STRAVA Relative Effort – Let’s dig under the surface

STRAVA introduced RELATIVE EFFORT almost a year ago (April 2018) as a replacement to their Suffer Score. It’s been expanded to provide validity across many sports and to better accommodate shorter, harder efforts.

There is new functionality related to RELATIVE EFFORT available at STRAVA online, on your STRAVA app and on some cycling devices – notably WAHOO and Garmin.

Much of the functionality requires that you have the STRAVA SUMMIT Analysis Pack at £2.50 / US$3 per month, it’s slightly cheaper if bought annually. You can get a free 30-day trial…or a 60-day one if you know where to look 😉

Designed for STRAVA with Marco Altini PhD: HRV4TRAINING


What is it? How does it work?

At the most simple level, it’s a single number representing the total effort of each of your workouts. That single number should be comparable across sports and across all your friends.

Your all out 20 minute run should give the same number as your friend’s all out 20 minute run.

strava relative effort
Source: STRAVA

As you can see, Marco Altini based it on Bannister’s widely used TRIMP formulae.TRIMP essentially measures time-in-zone and allocates more points for time in a higher zone.

– Fitness & Freshness

The clever way that it has been implemented by STRAVA is that STRAVA’s large data set has been used to improve the accuracy of the calculations across sports. Also the efforts used to calculate your zones can be taken automatically from your maximal efforts which the algorithm identifies from your workouts.

Don’t worry if, instead, you know the basis for your HR zones. You can override the automation and use your manual zones.

Your Relative Effort workout scores are then also used elsewhere in the SUMMIT Analysis Pack to give you an indication of your readiness to train and perform. This kind of analysis is one of the first things you want to start looking at as you take your training more seriously.

However, let’s leave this fitness & freshness as that is a different, but related, part of the Analysis pack. Let’s return to the pure Relative Effort measure we are talking about here.

On the watch

This is optional. You do NOT have to add this data field to your device. But I’d bet about a million of you already have at some time or other judging by the 800k downloads just from Garmin Connect.

On your Wahoo all you have to do is add the existing RELATIVE EFFORT data field to an appropriate page. Then, as your workout progresses, you can see your RELATIVE EFFORT score progressively rise from zero…to hero. Or not hero depending on how it goes!

It’s a similar thing with your Garmin and you can download the Strava Relative Effort data field that you can add to a screen just as you would do with any other data field.

I guess it would be fun to compare your live score to that of your training partner to see who is genuinely trying the hardest.


It would also be nice if STRAVA’s training plans had a RELATIVE EFFORT indication for each workout and then you could, sort of, use the live RELATIVE EFFORT data field as a broad indicator of the correctness of your workout or even as a target for a longer, steady-state workout. IIRC the STRAVA plans pre-date the introduction of Relative Effort.

Note: It looks like the RELATIVE EFFORT data field will use the HR Zones as determined by STRAVA rather than the zones that might be on your Garmin/Wahoo.

Note: non-SUMMIT member (ie regular FREE STRAVA users) CAN also see the relative effort score live on the watch…but nowhere else.

Activity Relative Effort

When you check back on your activity either on the app or online platform then Summit members will see their score recorded for posterity. Here are two recent efforts of mine, the first that is included a very hard 18 minute effort and the second one a z2 effort in the Pyrenees.

I only include the second image because it says “Massive Relative Effort” and also shows a somewhat scary 75km/h. You needed to know that.

You could maybe check back at the same ride or run from an earlier week. If your score is progressively falling and your times are getting no slower then you are getting fitter.

Edit: It seems that all zones for sports other than bike and run are based on bike or run! whichever is the most appropriate. Thus swimming zones are based on bike where, at most, your max HR is 12 bpm lower for cycling than running. Indoor, pool-based activities with no GPS are officially not supported byt RE data does appear in some rare crcumstances but then seems too low

Weekly Relative Effort

This is a nice addition to the app and a little more useful, IMO, than the single Relative Effort number. It’s only on the app.

STRAVA determines a weekly “RELATIVE EFFORT RANGE” for you which varies daily and is based on a 3-week moving average. If you stay within range then you shouldn’t require much recovery time at all. Consequently if you go above the range then an easy day might be appropriate tomorrow.

