The 10 Most Common Pedometer Problems

Cures for Malfunctioning Step Counters

Did you walk for 30 minutes and your pedometer reads only 100 steps? Pedometers and fitness bands 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. Learn about the most common problems.

1
Pedometer Is Tilted and Counts Few Steps

Pedometer on a waistband
Ruth Jenkinson/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Old-school inexpensive pedometers use 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 every step.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. The 2-axis models tolerate some tilt, but the 3-axis models and those with an accelerometer chip (as found in fitness bands) aren't affected by tilt.

2
Wearing It in the Wrong Position

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. Experiment to find the best position for pedometers worn on the waist, which will be somewhere between the hip and the navel in a position where the pedometer won't be tilted forward, backward, or sideways.

Attempting to wear a pedometer in novel ways such as clipped to a pocket, a sock, or a bra may give inaccurate results. If you are trying to hack your pedometer or fitness band by wearing on your shoe as you pedal a cycle, you may get only a few steps or you may rack up a bunch.

Pedometers designated as pocket pedometers are tolerant of more positions, but they also have their limits for accuracy. Fitness band pedometers such as Fitbit ask you to designate whether you are wearing it on your dominant or non-dominant wrist and then it will adjust its sensitivity accordingly. 

3
Accidentally Hitting the Reset Button

Simple pedometers may have a reset button and it can be easy to hit it accidentally. 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 as long as they have battery life.

4
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. 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 Floor

Pedometers are known to fly off of your waist or wrist (especially in restrooms). If your pedometer just took a tumble and now it's not working, it probably is broken permenantly. You can try removing the battery and replacing it in hopes this will revive it.

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.

If your fitness band won't stay closed on your wrist, you can add an o-ring from the hardware store as a "keeper." Or, you can buy a Bitbelt, which is a wider silicone loop that comes in colors to mix or match with your fitness band.

6
Battery Is Dead

A pedometer battery lasts six months to a year with common use. Fitness bands may need to be recharged 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. It may have been sold with the battery already running.

If your Fitbit or other rechargeable fitness tracker is having to be recharged more frequently than usual, do a hard reset. Check the website for instructions. This can cure excessive battery drain for the Fitbit Alta and other models.

7
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 (if possible) and letting it thoroughly dry for a day or two in a warm, dry place before putting the battery back in. You may want to use a hair dryer to gently blow it dry (on low or no heat). If it still shows a blank display or a strange bunch of numbers, it is probably beyond rescue.

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.

If you are checking an app, make sure you have synced the data and you are looking at the correct day. It may take awhile for the numbers to refresh after syncing.

9
Mechanism Is Getting Old

Cheaper pedometers use a spring mechanism that loses its tension as it ages. After a million steps they tend to overcount steps. The cheapest hairspring models age the fastest, but coiled springs also age. This leads to inaccurate step counts. Look for a pedometer with a piezo-electric accelerometer mechanism or a fitness tracker that uses an electronic chip. They may cost more, but they are silent and maintain their accuracy for longer.

10
Need to Set 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 0.75 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.