11 Jul 2017

Is Strava Premium Really Worth It For Runners?

So I recently road tested the Strava Premium service for a number of months, whilst training for my first marathon. It's worth me pointing out from the get go that I'm a runner only, I'm not a cyclist, triathlete or Ironman (far from it - hats off to those guys and gals!). I had been a 'standard' Strava user for around 18 months prior to this premium test and really enjoyed using the platform to track my progress on regular segments that I run, as well as to engage with my running and triathlon friends by encouraging them, uploading photos of my runs and so on.

Before signing up to Strava premium, I’ll admit, I didn’t know a huge amount about what ‘going premium’ would offer me, however, I was excited at the thought of more features that I would be unlocking and extra analysis goodies that would be available to me behind the Strava membership curtain! After resisting the urge to go premium for the good part of a year and a half, I finally caving into the Strava app’s seemingly never ending requests for me to try a 30 day free trial of their premium service. The following is my high level review of the top Strava premium features and why I think Strava premium, as a runner may or may not be worth the extra coin...

Strava premium is available via the Strava app and online at the Strava website and at the time of publishing, is accessible for a 30 day free trial. After the 30 day trial has passed there are two subscription options, a prepaid annual subscription (currently A$89.99) and a month to month subscription (currently A$12.99/month), with the latter providing more flexibility to discontinue the membership, however, that flexibility comes at a slightly higher monthly cost.

Benefits of Strava Premium for runners

A number of premium-only sections of the Strava site and to a lesser extent, the Strava app, are unlocked when joining Strava premium, including (updated June 2018 to include additional features since first published in July 2017):

Under the dashboard menu

  • My Goals - for runners, the ability to set and view weekly and yearly goals, as well as view your weekly mileage over the last 3 months in your member profile
  • Heatmaps - a graded colour map overlay of your activities over a period of time

Under the training menu

  • Training videos - a handful of 101-style instructional videos
  • Training plans - a 12 week plan training for either a 5km, 10km, Half marathon or Full marathon, customisable by start or end date and by target number of running days per week
  • Power curve - not relevant to runners
  • Fitness & freshness - considers your heart rate based Suffer Score and power based Training Load to track your levels of fitness, fatigue and form over time, providing a figure that represents your current level of these three indicators and on a graph output, with time on the x-axis and your score/index on the y-axis, viewable over time periods of 6-months, last year (12 months) and all time

Under the explore menu

  • Premium perks - the premium perks section offers discounts and benefits from Strava partners.

Additional activity based analytics

Within each activity uploaded to Strava there are the following additional features with Premium:

  • Strava suffer score - putting a figure on how hard you worked
  • Pace distribution analysis - how long you ran in each pace 'zone' (time brackets)
  • Effort compare - compare up to five attempts on a segment
  • Relative effort title - detail on relative effort

Usefulness of each Strava Premium feature

Let's take a more detailed look at each Strava premium membership feature and asses its usefulness specifically for runners.

My Goal

Usefulness: 3/5. A reasonably worthwhile feature, especially in the app where you can view your weekly mileage quickly and easily. However, it is replicated in most running watch or activity tracker apps / software.

Is Strava Premium Worth It - Goals

Heatmaps

Usefulness: 1/5. Possibly useful for the cyclists, next to useless for runners. A complete gimmick.

Is Strava Premium Worth It - Heatmap

Training videos

Usefulness: 1/5. A nice concept, however, there are currently only a couple of of short, running-specific videos. Fairly limited and more informative content is just a quick YouTube search away.

Is Strava Premium Worth It - Training Videos

Training plans

Usefulness: 3/5 for beginner to intermediate runners, 2/5 for more advanced runners. ‘Powered by McMillan Running', this feature includes a customisable training program within Strava’s online account and a daily training plan email that serves as an overview of the next day’s run session. Disappointingly, the training program is not viewable within the phone app (on iOS, Android not tested). The online training program expands so that you can view high level commentary on the current and following week’s schedule, presumably designed that way in an attempt to keep you logging on to use the training program, rather than copy and pasting the entire program or printing it off in its entirety.

The ability to customise the program based on the type of race you are training for - 5/10/21/42km, the target number of training days per week and the start date or race date is an attractive feature of the training program. For beginner to intermediate level runners, this program provides a decent training regime to follow in preparing for an event, however, for premium members we’d love to see more detailed description of each run, how to completed them, including potentially demo videos, nutrition and hydration suggestions across the training schedule, especially important in the week or two leading up to an endurance events and other features such as using the data from within Strava to virtually tick off or mark the schedule as completed.

