John Seivert: How an app is motivating people to maintain their fitness
In 2009 I was shown an app for my laptop computer that would sync with my bike computer, which collected heaps of information on every ride. “Strava” offers performance analytics that allows riders to compete virtually by comparing times and biometric data (distance, miles, speed, elevation ascent/descent, heart rate, power, and a topo map) that showed the exact route just ridden. Cyclists across the globe started using it for its tracking of progress. It is now a mainstay for almost every cyclist, runner, hiker, and now it tracks fitness classes. The app allows us, endurance enthusiasts, to learn how we stack up to our peers and see where and how hard our friends are going. The cell phone app allows you to track all your exercises without a fancy cycling computer or an expensive watch, Fitbit, or any number of fitness tracking devices. With over 42 million users, Strava has become the most widely used fitness apps for cyclists and runners. Is it the Facebook of fitness? The CEOs don’t mind that comparison, but they strive to keep the core values in helping people stay fit and create community. Strava wasn’t the first Social-fitness app, nor is it the largest. ASIC’s “Runkeeper” has 50 million users, and Under Armour’s three fitness apps – MyFitnessPal, Endomondo and MapMyFitness have more than three times the users as Strava. But no brand is more closely associated with social fitness than Strava.
How it all began
Michael Horvath and his Harvard college rowing teammate, Mark Gainey, jumped into the fitness tracking software after their initial exercise app, Kana Software, didn’t materialize. Strava (the word means “strive” in Horvath’s native Swedish) was born in 2008. By the mid-2000s Facebook was practically on every cell phone on earth with oversharing mandatory, Google had mapped the world, and Global Positioning System (GPS) units and power meters were a requirement for every serious cyclist.
‘If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen’
This a common statement from many Strava users to a friend that didn’t get their ride or run recorded. I remembered doing an epic mountain bike ride a few years ago and had forgotten to charge up my bike computer the night before. It lost power an hour into the ride. I had also left my cell phone at home. Therefore, that four-hour, 45-mile ride with 4,450 feet of climbing – did not happen, according to my Strava friends. You only make that mistake once. I give and get “Kudos” to people that I follow on Strava. On any given day, you could get a dozen or more Kudos for a ride from “followers” on Strava. It’s what you do on this app. We all like getting the “attaboy” after posting a ride. Those “Kudos” are essential and are where the science begins with Strava.
Research has shown that Strava is onto something about the value of a social network for fitness and that it isn’t only about comparing performance. Two studies published in 2015 and 2017 looked at how social feedback encourages users to increase their interaction on a given platform. The 2015 study collected activity data on 4,500 Strava users and found that social interactions (Kudos, Comments) spurred users to post more activities. The 2017 study, published in the journal Health Education and Behavior, went further, finding that activities posted on Strava were eight times more likely to receive some form of social feedback than a post on Twitter. That’s no surprise since Strava focuses on fitness, and people join Strava for that reason. The other social media apps have rather negative responses to people posting workouts or endurance activities. Just ask any professional or elite level athlete about their posts, and they often get negative feedback. Trolls tend to make snark remarks and insults to a person’s post, and this type of activity has caused some serious emotional distress in many athletes. Strava doesn’t seem to have an issue with this type of activity.
The healthy culture of Strava in a time of social distancing
Strava has gone from cult status for professional and elite level cyclists to mainstream, all with its vocabulary that is consistent. To Strava-cide, a ride means that you go off the planned route to capture a KOM or QOM (king/queen of the mountain). These terms have been used in professional cycling races like the Tour de France since 1903. Every famous climb is named and rated (category 4 (easiest) to category 1, which is 3000 – 5000 feet and then the “above category,” which is anything above 5000 feet). Anyone can name their ride, neighborhood loop, climb up their driveway or out and back ride to the park, and have them saved in Strava for all to see. Warning; once a post of a new “segment” or hill climb is seen on Strava, with you on the top of the leader board, expect to get knocked off and move into second place soon because one of your Strava followers will no doubt go get that KOM.
Stay fit, have some fun, and maybe compete with yourself or others and create a sense of camaraderie. If you like to ride, run, or hike, post it on Strava and see how much fun you can have. You will be amazed at how many people will give you kudos and help you to stay fit.
John Seivert is a doctor of physical therapy and he has been practicing for 34 years. He opened Body Logic Physical Therapy in Grass Valley in 2001. He has been educating physical therapists since 1986. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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