How Strava became one of the fastest-growing fitness apps in America

  • Health and fitness app downloads have reached record highs during the pandemic as Americans seek new ways to exercise during the pandemic.
  • Strava, a fitness tracking app that uses GPS technology to track exercises like cycling and running, has become one of the top-performing apps in the health category with 3.4 million downloads alone in May, up 179% from January. 
  • “Strava has seen a positive response to people joining their community to exercise in safe, socially distanced ways,” a Strava spokesperson told Business Insider. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Its been a banner year for health and exercise apps, but especially for Strava. 

The fitness tracking app — which is Swedish for “strive” — uses GPS technology to record real-time distance and speed for activities like biking and running. Strava downloads in May rose to 3.4 million helping the company reach revenue of $6.4 million, an increase of 179% and 166%, respectively, from January, according to mobile app marketing firm SensorTower.

Strava led an overall record rise in downloads of apps across the health and fitness category in the second quarter of 2020, which collectively increased by a whopping 47% year-over-year, SensorTower said. The rates outpaced traditional peaks in January, when demand and sales for fitness products and services is historically at its highest.  

According to a Strava spokesperson, the meteoric rise of the company in recent months can largely be attributed to the impact of the coronavirus. 

“As gyms and fitness studios around the world shuttered earlier this year due to the global pandemic, many people took to running and cycling,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider. “Strava has seen a positive response to people joining their community to exercise in safe, socially distanced ways.”

One example of Strava’s impressive growth is its “SOLOdarity Challenge” — a program designed for users “to stay active and connected while socially distancing,” according to the spokesperson. The program has amassed nearly one million users.

Strava has also experienced high participation rates in its monthly 5K running challenges, with more than 1.2 million athletes in May, doubling its numbers from January, the spokesperson said. 

Ben Parr, co-founder and president of the marketing platform Octane AI, said fitness apps in addition to Strava have greatly benefited from the pandemic’s dramatic impact on the way Americans exercise.

“There’s a rise in popularity for fitness apps, at-home workout equipment, and fitness apparel because of the pandemic,” Parr told Business Insider. “As people continue to stay home and make outdoor interaction minimal, the at-home fitness industry will continue to grow because people will be eager to find safe ways to be active.”

Strava also benefited from the outdoor cycling boom, as the pandemic drove sales of bicycles as both a means of exercise and transportation, with many forms of transit operating on limited hours amid the virus. Some bike shops experienced sales growth of upwards of 600%, and back orders were common early on in the outbreak.

biking mask

Cyclists ride bikes clad in masks during the pandemic.

Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

While the pandemic accelerated Strava’s growth, the app had already been on the rise in recent years thanks to its ability to find the sweet spot between fitness tracker and social media platform under the tutelage of CEO James Quarles, formerly of Instagram. 

After Quarles took the helm in 2017, he quickly used his acumen to transform Strava from mere fitness tracker to full-fledged social platform. Today, the app allows users to follow fellow “Athletes” and comment and ‘like” their posts, activities, and photos. It also connects with popular devices like FitBit and Peloton, and just last week the company announced an updated “Goals” feature that allows users to set aspirations in expanded categories. 

Though only time will tell if Strava’s growth will continue beyond the pandemic, Parr said to expect the momentum to persist. 

“People have been staying indoors because of the pandemic for over six months now,” Parr said. “Not everyone feels comfortable entering a gym or taking group classes, so they’re finding ways to stay active in the comfort of their own homes.”

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