Is Strava Premium Worth It - Training Plans

Is Strava Premium Worth It - McMillan Training Plans

Fitness & freshness

Usefulness: 4/5. The fitness & freshness tool is a useful feature to visualise your fitness progress, watch and manage your fatigue levels and gauge your overall form during both training and especially useful in the crucial 4 weeks or so leading into an event. The fitness & freshness area of Strava premium is easily the best feature of Strava premium. I used this premium feature the most when training for my first marathon. It’s especially useful when there is an interruption to your training, e.g. if you get sick and have a week or two off running, as it can be reassuring to know your fitness levels have not dramatically dropped off (I was pretty paranoid when I fell ill two weeks prior to the marathon).

The fitness & freshness graph is also very useful for tracking your level of fatigue. I was surprised to see that this graph was fairly accurately indicating high levels of fatigue during times in my training where I had trained particularly hard for a few weeks and my leg muscles were starting to get more and more sore. This feature alone may justify the Strava premium fee, however, for Google Chrome users, the great news is that an extremely similar graph tool for measuring fitness, fatigue and form is available as a Chrome extension called ‘StravistiX for Strava’, available for FREE from the Chrome Web Store. We have tested the StravistiX extension and conclude that it quite comprehensively replicates the Fitness & freshness area accessible only via a Strava premium membership. This existence of similar tools available for free dilutes the case for paying for Strava premium.

Is Strava Premium Worth It - Fitness & Freshness

 

Is Strava Premium Worth It - Fitness & Freshness Graph

Strava suffer score

Usefulness: 3/5. Based on your theoretical maximum heart rate and your heart rate output during your recorded activity, the Strava suffer score aims to put a single number on how hard / taxing your workout was, to allow you to compare your workout efforts at a high level. This is useful for gauging how hard you actually worked vs how hard you feel you worked in a training session. Provided along with the suffer score is a simple heart rate zone graphic that displays how much time your heart rate was in each heart rate zone - this graphic is only available to premium members. If your running watch or activity tracker includes heart rate monitoring, its software should provide similar analysis, for example Garmin’s Training Effect which is a score out of 5 based on perceived effort

Strava Premium Is It Worth It - Suffer Score

Pace distribution analysis

Usefulness: 2/5. Similar to the heart rate zone analysis, this premium-only feature displays time spent in pace zones, such as 3:45-4:00/km, 4:01-4:15/km etc. If your training targets specific pace zones such as a VO2 max interval session targeting 3:30-3:45/km, you can review the time spent in this particular zone to see if you are achieving the aim of the training session. This feature is readily available on a running watch or activity tracker

Strava Premium Is It Worth It - Pace Distribution

Strava Premium Perks

Strava Premium Perks

Strava Premium Perks

Pros and Cons for/against Strava premium

Pros for Strava premium

- The goal setting, training programs, fitness & freshness etc are viewable within the one login - you don’t have to jump from app to app to view the features

- Fitness & freshness, goal setting and training plans in themselves are quite useful

Cons against Strava premium

- Most features can easily be replicated or found online such as the training videos, StravistiX etc

- Running-specific features are still somewhat limited and useful

- Monthly / annual subscription to access features

- Some features of premium are not accessible via the app

So is Strava Premium really worth it for runners?

If you’re specifically only a runner and don’t cycle, it’s very questionable as to whether Strava premium is actually worth the 2 or 3 coffees a month you’d have to forego to fund it. For runners it feels like the Strava premium offering is a little incomplete. I get the sense from using and testing it, that it was designed by Strava for cyclists and then a couple of add-ons, such as the running training schedules, were bolted on to make the membership more appealing for runners and therefore increase the number of paid memberships on the platform and of course in turn bring in more revenue.

In my opinion, if you’re a beginner or even intermediate level runner or you’re very short on time and want the convenience of the Strava premium features all in the one place, you may find Strava premium useful. However, if you have any one of the more popular brands of running GPS watches or activity trackers and you have access to the internet, you probably won’t find the current features of Strava premium any more useful than that features that you have access to in the app and/or online portal linked to your running watch.

One caveat to this review is that we have not tested Strava premium in conjunction with a running watch that shows live segments and live suffer scores, such as the Garmin Forerunner 935.

Ultimately, if you’re a runner and money is no object, Strava premium is a nice add on to the core Strava offering. Otherwise, if you’re like the rest of us, after using the functionality for a few months, we conclude that Strava needs to do more to develop the running-specific features of its premium membership offering, so that it adds more value and is more compelling for runners specifically and is therefore much easier to justify to your partner when they ask what the additional monthly amount on the credit card is for and why you need it...

What do you think of Strava Premium? If you have an opinion, please leave your thoughts in the comments below!


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