A while back I came across an addon for Strava called “StravistiX“. Its totally free and it gets installed as a Google Chrome browser extension – but only works on your computer rather than on your mobile devices. (The extension exists for Opera too which is a lesser used browser, but not for Firefox, which is more well used which is a bit odd). I already think Strava is amazing for training analysis, but StravistiX takes things a step further.
What it does is embeds extra bits and bobs (OK, stats if you want to get technical) into the Strava website as you are browsing it. Some are more interesting and useful than others admittedly, but they recently introduced a feature that really opened my eyes. Apparently, something similar is already in Strava, but only for Cycling data and only with a Premium subscription. Its also the same as the Performance Chart in Training Peaks, but again requires a premium subscription.
So, for StravistiX to have this for free is a real bonus.
Once the addon is installed, you configure the settings to tell it your weight, gender, age and configure things like your heart rate and pace zones. You can also turn on and off features you do and don’t want to use. I haven’t tried all of them as there are a LOT, so the rest of the post is on the features I’ve tried, and I like.
Subtle Enhancements to Strava
First up there’s this tile which gets added to your Profile page (It displays for you only on your profile) and shows you where you are at this year versus your previous years activity history – helpful if you want to “beat” last years mileage goal or something similar!
The Flyby is a feature in Strava I love to use because I’m a nosy so and so. When I’m out running and I pass someone who is absolutely flying, when I get back I look at my Flyby, and if they are on Strava I can see what session they were doing and view the activity data. Admittedly, its a bit stalky but its also helpful when looking at a race and see how you tore away from (or got left for dust) by the rest of the field! StravistiX embeds the Flyby button to every activity on your activity feed, so its easy to access the Flyby much faster.
The next panel appears when you are viewing an activity. It gives you some great additional stats for that activity, like how much of it were you climbing. It also shows you your “TRIMP”. This stands for “TRaining IMPulse” and I’ll talk about that a bit later in the post, but its similar to your Suffer Score – which is only available to Strava Premium members – so this is another free alternative to premium membership!
Clicking the “Show Extended Statistics” button then lets you see full screen a full and detailed analysis of your data. The “Grade” information is shown below. But it also shows you heart rate, pace, cadence, and elevation. It splits them all into fully configurable Zones so you can see the effect of grade on your pace and heart rate, for example. Strava limits these zones, so having flexibility to add more could be attractive for some people.
Segments are one of my favourite things about Strava, and StravistiX have enhanced the segment view too. It adds some extra columns and colours to the segments that you crossed in your activity, so you can analyse your segment attempts directly on the list. It shows how far away you were from the CR, your PR and your ranking against the leaderboard for the effort.
But now for something a whole lot more interesting…
The “Multi-Sport Fitness Trend”
Recently StravistiX released this (rather wordy – why not just “Fitness Trend”) feature and it seemed… somewhat familiar. Confusing, yet familiar. It essentially examines your training history and plots it into a chart showing 3 key metrics, all based around your “TRIMP” – I told you I’d come back to it!
TRIMP is your TRaining IMPulse and is a measure of the amount of effort you put into an activity. It calculates it based upon your heart rate during the activity and the zones you are working in. It’s just like Strava showing you your Suffer Score. The longer you run the higher your score gets. But if you are running “easy” then the score accrues at a lower rate then if you are running at your lactate threshold. So harder runs accrue a higher TRIMP. It does this totally dynamically, so is you have 2 miles easy, 4 miles at threshold and 2 miles recovery, it will accrue the score based upon just that, so for 2 miles your TRIMP will accrue slowly, for 4 miles it increases quickly, then for 2 more it accrues more slowly.
Fitness, Fatigue and Form
It uses these TRIMP scores, applies some calculations and plots them into a whizzy chart as 3 different metrics.
The first metric is called “Fitness”. This a rolling average of your TRIMP over the last 42 days and is also known as your Chronic Training Load – it gives an indicator of how fit you are based upon your training history. So, if you had a week with no running, this would slowly decrease – after all you don’t suddenly become unfit overnight! Similarly if you ran a bunch of hard efforts this would slowly increase as you can’t suddenly become more fit just because you ran a couple of hard efforts!
The flip side to your running – particularly running hard – is that you get fatigued. The harder you run (higher TRIMP) the more fatigued you are afterwards. The Fitness Trend tracks the average of your last 7 days exertions to give you your “Fatigue” score, also known as Acute Training Load. So, if you don’t run any hard sessions for a week, your Fatigue score will drop more drastically than your Fitness Score as its based on your short term rather than your long term history.
Thankfully, the third metric is simpler to understand. It’s called “Form” and is quite simply your Fitness – Fatigue. So lets say your Fitness is 80 and your Fatigue is 90. Your Form is -10. This indicates that you are a bit tired and not quite race sharp – You are more fatiguesd than you are fit. On the other hand, lets say your Fitness remained at 80, but your fatigue is only 70 – this gives you a Form of +10 – you are less fatigued and sharper to race (or indeed run a hard session)!
