Like many of you out there, I have had a long-term relationship with the ride-logging app and ecosystem known as Strava. I’ve been uploading my activities there since 2013. Prior to the middle of 2020, my interest in it hasn’t really moved beyond personal-best times on segments, accumulated ride mileage, route creation, cool challenges where you can actually win discounts on stuff, end-of-the-year bragging-rights pages…that sort of thing.
What if I told you that Strava has been profiting off the data it collects from you and your riding? Nothing new, right? That’s basically how many things free work these days – you are the product.
Now, what if I told you that you could use all that data you fed Strava…in order to better structure and periodize your training? And better yet – you could do it without paying a single cent?
One of my favorite YouTube personalities of late, the British engineer and time trialist known as Peak Torque, mentioned in one of his videos a wondrous utility called Elevate. According to him, it was just about as good – perhaps even better – than the training analysis tools Strava hid under its subscription fees.
Curiosity thoroughly piqued, I decided to give it a whirl. I had already voluntarily given Strava this data anyway – what’s wrong in taking it back for my own purposes?
In a previous life, Elevate went by the name “StravistiX,” and it is the brainchild of a bloke named Thomas Champagne. In its current form, Elevate is a plug-in or extension for Google Chrome. According to Champagne, the long-term plan is to move away from its current form and blossom into an independent, standalone application.
After downloading it from the Chrome App Store, Elevate requires a few things from you as an athlete: weight, resting and maximum heart rate, and perhaps your FTP if you already have it. These are important inputs for the statistics the app can generate when compared to your Strava activity data.
This is where Elevate forks into two. As an analysis tool, it relies on synchronized Strava data that lives on your computer. As a Strava extension, it injects more detailed statistics into the normal activity summary screen, driven by your athletic data. We’ll start with that.
ELEVATE AS STRAVA EXTENSION
When navigating to your activity’s summary page on Strava using an instance of Google Chrome that has Elevate installed, you get a new section of extended stats. This is a high-level summary, which you can then drill down into as you click the “Display elevate extended stats” button.
Once you click that button, it becomes pretty detailed.
Depending on what sensors you have hooked up during your ride, real or virtual, Elevate takes their data and turns them into intelligble charts and graphs, broken up into zones. Some of them, such as speed, is of limited utility from a training perspective, but the heart rate and cadence charts can certainly help paint a more complete picture of you and your biomechanics.
The current hotness of training metrics, power, also gets the same treatment. You get a nice power curve graph as well, indicating your maximum output over a number of time intervals for this particular ride.
ELEVATE AS ANALYSIS TOOL
For Elevate to work its real magic, it needs to synchronize with Strava so that it can extract your activity data and save it locally. Doing this for the first time can be pretty tedious, as Strava places data caps on activity data export, and Champagne himself says this is one of the bigger downsides of Elevate’s current existence as a Chrome extension app. If, like me, you have seven years’ worth of activities hosted on Strava…expect the initial synchronization to take multiple attempts spread out over a day or three. Once you have everything, though, future sync-ups for new activities are quick and simple, and Elevate allows for easy backup of activity data to sync to, say, another computer running Google Chrome.
With sync-up done and Elevate brought up-to-date, we get to the really good stuff.
“Year Progressions” is a real-time comparison of your workouts through the years, done against factors like time, distance, or elevation. Fairly basic perhaps, but with Strava doing its best to hide more and more of its functionality behind a paywall, this is still welcome.
“Fitness Trend” is where Elevate really shines. Using your activity data and your athletic stats, it will attempt to calculate three metrics it calls Fitness, Fatigue, and Form. The app then plots these on a trend-line graph over time as the X-axis. The positive graphs are Fitness and Fatigue, while the negative graph is Form.
The thinking here is you want to train to increase your Fitness, but each time you train you are also going to increase your Fatigue. The difference between those two values is your Form, which gives you an educated estimate of how your body is responding to your training: are you getting enough of it, or do you need to back off and take a rest day?
A little metric called “Stress score” also shows up on these screens…and I have no doubt many of you will recognize it from elsewhere. The idea is to gradually and progressively increase this stress score with training, so that your training can lead to performance gains. All the while, you also have to manage the Fatigue level.
If you’re preparing for an event, the Fitness Trend graph can also help you with the so-called “taper” period, where you rest a week before said event. The trend-line graphs for Fatigue and Form literally taper to a point at the far right; it appears you’d want to have the event happen when you have the least possible Fatigue but have positive Form at the same time. It might even help you with your next FTP test.
Now, this sort of calculation and analysis is hardly unique to Elevate; there are quite a number of other apps that can do this as well. The real hack with Elevate is that it can do this for free. For that alone, I’m quite inclined to make a donation just to vote for Mr. Champagne’s good efforts creating and maintaining Elevate, and someday even bringing it into fruition as a dedicated app. If you can make sense of the analysis and plan your training and recovery accordingly, I think this can be a pretty powerful tool.