Everything You Need to Know About Pedometers

A pedometer is a portable instrument (usually electronic or electrochemical). It is used to count the number of steps an individual takes by recognizing movements of their hands and hips. The distance of steps can vary from person to person for which an informal calibration can be performed.

With the advancement in technology, several pedometers are available that use software and automated apps to calculate the user’s steps through a GPS receiver. Pedometers are reliable and reasonably priced and can be used as a motivational tool. 

Pedometers are mostly used by fitness fanatics, athletes and sports celebrities, but they are now becoming popular as a day-to-day exercise counter and motivator tool. It is designed to be worn on your waistband and should be kept on throughout the day to record the distance and number of steps taken. Aside from walking, pedometers can record the user’s movements such as bending and jumping.

They can be worn by both adults and children and used consistently to track different functional activities, structured fitness activities, and recreational activities.

Pedometers vs Step Counters


The most important function of a pedometer is to track your number of steps and to give you an estimate of the traveled distance. Most of the models available today can also calculate the time spent doing aerobics (through the rise in heartbeat) and the calories burned. They can also show the time and remember the data for seven days.

Formatting a Pedometer

Before formatting or setting up a pedometer device, you must measure the distance covered by a certain number of steps (10 steps at least). The distance can be measured through a measuring tape and divide it by the number of steps taken (such as 10). This process should be repeated multiple times to be certain of the distance covered by one step or else the calculated data will not be accurate.

To format or set up a pedometer, you have to insert some information such as time, weight, height and walking pace. Once all the data is stored, you can clip it in your waistband and begin walking.

Accuracy of a Pedometer

A pedometer works accurately when the user is walking on level ground. This device can detect the steps taken but might not be accurate for walking uphill or running. The number of burned calories is also just an estimate established on the information given.

Step Counter

Step counters work just like a pedometer, but they have some additional and advanced features. In comparison to a pedometer, they can estimate the number of stairs climbed, monitor the heart rate of the user, track their sleeping patterns, record their exercises and track their food and water consumption.  

Many step counters include options like GPS, text messages, email and alarms. Through wireless technology, step counters can connect with a computer or smartphone and store or share your fitness goals and achievements.

Formatting a Step Counter

To operate a step counter, it must be integrated into another electronic device like a smartphone, watch or music player. Step counters do not require you to enter information like your walking pace, but they will work more effectively if you do so.

Accuracy of a Step Counter

Step counters usually incorporate more advanced sensors as compared to pedometers. They can track and record steps and the number of burned calories more effectively. This device can be more effective to get you motivated to stay fit and lose that extra weight.

Working Mechanism of a Pedometer

Every time a person walks, the body tilts toward one side and the leg swings in one direction. With the next step, the body tilts the other way and the other leg swings forward. Each tilt or inclination of the hips and swing of the leg is considered a step.

If we assume that every step is of the same length, counting the number of steps per day becomes easier. It can be done by calculating the number of times a body is tilting from one side to another. The number of steps can be multiplied by their respective lengths to estimate the distance walked.

This is the mechanism with which a pedometer generally works. There are slight differences, though, between different types of pedometers.

Mechanical Pedometers

Older pedometers function like a pendulum clock. The device used a swinging pendulum to count the number of steps and display the estimate with a pointer swinging around the dial (similar to an analog watch).

Electronic Pedometers

In modern pedometers, a metal pendulum is present. It is wired to an electronic circuit to count the number of steps. When the user walks, the hammer fluctuates diagonally and touches the metallic contact. This completes the circuit and adds a number to the step count. When one step is completed, the hammer comes back to its original location and breaks the circuit.

Advanced pedometers also use MEMS inertial sensors and software to detect the number of steps taken. The MEMS sensors can detect acceleration on 1, 2 or 3 axes to be more accurate and give fewer false positives. The software is used to analyze the results of the inertial sensor and to count the steps accurately.

In the years to come, more advanced approaches are expected to measure the steps by using computer vision.

Types of Pedometer

There are two main types of pedometers:

Spring-Levered Pedometers

In this type of pedometer, a flat lever arm is suspended by a spring that can move upward or downward when there is any movement. For example, when a person runs or walks, the vertical acceleration and movement of their hips can open and close the electric circuit. When it happens, the lever arm makes contact and a step is recorded.

These kinds of pedometers should be placed upright and at right angles to the ground level so that they work more efficiently. If the pedometer is tilted, it might not function perfectly.

Piezoelectric Pedometers

A piezoelectric crystal is a substance that can produce an electrical charge when compressed. These pedometers use a cantilevered mechanism with a flat beam and a load on the edge. That mass can compress the piezoelectric crystal when there is any movement like walking. It produces a voltage directly proportionate to the acceleration and the power fluctuations are used to record the number of steps.

Are Pedometers Accurate?

Test It Yourself

The more expensive a pedometer is, the more accurate the results will be. You can test the accuracy of any pedometer by resetting the counter to 0 and walking until you reach 50 steps. Then, check out how many steps the pedometer has recorded. If the reading displayed over the pedometer is within ten percent of the actual number, you can consider it accurate.


Pedometers are known to work more effectively when worn over the waistband rather than kept in the pocket. If the pedometer is kept inside the pocket, excessive jiggling can record an inaccurate number of steps.


The accuracy of a pedometer can increase to 96 percent when the speed is more than 3 mph but can drop down to 74 percent if the speed is 2 mph or below. This error can be due to the inability of pedometers to record steps when moving at a slow speed.

Differences Among Different Types of Pedometers

Spring-Levered Pedometer

The spring-levered pedometers are the most inexpensive (starting from $10) and commonly used. They can be affected even by a small tilt or change in the plane and are less accurate than accelerometers. It can benefit those who want to stay motivated to increase their overall physical activity but don’t want to spend a lot.


  • Water- and wear-resistant
  • Small and lightweight
  • Tracks progress for a month


  • Low battery life
  • Low accuracy

Coiled-Spring Pedometers

These pedometers are also inexpensive (starting from $20), but they are manufactured to offer greater accuracy and reliability. They are available with a security strap as well. They are best for people who are not obese or overweight and can walk with a speed of more than 2 mph.


  • Higher battery life
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Tiny and quiet


  • Cannot count calories or active time
  • Prone to wear and tear

GPS Pedometers

These pedometers are usually expensive (starting from $125), but they are great for trainers and diehard runners. They can accurately calculate the distance for cycling, running, walking and other routine activities.


  • Provides positioning, timing, and navigation
  • Readings are easy to see 
  • Adjustable bands


  • Require connection to satellite
  • Inaccurate at high speeds

Accelerometer Chip Pedometers

These are the best-selling, inexpensive (starting from $15) and highly accurate pedometers that crush all other types. People who want to achieve fitness goals with simple walking are highly recommended to use accelerometer chip pedometers. 


  • Advanced 3D sensors 
  • Tri-axis technology 
  • Provide superior accuracy in any position


  • Inaccurate results if not secured vertically
  • Starts counting after ten continuous steps

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