How to Set Your Pedometer or Fitness Band for Better Accuracy

Use Your Average Stride Length to Adjust Your Pedometer

Taking a Walking Stride
Taking a Walking Stride. Ruslan Dashinsky/E+/Getty Images

You can make your pedometer distance measurement more accurate by adjusting it for your average stride length or average step length. Pedometers usually have a default stride length they use for the distance estimate, with each step assumed to be covering 2.2 feet (26 inches) for women and 2.5 feet (30 inches) for men.

You might cover more or less distance with each step, so adjusting this number will allow your pedometer to be more accurate in its distance reading.

First, read the instructions on your pedometer carefully. Most ask for the step length, although they may call it the stride length. Here's how to understand and measure this.

Average Step Length

The step length is the distance from the heel print of one foot to the heel print of the other foot during a walking stride. This is the distance traveled forward by a single leg. An average that you will see listed in many places is 2.2 feet (0.67 meters) for women and 2.5 feet (0.762 meters) for men, but it depends very much on height.

Fitbit allows you to change the step length (which they call the stride length) using the Edit Profile function in the online Dashboard, or in the app under Account,  Advanced Settings.

Average Stride Length

Stride length can mean the same thing as step length, or it can mean the distance traveled by the heel of one foot to the next time that same foot strikes down.

In other words, that would be two steps since in that time the other foot has also touched down once. If you set your pedometer for your step length and discover it seems to be halving your distance, read the instructions again. It may want the stride length, which is two steps. Also, in the reverse case, if you at first thought the pedometer needed the stride length but you seem to be getting double the distance, read again as they may have really wanted the step length.

The Wet Foot Walk Method of Measuring Stride Length

Rob Sweetgall of Creative Walking, Inc. touts this method of measuring step length to set your pedometer. Create a puddle of water on a stretch of sidewalk or street where you can be walking your natural speed before and after you reach it. Start walking at your natural pace and walk through the water. Keep walking naturally for about 10 more steps.

Now measure the distance from the heel of your left footprint to the heel of your right footprint on several of the wet footprints and average them. If your pedometer is set in feet, divide the inches by 12 to get feet. Step length in inches divided by 12 inches = Step length in feet.

Measured Distance Short Walk

Measure off a known distance such as 20 feet or 50 feet. Then get up to speed in your natural walk and count the number of steps it takes to cover that distance. Divide the number of feet by the number of steps. Feet divided by steps = Step length in feet.

Measured Distance Long Walk

If you use your step count over a longer known walking distance, it should give a more accurate average stride length measurement than the short walk method. Here are two suggestions.

Use a football field, which is 300 feet from goal line to goal line.

Count your steps. Divide 300 by the number of steps.

Use a regulation track at the local high school. This is tricky because some are 1/4 mile = 440 yards = 1,320 feet while others are 400 meters = 1,308 feet, so you may have to ask the coach. Walk in the inside lane only. Count your steps. Divide either 1,320 or 1,308 by the number of steps.

Check Your Distance With Online Mapping Apps

Use an online mapping app to draw and measure your walking route. Then check this against your pedometer reading. You could also use GPS-based walking apps on your mobile phone, but these are often off by 10 percent for distance compared with other forms of measurement.

Ten Step Measure

Make a mark at the heel of your right foot and then walk 10 steps, marking where the heel sets down on your tenth step. Measure the distance. Divide that distance by 10. This method can be inaccurate because you start and end at a dead halt, which is not your normal stride.

Estimate by Height

These are rough estimates, but useful to check your results by the other methods. It is the method used in the automatic settings of many pedometers and activity trackers:
Females: Your height x .413 equals your stride length
Males: Your height x .415 equals your stride length

Height

Women's  Stride - inches

Men's Stride - inches

5 ft. 0 in.

25

25

5 ft. 1 in.

25

25

5 ft. 2 in

26

26

5 ft. 3 in.

26

26

5 ft. 5 in.

26

27

5 ft. 5 in

27

27

5 ft. 6 in.

27

27

5 ft. 7 in.

28

28

5 ft. 8 in

28

28

5 ft. 9 in.

28

29

5 ft. 10 in.

29

29

5 ft. 11 in

29

29

6 ft. 0 in.

30

30

6 ft. 1 in.

30

30

6 ft. 2 in

31

31

6 ft. 3 in.

31

31

6 ft. 4 in.

31

32

6 ft. 5 in

32

32

Step Count Accuracy for Fitbit Fitness Bands

If your Fitbit fitness band seems to be counting too many steps, use the app or Dashboard to switch the setting to "Dominant Hand." That will decrease the motion sensitivity for arm motions. If it seems to count too few, change the setting to "Non-Dominant Hand."

Distance Accuracy for Fitbits

You can adjust your stride length (which is actually your step length) via the Edit Profile function on the online Dashboard. In the app, it can be set in the Account, Advanced Settings, Stride Length menu. You can set both walking and running stride lengths, as they often are different. If the distance estimate seems inaccurate, use this function to set it for better accuracy.

Pedometer Instruction Manuals

Sources:

Barreira TV, Rowe DA, Kang M. "Parameters of Walking and Jogging in Healthy Young Adults," International Journal of Exercise Science. Vol. 3 (2010) Iss. 1.

Hatano Y. "Use of the pedometer for promoting daily walking exercise." Int. Council Health Phys. Educ. Recreat. 29:4 – 8, 1993.

Hoeger WK, Bond L, Ransdell L, Shimon JM, Merugu S. "One-Mile Step Count at Walking and Running Speeds" ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, January/February 2008, Vol. 12, No. 1.

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