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Upload a stairs training session on Strava

by Azlan

I have been asked this question several times by my running mates on how I upload a stairs training session on Strava. And I’m surprised not many have thought of this solution, so I guess what better way to pass on the knowledge by writing in a blog post explaining how it’s done.

Caveat: I’m using a Suunto Ambit3 Peak as the watch for this tutorial. Because I don’t own another GPS watch concurrently (not that I could afford one), you may wish to adopt some of the steps to suit the different brands of watches; Garmin, Polar, TomTom, etc.

What you will need:

  1. A GPS watch with a Barometric Altimeter. This is a critical feature that your watch must have for this tutorial to work, as the altimeter is the one that can track elevation changes without the need for a GPS. Some watches with a built-in altimeter will include the Ambit3 Peak/Traverse/Vertical, Garmin Fenix3/920XT/Epix and the Polar V800. DC Rainmaker has an exhaustive list.
  2. A desktop or laptop, macOS or Windows.

Step 1: Setting the watch

I will be using Movescount, the default platform for Suunto to create a new sports profile for the watch. Alternatively, you may also create a new profile using the Movescount App.

  1. Log into Movescount. Hover over your profile picture and click on Watches.
  2. Scroll to Sports Modes and click on Create new sport mode.
  3. You can then go ahead and input the settings for the new sports profile. Here is my setup.
    • Name: Stairs
    • Activity: Running (Note: I originally set it up in Treadmill mode, but I realize now that I had set it to just Running and seems to track my sessions as well, so I kept it as that.)
    • Displays: Up to your personal preference. I would recommend having one screen showing just the Altitude profile on the watch. (2nd display screen in the screenshot)
    • Recording Interval: 1s
    • GPS Accuracy: GPS off
    • Under the Show advanced settings menu:
      • Alti-Baro Profile: Alti
    • You may click Save and then re-sync your watch to Movescount.

Step 2: Testing the watch

Now that you have set up the watch, get out there and test it out! If set correctly, the Altimeter in your watch should still detect the changes in the elevation, while the watch built-in accelerometer (for the current generation of watches) should detect your arm swing to compute the distance, although you may want to take the distance lightly as it may not be that accurate.

The watch should detect the changes in elevation, thus the profile should look as follows.

The watch should detect the changes in elevation, thus the profile should look as follows.

Step 3: Uploading the data

[Update 12/12/2016: Based on my recent experiences, moves that are set to running will automatically be synced to Strava.  However, you need to change the sport mode from Workout/Treadmill to Running for the altimeter data to be shown and logged as part of you training. Thanks!]

  1. Upload your data to Movescount by syncing it either via the Movescount App or the sync cable. For the older Suunto Ambit2 series, you will need to sync it via the sync cable.
  2. Once your activity is on Movescount, visit your profile using your computer and click on the activity.
    1. To be sure that your elevation was tracked properly, click on the Altitude button under the Graph. It should look nice and dandy.
    2. Click on Export as FIT to save the file to your computer. This is necessary as I found that Movescount will not auto-sync activities with no GPS data to Strava.
    3. Now head over to Strava. Click on Upload an Activity.
    4. Click on File, then Choose Files to find the FIT file that was saved earlier.
    5. Once done, your stairs training session is now on Strava! Easy does it! An example of a session that I did would be this one.

In Summary

And with that, a simple way to upload your stairs training session from your Suunto watch to Strava. A couple of key takeaways for other brands of GPS watches would be.

  1. The watch must have a built-in Barometric Altimeter.
  2. The watch must be set to indoor mode, or with the GPS turned off. A good work around would be having the watch set as a Treadmill mode, which forces it to work with the GPS turned off.
  3. The watch must have the mode set to Altimeter mode only, if the option is present in the watch/sports mode.


Hope that helps! Do share it with other runners who may find the steps in this tutorial useful.

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