Gordon Benson
© Olaf Pignataro/Red Bull Content Pool
Running

Why professional athletes use Strava

With a wide array of training insights and a huge, ever-expanding network, Strava is just as popular with elite athletes as it is with everyday cyclists and runners.
Written by Isaac Williams
7 min readPublished on
When it comes to fitness apps, Strava reigns supreme. As of December last year, one billion activities were uploaded to the platform and around one million new users are added every 40 days – extraordinary figures for an app that has built its popularity on providing regular Joes with the sort of fitness statistics once reserved for professional athletes. Yet the pros are also on board, thanks to Strava’s ever-expanding network and a whole host of unique features that provide statistical analysis, as well as the chance to engage with a community of fellow fitness enthusiasts.

Strava lets athletes track their progress

Besides the more technical training analysis, one of the primary reasons the pros use Strava is because it provides a platform for logging their sessions. Over the course of weeks and months, those sessions can be set against customisable goals and progress can be easily tracked. Twenty years ago, the pros used hardback training diaries; now they use Strava.
“I use Strava so I can benchmark some hard workouts,” says Red Bull ultrarunner and recent winner of the 101km CCC Tom Evans. “It shows me what shape I’m in throughout the year and I can see my progression.”
Strava can help you benchmark your performance – useful for tough sessions

Strava can help you benchmark your performance – useful for tough sessions

© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

GB triathlete and fellow Red Bull athlete Gordon Benson agrees: “I like the fact it shows your progress over the last 10 weeks or so; you can see if there's been a dip in your weekly mileage. Having a graph in front of you allows you to clearly see how well you’re doing.”
And for others, like professional cyclist Lizzy Banks, that ability to track progress has led to some tangible training improvements: “In my first year of racing, Strava segments were a great way to really push myself. I live in Sheffield, with the Peak District on my doorstep, so it was good fun trying to set records up the different climbs, and it turned out to be a pretty great way to get fit too.” Though her training is a bit more structured nowadays, Banks says she still occasionally incorporates Strava segments into her sessions “as a way to keep training fun and provide a bit of added motivation”, before adding, “Who doesn’t love a crown?!”.

Strava breaks down barriers between athletes and amateurs

One way Strava helps keep training fun, as Banks mentions, is by allowing the pros to interact with everyday runners or cyclists. In the bubble of professional sport, that can be a welcome relief. “Amateurs record quicker times than me all the time!” says Banks, “And I think it's so great that they can see what times the pros have done on certain segments, and then try and push themselves to beat their times.”
Amateurs can use Strava to pit themselves against elite athletes

Amateurs can use Strava to pit themselves against elite athletes

© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

International marathon runner Aly Dixon agrees that it's good to use segments as a bit of friendly competition. “Local runners love it when they take one of my crowns – my sister stole one the other week, and I've let her keep it for a while before I take it back! I think it helps motivate others to chase my segments, and if I take any from others then it gives them something to go and chase again.”
Strava also acts as a valuable social media platform, allowing pros to build a following that’s genuinely interested in them as athletes, as Benson explains: “Strava is a great platform for building a following. With Instagram, for instance, is anyone actually interested in the intricacies of your training or are they just interested in a pretty picture from somewhere you’ve travelled to? With Strava it’s much more relevant and my followers are like-minded people who are genuinely interested in what I'm doing.”
Equally, it allows athletes like Benson to keep up to date with the training practices of the people he follows. “Another good use of it for me is being able to see what friends from school or old mates are doing,” he says. “For example, if I see one of my mates is training for something, I can message them and be like, ‘Do you want to go for a run?’ It’s a good way of keeping in touch.”

Pro Athlete status is something to strive for

While it provides a shared platform for professionals and amateurs, Strava’s Pro Athlete status – introduced in 2012 – also sets the pros apart and, for some, validates the work they put in. “I think the Pro status is a really nice touch from Strava,” says Banks. “It’s something that you earn by hard work and climbing through the ranks, and I think it's great for fans to be able to easily see what the pros are up to and what their training is like.”
While Evans “didn’t even know it was a thing!”, Dixon believes it’s an added bonus for some athletes: “A bit like a named bib in races. It's something else that validates their performance level.”
Pro Athlete status also provides access to the full array of Premium features, including Heatmaps – visualisations of all the places you’ve run or cycled through – more in-depth analysis, including detailed post-race breakdowns, and Strava Beacon: live location tracking for added safety when out on the road or trail.

Too much information: should athletes be sharing all this data?

Professionals and amateurs alike can benefit from the features Strava has to offer, but if regular people can benefit from pitting themselves against the pros and, at times, emulating their methods, surely fellow athletes – competitors – can also benefit?
“My training works for me and is personal to me,” says Dixon, who isn’t bothered if other athletes take note of what she’s up to. “It's taken me a lot of years to get to a point where I can do that volume and intensity, so if anyone wants to try and replicate it then good luck to them! My competitors knowing what I'm doing won't make me run any faster or slower, so I'm happy for everyone to see it.”
If it wasn't logged on Strava, did it even happen?

If it wasn't logged on Strava, did it even happen?

© Philipp Schuster for Wings for Life World Run

Evans makes a similar point: “Running is a very individual sport and people respond differently to different types of training. If my competitors want to copy my workouts, that’s fine with me. My training looks pretty different to most other ultrarunners. I also don’t put everything on Strava!”
That last point is an important one: while Strava gives a glimpse into the training methods of professional athletes, it is just a glimpse – any particularly detailed or athlete-specific sessions are likely to be kept from our screens. While he says “there’s no real secret to what I do; I just train hard”, Benson admits that most of the stuff he puts on Strava is just him riding or running along at conversational pace – "I don’t upload some of my harder sessions.”
Banks, too, says she knows athletes who keep certain statistics to themselves. “I know quite a few people choose to hide their heart rate and power data,” she says, “but I’m not bothered about other people seeing my training.” She stresses the fact that training sessions – even if every single one is uploaded to Strava – are just one aspect of an athlete’s routine. “Gym work, rest, stretching, diet, etc. are all just as important,” she says. “It’s impossible to get a clear picture of someone's training just from looking at their Strava profile.”
Contrary to popular belief, then – and brace yourselves for this – if it’s not on Strava, it might still have happened! Yet what is on Strava is of obvious benefit to elite sportsmen and women: for statistical analysis, sure, but also because it’s become a social network in its own right; a community of like-minded professionals who can support and motivate each other in their pursuits of athletic success.