Practicalities – Using Form Zones
Looking at it like that it really does confirm the old adage that there really are no short cuts to “Fitness” – the less fatigued you are, the better you race. Not exactly rocket science I know, and it’s intel we all (should) know anyway, but seeing this visually plotted over time is much more helpful than simply seeing your Strava suffer score for your single activity.
But with all these things, the tool is only useful if you can use it practically. So, what can you actually use it for. A recent addition to the tool has added “Form Zones” so you can see roughly how these efforts are/should be affecting your training and race performance.
The below is taken directly from the StravistiX documentation.
- +25 < Form : Transition zone. Athlete is on form. Case where athlete has an extended break. (e.g. illness, injury or end of the season).
- +5 < Form < +25 : Freshness Zone. Athlete is on form. Ready for a race.
- -10 < Form < +5 : Neutral Zone. Zone reached typically when athlete is in a rest or recovery week. After a race or hard training period.
- -30 < Form < -10 : Optimal Training Zone.
- Form < -30 : Over Load Zone. Athlete is on overload or over-training phase. He should take rest
- You can use your current form to make sure you push your training load so that your hard efforts are greater than your current fitness, but in a sensible way. By keeping your form between -30 and -10 is the sustainable way to see your perfromance improve. Any less than this and the benefits of your training will likely be negligible.
- You can also see if you are over-training and risking injury by seeing a sharp spike in your “Fatigue” score as it will push you into the “Over Load Zone” The longer and higher you push that spike above your current fitness, the longer you’ll spend in this zone and the greater the injury risk. So if you are pushing that Form Score beyond -30 then beware.
- It shows quite clearly why you should avoid back to back hard efforts and how important rest is – you simply keep accruing fatigue and pushing your “Form” lower and lower below 0, risking bad things happening to your body. It also shows how important it is for recovery runs to be just that – they maintain your fitness but reduce your fatigue, as long as you do them at the right effort.
- It highlights the need for regular “quality” sessions to push you beyond your current “Fitness” score. If you aren’t pushing yourself regularly your form will slip into the “Neutral” zone. This is the zone you’ll find yourself in if you are in a recovery phase/week, or are tapering for a race. If you are spending a long period of time in this zone you are likely putting in “junk” miles and you’ll not see any long term improvement by hanging around in here!
- You can tell when you are ready to race as you’ll find your form in the “Freshness” zone, which will be somewhere between +5 and +25. Your short term intensity has lowered meaning your fatigue has dropped below your fitness score so you are fresh to race! This is evidenced quite nicely in the attached section from my chart – I didn’t think I was capable of the PB I got at Poole last year, but the chart shows my Fatigue had reduced by the perfect amount. Now if I see a Form score like that before a race I’ll know I can give it a good effort!
- You can, to some degree, use it to plan or at least assess your taper. Over time and history you know the sorts of sessions you will be running and what your TRIMP is likely to be and you can work out when you might peak. I might be a nice feature addition to allow a user to enter some values here to model their taper.
- The basic rules of cause and effect are, you train at a certain speed for a certain time you get better at running that speed. To get faster you need to push yourself on further again. I use McMillan to reassess my training paces after a race normally, but when training this might not be frequent enough. Now, I can see when my training reaches a plateau as I would be in the Neutral zone, even though I’m not doing a recovery or taper week. With this intelligence I can assess if I need to increase my training paces to increase the training stimulus. This should ensure a faster increase in performance as long as you don’t overly fatigue yourself in the process.
I was blown away by this feature. Really. To some degree just because it proved that my training methodology made some sense, but mainly because I can see, long term, how this can help me improve as a runner.
It’s not anything particularly new – The creator credits Banister and Coggan (References below) who came up with and improved this concept – but embedding it into your existing Strava data was jsut really nice and so easy to use. It took my some time to understand but once I did, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it.
StravistiX have done a lot of hard work and made this free, Full credit to Thomas Champagne for a brilliant app. I will be donating to the project in thanks.
THIS POST WAS UPDATED 11th January 2017 to reflect great new additions to Fitness Trend.
Thanks to this article which explained to me what these numbers actually meant on a practical level. Credit: Training Peaks http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/applying-the-numbers-part-3-training-stress-balance
BANISTER, E. W. 1991. Modeling Elite Athletic Performance. In: MACDOUGALL, J. D., WENGER, H. A. & GREEN, H. J. (eds.) Physiological Testing of Elite Athletes. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics
Wikipedia also has more information on the topic: http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Modeling_Human_Performance
Stravistix use the attached link as a source of information and I read it too to understand the practical uses of the zones: http://www.joefrielsblog.com/2015/12/managing-training-using-tsb.html