How to Use Strava to Assess Your Performance

There are seemingly endless types of meters for measuring performance related variables on the market today–it’s really overwhelming if you ask me, especially once you get ahold of them. Those numbers you see on your cycling computer are great and all, but what do they mean? What do we do with them, and how do we assess ourselves with all of this data?

Self-assessing is an art of its own.  What to examine is going to depend on goals set by each athlete. These goals could range anywhere from completing a specific event, to addressing a weakness such as sprinting, and even just getting to the top of the local climb. The  process will require, at minimum, a GPS cycling computer and a Strava account. This article will be focusing on Strava as it is free, simple to use, and an excellent tool to track performance. To effectively self-assess, we need to first put aside our aspirations, opinions, and any other subjective thoughts in regards to our cycling ability. Removing subjective thoughts will make analyzing performance easier, allowing better insight and more informed decisions regarding training. In short, the data is going to indicate where you are, at this moment. 

Assess your climbing

Let’s say you want to improve your ability to climb. To test where you are, search segments on Strava and find a segment on a hill that lines up with your climbing goals. Now ride the segment, aiming for the fastest possible time you can manage. This will serve as your benchmark to refer back to. Over the course of your training, periodically return to the segment you have chosen. Retesting to determine if your training is working and segment times are improving is essential. If your goal is to increase absolute power (the hardest effort you can produce for a given time), make sure your legs are fresh for each time you test on the segment. 

Assessing Fatigue Resistance (Important for all you Gravel Folks and Road Racers)

If your goal is to produce a desired effort after a long day in the saddle, determining your ability to resist fatigue is important. To gauge your capacity, build up fatigue on the ride prior to attempting the segment of your choice. One way to build fatigue is to plan out a long ride, preferably of a duration relevant to your goal. Throughout the ride perform hard efforts of comparable length and intensity to the segment you will be attempting. The intervals combined with a longer duration ride should leave your legs feeling tired heading into the segment you will be testing on. Once you have completed the segment, compare it to your most recent PR. If your segment time is more than 10% slower than your PR, give your aerobic endurance some more attention. If your segment time is close to 5% of your best time, or is a new PR, then you are on the right track. This process can be adapted for any goal, whether that be a fifteen second sprint or hour long time trial.

Assessing your performance and tracking how it improves doesn’t require a power meter, heart rate monitor, and all the other fancy gadgets on the market today. All you need is the basics of a bike computer, a free strava account, and the determination to ride your bike. Tracking where your performance is, and where it is going is simple and effective.