Strava reveals how Covid-19 is impacting pro athlete mental health

The isolation and financial uncertainty is impacting pro cyclists and their performance 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Strava has revealed how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting pro athletes’ mental health. 

A new survey of professional cyclists, runners and triathletes has shown that many are struggling to train because of the impact of Covid-19. 

Social isolation and financial uncertainty are taking their toll on athletes, making it harder for them to stay motivated and impacting their training.

Olympic gold medalist and track star Elinor Barker said : “It’s been an unusual year as a professional cyclist, and there’s definitely been an impact on training habits and routines – from facing greater isolation and missing your team-mates, to battling through days lacking proper motivation, there’s been plenty of obstacles. Having no real competition to aim for, and with a lack of a proper challenge, I’ve had to find new ways to keep myself sharp and focused.”

Social media and exercise tracking app Strava joined forces with Stanford University in the US to survey 131 professional athletes from cycling, running, and triathlon. 

The research found that 62 per cent of athletes reported difficult exercising, while 22.5 per cent said they had felt down or depressed during the pandemic, and 28 percent had felt nervous or anxious. 

Athletes are also worried about their livelihoods, with 71 per cent worrying about money during the Covid-19 restrictions, while 46 per cent saw a reduction in their paid sponsorships. 

While 44 per cent of male athletes had a drop in funds due to sponsorships, 54 per cent of female pros have been through the same.  

Barker added: “Overall, I’ve actually managed to improve my fitness, as I’ve never had such a prolonged period of time dedicated solely to training. With no travel and competitions, suddenly I’ve had a proper off-season for the first time in my career – and I’ve made sure to make it count.

“Throughout the Covid-19 crisis I’ve felt well supported by my club and my team-mates, and I’m hopeful that more broadly, governing bodies will do all in their power to provide a safety net for cyclists in this uncertain time.”

Social isolation and a lack of group training is also have an impact on the mental health of the professionals, as 54 per cent said they trained with a partner three days a week or more before the pandemic, while only 21 per cent do the same after restrictions were put in place. 

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Stanford professor and sports medicine physician Dr Michael Fredericson said: “This study's findings will help guide our approach to maximising health in elite athletes during this unprecedented time. 

“While I am incredibly impressed with the fortitude in these professional athletes, we now have clear evidence of the toll this is taking on their mental health. Uncontrolled stress can lower the body's immune response as well as impair the ability to recover fully from intense exercise, and we need to provide additional resources to help athletes address these challenges." 

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Alex is the digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter and now as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output.

Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) and joining CW in 2018, Alex has covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. 

Away from journalism, Alex is a national level time triallist, avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.