This weekly view gives you a reasonable indication of the general direction of your overall training load as well as an indicator for the need to recover.

In the chart above you can see my current efforts are generally higher than other, recent weeks and that DOES make sense as I tapered for a couple of races two weeks ago. So my training from that time is lower than now.

But if you look at the middle chart, above, then you can also see that the highlighted week is also quite high when compared to even earlier weeks towards the start of this year. That makes sense too as I am now starting to cycle more with the onset of better weather.

Is it worth it?

If you are into deep sporty analyses then STRAVA’s RELATIVE EFFORT is NOT for you. You almost certainly will have something similar and a bit better in Golden Cheetah or Training Peaks or similar.

However if you just have Garmin Connect for your data ‘analysis’ then RELATIVE EFFORT and the STRAVA SUMMIT Analysis Pack can give you some interesting insights. If you are an occasional and time-crunched data analyser then STRAVA could be a good way to go . As you become familiar with RELATIVE EFFORT then you will probably stray towards looking at your STRAVA-based FITNESS and FRESHNESS data and that should help better guide your training efforts.

If you spend a lot of time on the STRAVA platform for social reasons and if you don’t normally look elsewhere for any kind of data analysis then RELATIVE EFFORT will give you some interesting insights and is probably worth paying a bit of extra cash on to help hone your training

  • Q: Would I use it?
  • A: No. But I DO look REGULARLY at the same soft of data and analyses. We are all different in our needs.

My Research and some more informational resources

  • I exchanged a few emails on this topic with Marco Altini who did the groundwork for STRAVA.
  • STRAVA Engineering article
  • This is a STRAVA-approved interview that was published on an online Canadian site which is now offline and so I’ve linked to it here Source via Marco Altini. Check out the links at the end of the article for some interesting thoughts on training with HRV and polarised training.

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6 thoughts on “STRAVA Relative Effort – Let’s dig under the surface

  1. I don’t feel that Strava relative effort, Whoop, TRIMP etc, work well for people that are substantially stronger in one discipline than another e.g. a far stronger runner than cyclist. I know that running at marathon pace for 1 hour nets me a Strava relative effort of more than double what I achieve on a 2:20 minute very hard cycle. Relative effort / TRIMP, seems to favor cardio load and effort and not muscular strain.

    1. i think that was the issue with the suffer score
      effectively there should be a hr zone for each sport.
      there will be different adaptations from a short hard session than one that is 50% longer and both potentially with the same relative effort.
      i agree the example you cite doesn’t sound right tho.

  2. It’s a shame that Strava still ignores any pool swimming HR data and consequently ignores pool swims in the calculation of the weekly Relative Effort. So it’s pretty much useless to gauge your external stress stemming from training.

    1. @Dembo ty for that. I looked into it a bit more.
      Yes. STRAVA say that RE is not supported for indoor pool swim. They say it’s only for outdoor activities with GPS.

      some more info:
      1. my Suunto OPEN WATER swims from last year do have RE data. Seems low though.
      2. AS EXPECTED: My Garmin HRM-TRI cached data from last week in the pool does NOT produce RE data (directly linked to strava from garmin connect)
      3. However if i export the same data to tcx from garmin connect and then manually import into strava the RE data DOES show. Again its a bit low.
      4. AS EXPECTED: However if i export to ORIGINAL (FIT) from garmin conenct and then manually into strava the RE data does NOT show.

      My tentative conclusion would be that STRAVA does not correctly read cached HR data in Garmin’s FIT files and that the zoning for swimming is set too high, indeed STRAVA say they use the bike HR zones for swimming with HRmax being, at most, 12bpm lowr for cycling than running.

  3. You should compare this to the Elevate plugin for Chrome. I think it does everything that Strava charges for for free.

    1. I use golden cheetah and sporttracks both of which give the same sort of things and more. There are many other choices.
      If you are already invested timewise in STRAVA and not a serious data analyst then using a bolt-on feature is a good way to go FOR SOME PEOPLE 😉

      Edit: ahhh. The ELEVATE plugin is the rebranded STRAVISTIX … definitely worth a look. It is a higher level of depth and complexity that the inbuilt strava stuff. Maybe fine for the likes of me but not for eveyone. I’m having a look at how it’s changed as they are also looking to port it to Firefox soon

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