In this second of three articles explaining the ins and outs of Strava, veteran triathlete Frank Smuts explains how to set up an account on this popular social network platform for athletes and highlights some of the useful benefits of signing up.

If you’re an athlete but still not part of the Strava community yet, now’s the time to join. In fact, if you happened to read my previous article, you’ve probably already realised that you’re missing out on a whole lot by not doing so – both in terms of fun, as well as the training benefits that this great sporting app provides. But to reap the benefits of this popular social network for athletes, you first have to sign up and make sure you have the necessary hardware. Fortunately, it’s an easy process and all you need is a GPS enabled sports watch or compatible smartphone. That said, to avoid sounding like I’m merely reciting the Strava manual, I’ve decided to treat you to a day of regular Strava life as experienced by yours truly. Hopefully, this will answer many of your questions along the way.

Most people use the free account at first to test the water, and it’s a great option for sportsmen and women who aren’t overly competitive. That said, being highly-competitive by nature, it didn’t take me long to upgrade to the paid premium account for Strava Live and the other pro-level layers of functionality. Signing up is easy. As with Facebook, you just add a cool profile picture, punch in all your relevant details and you’re good to go as a Strava warrior. However, there is one other thing you’ll still need to do – that’s t0 connect your sports watch’s online platform with Strava if you have one. Because, once done, all your activities will then get uploaded automatically to the app from here on out.

How to get your sessions onto Strava
The long and short of it is that once your account is set up, you carry on with regular training and all your activities end up on Strava automatically. And the good news is managing your profile requires virtually no effort at all. As far as my own training goes, Strava’s true purpose only kicks in when I press the stop button on my watch. This allows me to focus on what matters most – like making sure my training session is properly planned and has a well-defined purpose.

What I do is simply select the preferred sports mode on my GPS watch, press the start button and set off on my training session. I am not a KOM hunter (for now), and chasing Strava PB’s is seldom part of my training agenda – so Strava isn’t on my mind much, if at all, while I train. When I run, stats such as time, distance, average pace and current pace are important to me, and I set my data screen accordingly. I also use my watch to guide me through whatever splits or training regime I set out to do. Other parameters relevant to my training sessions, such as heart rate and running dynamics I like to keep on my watch’s second screen.

No GPS enabled sportswatch? No problem
Don’t stress if you don’t have an expensive GPS enabled smartwatch yet, your phone can also do all the recording. All you need to do is simply download the Strava app to your smartphone, hit the record button, select running or cycling and press start. Thanks to its nifty auto-pause feature, although you’ve already pressed start, your run or cycle tracking will only kick in once you begin moving. It’ll also pause when you stop, so your activity timing will be precise. This means you never have to fumble for your phone in your back pocket to register a timeous stop. The end result: Strava only reflects your actual run or ride times.

Once your activity is uploaded, Strava allows you to change your sport to any one of 31 different activities, including walking, yoga, kayaking and more. The captured activity stats will then be re-adjusted to reflect the appropriate parameters for the sport you selected. For example, if you change a bike ride to a run, average pace will be displayed as minutes per kilometre, and not average speed.

Checking your time, splits and other stats on your phone while training
It will always be a compromise in terms of comfort and ergonomics when you run with your phone in your hand to check stats. Fortunately, your Strava app also provides audio prompts for almost everything, including stop/start, split alerts, Strava Live and more – so you can run or ride with your phone stashed safely out of sight and still get all the info you need. Strava also records heart rate if you connect your phone to a BLE heart rate sensor. (Note: Not the ANT type. BLE stands for “Bluetooth Low Energy”, and they connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone).

In terms of data screens, the Strava app gives you time, distance, average pace/speed and current pace-speed. The app also accommodates power, cadence and some other sensors. Just keep in mind that your smartphone can never fully duplicate the functions and abilities of a dedicated, GPS enabled sports watch. The advantages of using a sportswatch are too numerous to name. Here’s but one example: The Garmin Fenix 5 (which I use) allows for 10 data screens with 4 data fields per screen. This amounts to 40 parameters that can be monitored during your training sessions – all conveniently from your wrist!

