Strava surge: Exercise app makes for popular quarantine download

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Lisi Ludwig/Staff

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Strava, a fitness-tracking app primarily used to record data for cycling, running and swimming, has joined sourdough starter and Zoom on COVID-19’s short list of winners. With the pandemic having closed gyms all over the world and with daily screen time averages as high as ever, Strava’s platform at the intersection of exercise and social networking has gained notable traction among quarantined athletes.

Strava’s downloads have more than doubled since January, arguably one of the last normal months in the United States pre-pandemic, and its usage has more than tripled since the start of the nationwide lockdown. Coined a “social network for athletes” by Runner’s World, Strava has an Instagram-esque interface that is just that. Like many other health and fitness apps, Strava has a GPS feature to track one’s mileage, route and splits, as well as the ability to measure heart rate and calories burned. However, the app’s personalized setup, which combines social media’s lure with athletes’ competitive nature, has put Strava ahead of the pack.

After completing an activity, be it a run, ride or stand-up paddle — yes, a stand-up paddle (and that’s not even the most peculiar of the 32 activities that can be recorded on Strava) — athletes can post the workout, which then shows up in their followers’ feeds. Users can add a title, caption and photo, or tag their exercise mate should they forget to record. Similar to Facebook, followers can like an activity by giving a friend “kudos” and can leave comments on different posts. Comparable to Twitter, users can follow whichever accounts they please, from athletes such as ultrarunner Pete Kostelnick and baseball legend Barry Bonds to that kid who somehow ended up on the podium after every high school track meet.

Users can also track their individual improvement over many months, whether through personal bests for different distances or through records on Strava’s specified “segments” — popular portions of trails or roads that accumulate to a leaderboard every time an athlete completes that particular stretch. The anticipation of landing on that segment leaderboard no doubt induces an adrenaline rush that quarantine has been lacking.

Perhaps Strava’s most timely features, though, are its challenges and clubs, which users can join. Monthly challenges range from self-explanatory events such as the June 5K (run a 5K in June) to more intense trials such as the June Cycling Climbing Challenge (cycle a total of 7,500 meters in elevation in June). Because Strava notifies a user’s followers when they have joined a club or a challenge, athletes are held accountable and motivated to follow through.

Clubs and challenges created in light of the coronavirus outbreak and recent acts of police brutality earn Strava its own kudos. Such incentives encourage workouts per social distancing rules and have garnered support for Black Lives Matter campaigns. While there have been numerous versions of the COVID-19KM Challenge (log a 19-kilometer run), the Strava Club’s SOLOdarity Challenge was listed on the app as “a simple commitment to staying active, staying connected, and being a good citizen,” requiring just 10 hours of total activity in a month. The challenge was accompanied by Strava’s SOLOdarity video project, which captured heartwarming glimpses of the app’s users finding creative ways to stay active at home.

Similarly, Strava’s 5K for the Frontlines and Climb for Covid Relief challenges have raised more than $150,000 for programs such as Direct Relief and the World Health Organization. In support of Black grassroots organizations following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, Oakland’s Move4TheMovement club recently donated $1 to People’s Breakfast Oakland for every mile logged by its members on Strava for one week, raising a total of $11,585.

Whether it provides users extra motivation to fight the quarantine 15, another outlet to support Black Lives Matter or new routes for head-clearing runs during this unprecedented time of uncertainty, Strava has no doubt expanded its community as the world seeks a return to normalcy. Come September and October, will the numbers of participants in Strava’s monthly challenges match those of April and May? For better or worse, only time will tell.

Allie Coyne writes for Bear Bytes. Contact her at [email protected].