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Strava’s 2020 review shows exercise boom despite pandemic

Strava’s annual end-year review is here to reveal how we exercised over the past 12 months. We’ve read through the data to bring you the most compelling insights.

Founded about 10 years ago, Strava is one of the best known social fitness apps around. Some 70 million runners, cyclists and active people from around 200 countries use it to record their activities, to see how they stack up against others, and to share photos and highlights of their adventures.

The Review aggregates Strava user activity to provide us with an interesting look at recent fitness trends. The 2020 version looks at activity uploaded between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020. This certainly has not been a typical 12 months!


We are exercising more than before

Perhaps the most surprising finding of the report is that we are exercising more. Who would have thought that there would be a 33% increase on the previous 12 months.

Some 1.1 billion activities were uploaded to Strava over the past year. The chart below shows actual versus expected activity. The spike begins in March, which coincides with the global spread of COVID-19.

strava 2020 review shows competition looked different in 2020 - Strava's 2020 review shows exercise boom despite pandemic

However, not all countries navigated the pandemic in the same way. Athletes in countries which saw strick lockdown restrictions in the Spring saw outdoor activity such as running and cycling plummet for a while. Good examples are Spain (-67%) and Italy (-64%).

On the other hand countries such as the US and the UK saw large increases at the outset of the pandemic. This was because gyms were shut down and governments in those countries did not place strict restrictions on outdoor exercise. In the UK, outdoor exercise outpaced expected activity by a whopping 82% between March and May 2020. This compares to 28% in the US.

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Interestingly, the rise in activity was led by women. In the six months to September, women aged 18-29 uploaded 45% more activities than before. Men increased their activity by 27%.

Not many marathon events were held during 2020, but that didn’t matter. Hundreds of thousands of 26.2 mile runs were uploaded to Strava. That was three times as many as last year due to people choosing to go the distance solo.


A big rise in good old walking

Walking is good for you, we all know that. It doesn’t really matter if you’re aiming for 10,000, 15,000 or 5,000 steps per day as long as you aim to sit less.

The US Government has recently updated its official Physical Activity Guidelines. There is no specified steps target. Instead the document says we are supposed to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week.

Outdoor walking saw the biggest increase between April and June as compared to last year. It increased 3 times, far above the 1.5-2x rise in running, cycling and indoor workouts uploads to Strava. Nevertheless, running and cycling remain the most popular sports on Strava.

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Exercising together goes out the window

boost your gym session with one of these workout trackers - Strava's 2020 review shows exercise boom despite pandemic
Image source: Fitbit

Working out with others has been a strong trend in recent years. We tend to exercise longer if in groups, particularly as we get older. And it’s more fun!

Unsurprisingly, this has changed in 2020. Group rides, runs and marathons went out the window. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop people from keeping in touch and Strava helped a lot.

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Statistics show that the average athlete followed almost twice as many people this April on the platform. This declined somewhat as the year progressed by remained above the previous 12 month levels.

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Along with an increase in social connections, there was a boost in new clubs created and Strava and athletes joining them. In May some one million athletes joined Strava’s monthly 5K challenge, the biggest number ever. Over a half of runners on the platform put in personal running bests in 2020.


Mixing it up is good

There is more than one way to keep fit and athletes are increasingly realising this. Apart from outdoor walking – indoor runs, indoor workouts and hiking showed healthy increases as secondary activities. This was the case for both cyclists and runners.

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