Which Training and Analysis Apps Now That Strava is No Longer Free
The fact that Strava have started to charge for more of their offerings than they have in the past has forced me to re-evaluate which apps I ‘need’ and which ones I don’t. Do I need to pay for TrainerRoad, Zwift, Training Peaks, Strava and other such apps? What does each one do and what do I actually use? Where is there overlap and can the free alternatives and plugins replace the functionality of some or all of these?
So, what do I actually use within each app and where are they lacking?
I use TrainerRoad for its primary function to control my trainer during workouts so that I’m training to a specific workout intensity. Admittedly I haven’t been using it much like that in the past couple of weeks as I’ve been playing with the ‘Our Giro’ event on RGT Cycling instead so that has been taking up my time on the trainer. However, the Our Giro event is just a temporary ‘bit of fun’ during lockdown and I’ll return to following the structured TrainerRoad workouts once it is over. A break from such structure is sometimes a good thing. TrainerRoad has over the past year or so upped its game significantly. Their Plan Builder feature is really good so I’ve been using that to build the basics of a periodised training plan and their calendar is improving all the time too. Being able to see the profile of a workout in the calendar is a nice feature.
I don’t however rely on the analysis features of TrainerRoad much as they don’t contain much that is useful to me. That said, it does have a TSS based Performance management chart.
The main ‘failing’ of TrainerRoad for me at the moment is that sports other than cycling aren’t well supported. This means that runs, swims, kayaks and other sports aren’t automatically uploaded to the calendar so they have to be added manually if you want them there. Whilst this means that the very process of adding the workouts to the calendar makes you a little more mindful of what you have and haven’t been doing, it isn’t very convenient and I often forget to do it. This is another reason why I don’t use the analysis features and the Performance Management Chart of TrainerRoad – there is little point looking at trends, performance gains and losses or overall training load if many of my sessions aren’t recorded and if the analysis is only focussed on cycling.
That said, I was paying for the service before these features were added so shall I think continue to do so. Using it to do actual workouts and as a training plan builder makes it worthwhile and no doubt the analysis features and support for other sports will improve with time.
I’ve always had a free Strava account. When I say always, I signed up many years ago when it was first launched, and my ‘athlete number’ of 8930 shows me to be one of the early adopters. (Members signing up now have athlete numbers that are 8 digits long!). I’ve never had a paid for Premium account with Strava though simply because they had (until yesterday) given everything that I needed away for free. The only thing I didn’t have access to was the ability to filter results tables by age group or weight group and access to some of the analysis tools. Everything else was free and I was happy with that. The main things I used Strava for was tracking my progress on segments and ‘competing’ on the leaderboards. Getting a KOM is always an ego boost even if it doesn’t really mean much. The competitive side of segments and KOMs has diminished a little as I age, simply because I can no longer compete at the top of the leaderboards!
I also used the route builder feature to create routes that I could follow on my Garmin or just to find new routes to run and ride.
Things changed yesterday when Strava updated their business model. No longer would things such as access to leaderboards or the route builder be free. I now had to make a decision between Freemium and Premium and decide if I wanted to pay for Strava. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Strava for this, they are a business and have to make money afterall. The fact that they had given this stuff away for free for many years does make it seem a little harsh to have it taken away from us, but if its useful then I guess it makes sense that they should be charging for it.
Another thing I’ve been using recently is the integration of Strava with veloviewer. Veloviewer is an app that works on your Strava data. It essentially loads all of your Strava data into Veloviewer and then allows you to see more information about it. Amongst other things it’ll list your position in all segments, perform analysis on your strava data and present you with information on all of your efforts over specific segments. I’ve been using it lately because the Leaderboards for Our Giro are calculated by Veloviewer.
However, now that access to segment leaderboards are a Premium only feature of Strava, those of use with free Strava accounts can no longer see the leaderboards in Veloviewer either. (Note: if you are in the position and want the Our Giro Leaderboards, then the 60 day free trial from Strava will tide you over until the Our Giro event has ended).
