Strava Suffer Score

May 21, 2013 8:48 pm

The original entry was published on September 1, 2012.  Since then, Strava has made it possible for Premium members to change their heart rate zones.  I have updated this post accordingly.

One of the features of a premium account on Strava is the so called Suffer Score that it will compute for you after each run or ride.  It will only be able to calculate this if you are recording your heart rate because it uses the heart rate compared with your heart rate zones to calculate the suffer score.  For a detailed analysis of what goes into this see Strava Suffer Score decoded, a post written by a friend Dan Connelley.

Heart Rate Zones

Strava now allows Premium members the ability to edit your heart rate zones.  If you accept the defaults that Strava offers, your Suffer Factor might be misleading.  I have done a lot of research on how different coaches recommend setting heart rate zones but no one would put an anaerobic zone starting at 169+ for a maximum heart rate of 175.  Besides, I know that is not the case for me.  Instead of changed the heart rate zones so Zone 5 now starts at 163 not 169.  See my article that compares several methods.  Note once you change your zones in Strava, it will use on a going forward basis and will not change your prior suffer scores.

High Suffer Score Could Mean Poor Condition

I suppose that there there is a correlation between suffer score on Strava and how much you suffered on a ride.  But that does not mean a higher suffer score correlates with better performance in terms of speed/distance.  This was apparent on today’s ride, which had a suffer score of 360.  I sorted my activities in Strava over the past 3 years by suffer score and looked at all of them over 400.


I think the ride where I suffered the most was the on on 7/7/10, but it has the lowest suffer score on this chart.  But then that was done before I was able to change my heart rate zones.  For the two recent double centuries, the one on Knoxville cause me far more suffering that the one for Solvang, but the suffer scores are not that much different.

The suffer score seems to be heavily weighted toward long duration but for some individuals a long ride does not mean suffering, especially if done at a moderate pace.  I therefore consider suffer score just a fun thing to look at and probably a motivator for many people so overall I think it is a good thing.  Strava might consider to look at some other measurement score that could help us with our training, but that might require a power meter which most users do not have.

For those who have a power meter, Strava now offers several new tools to look at, including Training Load and a Fitness and Freshness page.  Once you start to accumulate data from a power meter you will be able to better understand your rides, far more than the Suffer Score will provide.


One Response to “Strava Suffer Score”

Vince Cummings wrote a comment on September 1, 2012

The suffer score does seem to be a little unscientific. I don’t think I would cancel Strava because of it though. The whole heart rate thing is really weird this year. I have been working more hours this year and my heart rate is much harder to bump up. Earlier this year after being off the bike for most of May it went up more easily. As you point out I am in better shape now and it’s less important for me to go anaerobic to go fast on the bike, especially on flat ground. My max was 195 last year, which I know thanks to Low Key Hill Climbs. This year I think 190 is my max but unless I take some time off work and rest and then do some Low Key Climbs I won’t really know if I can still hit 195 this year. My climb times are similar to last years at this time, maybe even better, but my heart rate is lower. I still haven’t really had a Low Key type time on a climb yet this year, which isn’t surprising, since I can rarely match those times in a non race situation no matter how hard I try. I also find both Garmin and Strava to be off base with the caloric computation as well. That bothers me more than the suffer score being somewhat useless. Your 3800 calories on Strava today means you only burned 475 an hour. My guess is you burned more like 6 to 700 calories an hour on your ride for a total more like 5200 calories for the whole ride.

Care to comment?