Most Common Pedometer Problems

Did you walk for 30 minutes and your pedometer reads only 100 steps? Pedometers can overcount or undercount steps for several reasons. The pedometer may be bad, or it may be something you can correct with a fresh battery or better wearing position. It may even be user error -- hitting the reset button or reading the wrong mode.

Pedometer is Tilted and Counts Few Steps

Pedometer on Waistband
Pedometer on Waistband. Vasko Miokovic Photography/E+/Getty Images

The common inexpensive pedometer uses a pendulum mechanism and must be worn in a specific position to accurately count steps. If it is tilted forward or backward or side to side it won't count all steps. If you find the pedometer isn't counting steps, try repositioning it on the waistband or clipping it to a pocket. If you can't get an accurate reading, it is best to switch to a pocket pedometer or fitness band that uses an accelerometer mechanism or an accelerometer chip. These are much more tolerant of being tilted. They start at 2-axis models, but the most tilt-tolerant are 3-axis models and those with an accelerometer chip (as found in fitness bands). Many include a detachable clip so you can wear it on your waistband if you prefer it that way.

Wearing it in the Wrong Position

Cycle Hack When You Forget Your Pedometer
Cycle Hack When You Forget Your Pedometer. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Clip-on pedometers are meant to be worn on the waistband, while fitness bands are meant to be worn on the wrist. The instructions will usually show one position, but it may not be right for an individual's body shape and stride. Walkers need to experiment for the best position -- somewhere between the hip and the navel is good for waistband models, where the pedometer won't be tilted forward, backward, or sideways. Attempting to wear it in novel ways such as clipped to a pocket, a sock, or a bra may give inaccurate results -- or may be spot on. You need to experiment. Pedometers designated as pocket pedometers are more tolerant of more positions, but they also have their limits for accuracy. If you are trying to hack your pedometer or fitness band by wearing on your shoe as you pedal a cycle, welcome to my world.

Accidentally Hitting the Reset Button

If your pedometer doesn't have a cover over the reset button, it can be easy to accidentally hit the reset when adjusting your clothing or looking at the pedometer. The cure for this is to get a pedometer that has a cover over the reset button or has recessed buttons that are difficult to press accidentally. Some pedometers keep a daily count going and pressing reset only clears the current session, not the total. Luckily, most fitness bands and activity trackers don't have a reset button, they keep counting steps no matter what.

Didn't Turn it On

Some pedometers have on/off switches. Locate the instructions to see how to turn it on. New pedometers may have a tab over the battery that needs removed before it will work. The pedometer function of a pedometer watch or the iPod may have specific methods for turning on the pedometer function. Always check your pedometer after a minute of walking to see if it is counting steps or needs to be turned on or repositioned.

It Hit the Floor

Pedometers are known to fly off of your waistband and incur major trauma, especially in restrooms. If your pedometer just took a tumble and now it's not working, it is unlikely to be revived at the trauma center. You can try removing the battery and replacing it. But after that, just call the time of death. The best prevention for this common accident is to use a pedometer safety leash. You can buy one or just make your own out of some string and a safety pin. That extra point of safety is critical as I have yet to find a foolproof clip.

Pedometer Battery is Going Dead/Didn't Recharge It

A pedometer battery lasts six months to a year with common use. Fitness bands and activity trackers such as the Fitbit may need to be recharged every daily or every few days. As the battery runs down, the walker may see flaky readings -- counting too few or too many steps. If you have been using the pedometer for a few months without a problem, this may be the cause of newly inaccurate readings. If it is a new pedometer, try changing the battery to see if that corrects the problem. Many manufacturers have a tab over the battery so the buyer can remove it and start with a fresh battery. But some pedometers are sold with the battery already running. Visit the manufacturer's web site for instructions if you don't have them saved.

Pedometer Got Wet

Few pedometers are waterproof. If you made a mistake and submerged your pedometer, you can try to rescue it by taking out the battery and letting it thoroughly dry for a day or two in a warm, dry place (like on top of your TV or desktop computer) before putting the battery back in. You may want to use a hair dryer to gently blow it dry. If it still shows a blank display or a strange bunch of numbers, it is probably beyond rescue. Our iPod Guide's advice on fixing a wet ipod works for pedometers as well.

Looking at the Wrong Mode

Many pedometers have different screen modes showing distance, calories burned, exercise time, speed, stopwatch and other data besides a step count. Check to make sure you are looking at the right screen mode. If the distance seems strange, check to see whether it is showing kilometers or miles. Coffee to wake yourself up and wearing your reading glasses can also help.

Spring Mechanism is Getting Old

The cheaper pedometers use a spring mechanism, and as the pedometer ages the spring loses it springiness. After a million steps they tend to overcount steps. The cheapest hairspring models age fastest, but coiled springs also age. This leads to inaccurate step counts. Look for a pedometer with a piezo-electric accelerometer mechanism. They may cost a little more, but they are silent and maintain their accuracy for longer.
Pedometer Mechanisms: What Makes Your Pedometer Tick?

Need to Set the Stride Length and Weight

The step count shouldn't be affected by an incorrect stride length or weight, but you need to set these accurately to get a good estimate of distance and calories burned. Check your pedometer instructions and take the time to get a good estimate of stride length. If you walk a measured mile and it doesn't match the pedometer, increase your stride length setting if it is underestimating the distance (saying you went .75 miles instead of the 1 mile of the course) and decrease your stride length if it is overestimating (saying you went 1.25 miles on a 1 mile course.) Don't underestimate your weight -- you burn more calories per mile the more you weigh.
How to Set Your Pedometer

Wristband Won't Stay Closed

Bitbelt. Courtesy of

This problem afflicts fitness band pedometers. The Fitbit Flex and Force have particular trouble in keeping the band securely closed, leading to losing the expensive monitors. Our Heart Disease Expert, Dr. Richard Fogoros, says the solution is an o-ring from the hardware store or plumbing supply store (see photo). An entrepreneur is also selling the more-stylish Bitbelt, which is a wider silicone loop that comes in colors to mix or match with your fitness band.

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