Product Reviews · Strava

Strava Training Plans Review for Runners and Cyclists

One of the added benefits of tracking data is to use it not just for analysis, but for planning how to improve or build a training plan. It makes sense then that Strava, the leading fitness and athlete tracker, has integrated training plans available for runners and cyclists. Each of the training plans is free as a part of the Strava Premium, which is available for $60 a year. In comparison to other training plans this makes Strava plans very inexpensive.

Strava Running Training Plans for 5k Up to Marathon

Even a simple 5k plan can run you $25-$30 by itself, and Strava Premium gives you access to any number of plans for a variety of distances including 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, and Full Marathon. This alone can make the cost of Strava Premium worth it, if you like the plan. So let’s look at how good Strava training plans are. First a quick look at each distance:

  • Strava 5k Training Plan: A simple 6 week plan that sometimes includes speed work and tempo runs. Less intense options, with 2-3 days a week of running can get you to a couch to 5k plan with easy progressions of runs and can be done with as little as 12-15 miles of running a week. Longer plans with 5-6 days of running include hard workouts and can top out around 40-50 miles per week of running. This is plenty for a fast 5k, and all plans are designed for running hard over the 3.1miles, not just as a couch to 5k completion.
  • Strava 10k Training Plan. The 8 week option of a 10k mirrors closely the 5k plans. Depending on the days selected the mileage will be slightly higher as all efforts get slightly longer. There is still no huge long day, and each plan is designed again to be for finishing with speed not just completion.
  • Strava Half Marathon Training Plan: A 10 week plan for half marathons assumes that you have some base level fitness coming in. While the 5k and 10k options on 2-3 days running can be done by less experienced runners the half marathon plan includes longer days that will suck up time if you are not running fast enough and include distances that could be an issue. A solid 4-6 weeks of building easy base miles, or a history of running, will help greatly. Still the half marathon plans include workouts that build speed. At this level though finding a good predictor of your race pace also will make the workouts easier to do and understand since pacing is an even bigger part as the races get longer. 
  • Strava Marathon Training Plan: The full marathon plans for Strava are 12 weeks. This again is shorter than many beginner plans have, so a solid base leading into the plan is a good idea. More than any of the others, knowing or quickly settling on a marathon length effort pace is critical. There are speed workouts as well as distance workouts that are designed to match the race pace you are shooting for. Over or drastically underestimating this pace will make it harder to recover from workouts and long runs. The upside is that over 12 weeks there are a few down weeks to reconsider things and adjust or find work around days to take some down time. 

Training plans require some inputs, mainly the number or workouts per week and a recent race or hard run you have done to get started. The plans that are available are developed by McMillan Running. McMillan is from Greg McMillan who was an accomplished runner and coach that has made training plans available online for years. If you review any forums or running sources you may have come across the McMillan plans or the popular calculator which is used to define various training zones based on your pace.

Even with Strava, this calculator is important because you have to manually input some data to find your training paces for the plan. This is a bit of a bummer since Strava has most of your training data, it would be nice if there was a way to point Strava to a specific hard effort or race and say “use this to determine my training paces”.  While this does made the plan personalized, as advertised in the Strava Premium marketing materials, it does not make it automatic. Similarly while your number of workouts per week may be determined by looking at recent Strava data you must customize the plan by inputting how many days per week you want to run.

strava training plan log

There are some drawbacks to Strava training plans. The first is that they are rather rigid and hard to dynamically control. Each day you get an email with details about what is supposed to be run, and the schedule can be viewed ahead of time as well. But if you simply can not incorporate a workout for the day there is no way to alter the plan on the fly. In this way having a live coach may be more useful than the templated plan, as it will be easier to develop a plan around real world implications. That said, if you have a strict schedule already the plans themselves offer all the components needed to improve.

The other limitation is on how the flow of a plan progress. This is because all plans by design will start on a Monday, even if you choose a target date to complete a plan that is not a weekend, it will still start on a Monday. In the same way, all plans seem to follow a structure that weekends will be for long running days. Again this works for most athletes, but if your schedule has your best days for long runs on Wednesday there is no way to update the training plan. 

So, do Strava training plans work? Yes, a simple 5k training plan has shown to be able to reduce a 5k time by around 2 minutes in just 5 weeks. This is based on a sample size of 1, but by following the plan daily 9and supplementing with a handful of additional easy run days) a simple 4-5 day plan took our personal time from 21 minutes 30 seconds down to a personal best of 19 minutes 30 seconds. 

Strava Training Plans for Cyclists

Runners are not the only ones looking to improve, but finding a cycling training plan can be harder. This is because so many cycling races are dependent on the course type. Thankfully the rise of indoor trainers and products like Zwift and Peloton has made uniform training more accessible to more people. 

text showing details of a strava training plan for cyclists doing a 15 minute fitness test

To help cyclists who are Strava Premium members there are a number of race and workout cycling distances that have training plans built by Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). Just like the running training plans are personalized, so are the cycling plans. In this way you can input the number of workout hours expected as well as define when you want to start the training plan, and then a custom plan will be generated. 

Determining training zones for a Strava cycling training plan is done by following their “Training Right Workout Guide”. CTS manages this guide which defines how to do do a simple fitness test using a power meter or heart rate monitor and use the output to set various training zones. At the end of the day these training plans are designed to be heart rate zone training or intensity zone training, just by various names. If you are working to build up a better Functional Threshold Power (FTP), like those offered by Peloton FTP tests for Power Zone training, then this will look similar. 

The 15 minute climb training plan is a great option if you want to do a FTP tests. Especially if you alter between a stationary bike, like a Peloton, and some sort of outdoor riding, having a single source to aggregate your workouts is nice so you do not have to rely on Peloton the whole time. 

 

Strava Training Plans for Triathletes

Unfortunately the Strava Premium training plans are limited to just running and cycling. There is no combined plan, nor are there plans for swimming, triathlons, or other events. While it is possible to combine cycling and running plans and have them run concurrently the effect is not the same. Intensity of training will somewhat align, but since they are not fully integrated you will have some instances where the combined effects of training counteract each other. If you want to use Strava to train for a triathlon you are better off finding a sample plan elsewhere online. 

 

Find Out More About Strava with These Posts

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What is A Good Strava fitness score?

Find the Best Strava Extensions

Is Strava Premium Subscription Worth the Money?

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