How Pedometers Work

Updated May 23, 2019
Man waist with a pedometer on pants

Learning how pedometers work provides a great tool for achieving fitness goals. A pedometer records the number of steps taken, and it's an essential part of the 10,000 steps program for fitness.

Recording Steps

Essentially, a pedometer records the steps you walk. Inside the pedometer is a device or arm set on a spring. That spring moves up and down as you stride by measuring the up and down motion of your hips. The device is motion sensitive and activates when you're in motion. More modern pedometers lack springs and instead track your steps using digital technology. Designed specifically for vigorous walking, pedometers come in all shapes, sizes and sensitivities.

Pedometer vs. Step Tracker Apps

Old fashioned pedometers clipped onto belts or were worn on a wristband. Far more popular today are step tracker devices and apps, such as activity tracker bands or step tracker apps on smartphones. Apps typically under-perform when compared to pedometers, but are good if you want to view a map of where your steps took you or have access to cumulative walking data over a period of time, like comparing your steps taken from month to month. Apple Health and Google Fit are both highly rated apps with step tracker functions.

Choosing a Pedometer

Pedometers are goal-oriented devices that act as both a means for measurement and incentive to improve the number of steps you take each day. Old fashioned, clip-on pedometers can be a good choice for:

  • People who do not want their step history collected in a database
  • People who have a hard time remembering to keep their smartphones with them
  • Kids who need to be encouraged to take more steps and be more active
  • Giveaways from gyms, wellness organizations, or as employee gifts

Are Pedometers Accurate?

When used according to manufacturer's guidelines, pedometers can be quite accurate. This is especially true when the user sets the baseline for an average stride before first use - this procedure is spelled out in the user's guide. An actual pedometer may yield more accurate results than a smartphone app, although some pedometers are less accurate with slow walking than with faster walking. Accuracy can vary from one pedometer to another, so check out user reviews before purchasing.

Correct Pedometer Usage

Pedometers are effective only if they are used correctly. Most pedometers must be worn so that they sit straight and vertical. It's ideal to wear a standard pedometer clipped onto your belt. Your waist band is a second choice, but it can interfere with how the pedometer works if it is too tight against the curve of your waist or stomach.

Body Placement

Tucking the pedometer into your purse, your backpack or your pocket is not ideal. In most cases, it will interfere with the functionality. If you hold the pedometer and shake it and it counts steps, then you can be sure that it is sensitive to motion, your belt is the most secure place to get an accurate recording of your steps because it will reduce idle jostling that can throw off the count of your steps.

Correct Step Tracker Usage

The app you use for a step tracker will provide tips for the ideal smartphone placement on your body to track steps. In general, keeping your smartphone in your front pocket yields the most accurate results.

Use Your Pedometer Effectively

Pedometers are great tools, but they are just that - a tool. They can help you measure where you are on the path to your goals whether it's 10,000 steps or just 500 extra steps. They can motivate you to push further and longer, but they only work if you do the walking. Tracking your steps can help you measure your progress, which can be quite motivating.

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How Pedometers Work