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(The Gear Loop) - You may have heard a runnoing or cycling buddy mutter the immortal words: "If it ain't on Strava, it didn't happen". This modern saying pretty much sums up the way the app has woven itself into the running world's consciousness since its launch in 2009.

The platform describes itself as the mobile app and website that "connects millions of runners and cyclists through the sports they love".

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Millions indeed. At the last count, Strava had a whopping 95 million active users. That's about 28 million more than the population of the United Kingdom. Its presence is so strong that professional cycling teams even scour the Strava community to discover up-and-coming talents based on their times, fitness and power data.

Given these numbers and the fact you've taken an interest in this guide, it's likely Strava is already taking up a few hundred megabytes of your smartphone's storage capacity. However, you may not be getting the most out of the platform's many features…

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What is Strava?

At its basic level, Strava blends the activity recording and tracking applications of platforms like MapMyRun with the social media elements of Instagram and Twitter. This enables you to hit record on your app or synced smartwatch, go for a run, cycle, walk or hike, view your route and stats afterwards, before sharing it with friends and followers. You can also upload photos and, in a recent development, videos to your activities.

The social element then kicks in. You can view what other people are up to and give them 'kudos' – Strava's version of giving a 'like' – or comment on their exertions. Just imagine all that dopamine you're dishing out to your followers.

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Beyond this, there's a reason over 2,500 professional athletes use Strava as a tool. A paid subscription unlocks myriad applications, including the ability to plan your own routes, set fitness goals, closely analyse your progress and compete with others on segments – which are pre-defined sections of road or trail that often feature on users' outings and offer the chance for some friendly competition.

A full subscription costs £6.99 a month or £4 a month when billed annually, which works out at £48 a year. If you haven't tried out a subscription already, it's likely you'll be able to start a free trial, so you can consider whether or not the whole kit and caboodle is for you.

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So, let's get into how all of this works. 

Record your outdoor adventures

Strava's primary function is to record and store your outdoor adventures in terms of the routes you take, the time they take you and – if used in conjunction with a smart watch and accessories – data such as your heart rate and power output. 

It's predominantly used by runners and cyclists, though you can actually record 35 types of physical activity, including hiking, watersports (such as kayaking, swimming and surfing), winter sports (such as snowboarding and skiing) and other sports, like rock climbing and even yoga. The app uses map data and the elapsed time to provide you with stats like calories burnt, elevation gain and average speed.

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You can use the app to record, simply press the 'record' button at the bottom-centre of the home screen at the start of your activity. These days, it's more common to record your activities using your smartwatch and Strava is compatible with all the usual suspects. To sync a device or platform, hit the 'settings' icon in the top right of the home screen and link up your devices.

Share your adventures

It's totally up to you whether you use Strava as a private activity tracking tool or as a way to share your achievements with hordes of friends and followers. To set your privacy preferences, tap the settings icon on the home screen and open privacy controls. 

From here, you can customise who sees things like your profile page and activities. It's possible to set all activities to private by default and then choose to change their visibility when you come to edit them.

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When you finish an activity, you'll receive a notification as indicated by the bell icon in the top right corner of the home screen. Hit the bell and a news feed will tell you that 'your run/ride/walk is ready to view'. You'll be greeted with a mapped plot of your route and all your stats (the level of detail will depend on whether you have a full subscription).

To present your adventure to the world, it's likely you'll want to give it a name, a short description and possibly upload some photos or videos. To do this, press the three dots in the top right corner and select 'Edit Activity'. 

On this page you can even go into how strenuous the activity felt and make private notes too. If your activities default to private, here you can choose whether you want everyone or just your followers to be able to see your efforts – or you can of course choose to keep it private.

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Presuming you open your adventure up to the Strava community, it will then appear on the home screen feed for your followers. You can go one step further and press the share icon next to the three dots and upload your map or photos, along with the key stats, as a virtual card on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

Give kudos to your community

Like Instagram, Strava's home screen works as a scrollable feed, displaying activities that the people you follow have recently completed in the form of mapped routes, stats and photos. Under each activity are icons that let you give kudos, comment or share on other platforms. This is essentially the social media element that had folk coming back for more. 

If you ever wonder how Brian from secondary school is getting on with his marathon training, you can search for him by tapping on the friends icon in the top left of the home screen. This opens up a screen that recommends "athletes" for you to follow based on your mutual friends, as well as an option to search through your Facebook and phone contacts to see who is on Strava already. You've also got the option of inviting friends that aren't yet on Strava.

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Groups and challenges

If you're in a running or cycling club, it's likely they will have a club profile in the Groups section of Strava. This can be found by pressing 'Groups' on the bottom of the home screen. Once on a club's homepage, you can search through the affiliated athletes, view the club's own activity feed and view the club leaderboard.

Fancy a challenge? The 'Groups' section also gives you access to challenges created by the Strava community, such as running a marathon during the current month or hiking a certain distance in a given timeframe. You can even set up your own challenge and share it with your followers.

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You can also publish photos, notes or manually input data for a workout to be displayed in the main feed by pressing the plus icon in the top left of the home screen.

Subscription features – track your progress and compete

Strava is Swedish for 'strive'. The platform has always leant towards performance and fitness progression, compared to other outdoor platforms like Komoot, which is more geared towards community, enjoyment and access to the outdoors. This is underlined by the fact that Strava calls all of its users "athletes". 

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Many of the platform's premium features revolve around fitness tracking, giving you analysis of your weekly intensity, monthly fitness, relative effort and heart rate zones. These kinds of stats can be accessed within your individual activities or by navigating to the 'Progress' section of your profile.

For the competitive souls among you, a subscription allows you to compete with the rest of the Strava community on segment leaderboards. After completing an activity, you'll be notified if you were fast enough to place highly on a given segment. We all dream of gaining those golden, shining crown icons that represent first place, even if it's just for an obscure country lane in the middle of nowhere.

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To view your segment achievements, navigate to your personal profile and scroll down to 'Segments'. From here, you can delve into the segments that you're placed highly on and view the leaderboards.

Subscription features – create your own routes

Another key part of a Strava subscription is its route planning capabilities. Before you start plotting, you choose your sport, decide whether you want to take on paved or trail surfaces, decide to maximise or minimise elevation and whether you want to follow a popular route or progress via the most direct way.

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Once you've selected your preferred criteria, it's just a case of choosing a start point and adding waypoints to build your route. You can select points of interest and add them as waypoints too. 

As your route is constructed, keep an eye on the metrics along the bottom of the screen, which will tell you the total distance, elevation gain and expected moving time, which is based on your own personal four-week average.

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Finally, give your route a name and select whether you want it to be private or public. When it comes to using your route, you can export it to your Garmin device (for example) and receive turn-by-turn navigation, which is great if you're exploring a new area.

Subscription features – 3D mapping

As well as route creation, subscribers can also view any map in 3D by toggling the 3D icon on the map screen. This brings the elevation change and the topography of a route into sharp focus, which is great if you're a trail runner or cyclist and you want to get a better idea of what you've let yourself in for. 

Writing by Alex Foxfield. Editing by Leon Poultney.