Tom explains.

Do you have any top Strava tips? Let us know in the comments below.