I have been paying for Training Peaks for a number of years. It has the best calendar app for planning and viewing planned and past training sessions and supports all sports types and activities. It also has by far the best analysis tools that integrates with everything. It works really well and has been a stalwart of my training planning an analysis for many years. I use the Performance Management Chart all the time and it’s TSS calculations are the ones I rely on.
When I started using it it was by far the best planning and analysis tool. There has however been little innovation and very few additions to its offerings lately and there are many alternatives that are catching up.
I’ve always used Garmin Connect as well. I don’t actually engage with it as much as I used to but as I use Garmin products such as my Fenix 3 watch all of my workouts get uploaded to it by default. The Calendar isn’t too bad to look at and there are some nice features here and there.
It is of course free which helps and all my data is there even if I don’t use it. Analysis of individual workouts is quite good but it is lacking any sort of Performance Management Chart based on TSS.
Freemium vs Premium – The Alternatives
The recent changes to Strava have left me with a decision to make. I can’t really justify paying what equates to around £100 a year for Training Peaks, £150 a year for TrainerRoad and now an extra £50 a year for Strava. So, what should I do.
First up, I could get rid of TrainerRoad (as it’s the most expensive) and use something else instead. There are plenty of other options out there, some of which are more fun and social such as Zwift. These other options still allow me to follow actual workouts on my trainer which is the core functionality of TrainerRoad for me, but they don’t offer much more than this. They are also a similar price or more expensive. TrainerRoad does have the added value of the Plan Builder feature which is not only really good but isn’t offered by the alternatives. If only they would add proper support for different sports then it would be perfect. I don’t think I can ditch TrainerRoad at the moment as I need something to allow me to follow specific workouts and the alternatives don’t have the added benefit of the Plan Builder.
I could maybe get rid of Training Peaks though. I use it mainly for planning my calendar and then analysing workouts and tracking performance in the Performance Management Chart. The plan builder feature of TrainerRoad can be used for the planning aspect of this. Analysis of individual workouts can be done elsewhere too and there are also replacements for the Performance Management Chart. There are a number of free plugins for Strava such as the Elevate plugin that will display a Performance Management Chart, and I have been using intervals.icu lately as well. The latter is in constant development and is improving all the time. The PMC chart is really good and the analysis of individual session is quite nice too.
Strava itself can be used for analysis as well and now that I’ve tried the Premium version, the ‘Fitness and Freshness’ Chart looks promising.
Which Apps to Choose?
If I keep things as they are I’ve lost access to all of the Strava Premium features thanks to the changes that Strava have made to their business model. I’ll have lost access to the full leaders boards and segments, I’ll have lost access to the route builder and I also lose access to the Our Giro leaderboards as well.
I have a feeling that the way forward might be to save £100 a year by letting my Training Peaks subscription expire and then pay up for Strava Premium which is £50 a year. Doing so will save me £50 a year and I shouldn’t lose too much if anything.
The planning side of things can be replaced by TrainerRoad’s Plan Builder. The calendar side of things can be replaced by either TrainerRoad, Garmin Connect, Strava or INtervals.icu (or more likely a combination of all of the above). The analysis side of things can be replaced by Garmin Connect and Strava, and the Performance Management Chart can be replaced by Intervals.icu. If I start paying for Strava (which is afterall what they want by making these changes) then I’ll not lose any of the Strava features and will gain access to other premium features such as their analysis tools, and of course live segments too. Strava Live Segments allows you to see where a segments starts and ends live on your phone or Garmin device and shows you your progress over that segment in relation to your PB or the KOM. It’s always been a Premium feature so I’ve yet to use it but it might be fun to play with.
It might take a while to get used to the loss of Training Peaks, but overall I think it’ll save me money and the combination of other apps will probably provide me with more features and functionality than I currently have.