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.
1. Pedometer is Tilted and Counts Few Steps
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 that uses an accelerometer mechanism. These are much more tolerant of being tilted. They start at 2-axis models, but the most tilt-tolerant are 3-axis models. Most include a detachable clip so you can wear it on your waistband if you prefer it that way.
2. Wearing it in the Wrong Position
Clip-on pedometers are meant to be worn on the waistband. 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, 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.
3. 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.
4. Didn't Turn it OnSome 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 5th generation iPod 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.
5. It Hit the FloorPedometers 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.
6. Pedometer Battery is Going DeadA pedometer battery lasts six months to a year with common use. 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.
7. Pedometer Got WetFew 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.
How to Fix Wet Electronics
8. 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.
9. Spring Mechanism is Getting OldThe 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 Mechanims: What Makes Your Pedometer Tick?
10. Need to Set the Stride Length and WeightThe 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
11. Wristband Won't Stay Closed
This problem afflicts wristband pedometers and takes many forms. Fitbit Flex and Force owners have particular trouble securely closing the band, leading to losing the expensive monitors. Our Heart Disease Expert, Dr. Richard Fogoros, says the solution is a #41 o-ring from the hardware store or plumbing supply store (see photo).