Chasing Strava segments and KOMs
All Strava warriors check or chase their own and their buddies’ PBs as well as KOMs at some point. The question is, how to go about it best? In the old days, athletes just used to get on their bikes, chase hard throughout their activities, and enjoyed a surprise PB or a KOM when checking the session afterwards. Inevitably though, certain segments became favoured trophies and athletes started going out to conquer them opportunistically – whether it be with the aid of drafting, favourable winds or other forms of assistance.

If you’re a Premium account member, you get live notifications of upcoming Strava segments – which allows you to best plan when to seriously turn up the heat. Garmin has fantastic software on their watches and cycling devices in this regard. You’ll be alerted of an upcoming segment, and your progress during the segment will be reflected in terms of how far ahead or behind you are with respect to the time you’re chasing. Your smartphone Strava app will also deliver audio prompts to alert you of segments when you have a Premium account.

What Strava reveals about my training sessions
When my training session is done, the Strava fun starts. As mentioned in my previous article, Strava is like a diary to me. I consider every training session a great experience. So I like to add a photo to remind me of the day, the session, the weather, and any other great aspect about it. If you’re a machine and stats are all that matters, no edits would be necessary. You make of it what you want.

For this exercise, I’ll use the mobile version of Strava for reference since this is the platform where most of us check out our Strava stuff. The desktop version offers a lot more in terms of analytical tools. Perhaps the topic for another in-depth series of articles.

On the first screen, you’ll get a summary and map of your session, the distance and pace/speed, along with the little “cup” that indicates achievements like a PB or KOM. There’s also the kudos counter, comments box and a share button for social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The privacy settings I opted for don’t release anything onto the public Strava feed until I allow it – this gives me the opportunity to add a photo or any other detail I want my Strava buddies to know about. And if I want to, I can also tag it as a race. When you start swiping, you’ll get other parameters like elevation, speed or pace and your heart rate graph. You also get a Suffer Score and power analysis when using the paid, Premium option.

All the segments are listed and you’ll get a cup indicating fastest to 3rd fastest time, a Top 10 overall performance, or a KOM/QOM on a good day. Other than individual session stats, the mobile version also provides a breakdown of your week, year to date and all the time logs for swimming, cycling and running. Plus if it’s a route you regularly do, you’ll also see a graph that indicates an upwards or downwards trend in terms of your performance.

On the desktop version, the stat breakdowns are even better and much more sophisticated. In fact, I view the desktop Training Log page as one of the best compact, analytical tools ever devised. The inferences that can be drawn from Strava regarding race preparation, periodization, recovery and all other aspects of training are simply superb. Challenges, Goals, and other features are designed to add incentives, impetus and better insight into your training.

What your Strava feed can tell you about your buddies
First up, you’ll be able to see what your buddies did for the day, so you’ll always be in the know regarding their training efforts. If you’re training for the same race, knowing how much effort other athletes are putting into their training serves as a great guideline. The greatest fun is to compare segments splits and figure out where you are on the ranking list. There is always a personal race within every race, and Strava will help keep you on top of your own peer rivalry.

Competitive KOM/QOM hunters spend hours browsing and analysing segments to assert their standing in the pecking order, and to plan a strategy to regain the crown and other goals. In fact, nothing sends serious Strava athletes back to the drawing board faster than getting beaten by someone they totally underestimated!

You’ll also be able to see the hours logged by other athletes over time periods such as weeks, months and years. Knowing how other people train always adds value to your own understanding of your sport. Another great feature is to create a Strava group of your own – which allows you to view and train with people who you share a special interest with, such as your fellow Ironman or Comrades buddies. And, as far as segments go, you can create your own too. Take it from me, it’s incredibly rewarding to see other athletes getting fun out of chasing the segment you created.

Everything you’ve just read is merely scratching the surface. Strava offers a whole lot more, and the best way to go about finding it all out is to browse through the desktop version. Click on all the tabs and find out what might be relevant to you. In the next article, we’ll shift the focus away from the social side of Strava and look at the structured training plans the app offers. Until then, happy training! – (c) 2017 NavWorld

Do yourself a favour and download the Strava mobile app right now.

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