Step counters, or pedometers, are small devices that you wear on your belt or waistband that count how many steps you take. Motion sensors within the device pick up on movements like walking, running and jumping. Pedometers range from very basic to technologically advanced versions that can upload to your computer. The accuracy of these devices depends on several factors. Deciding which pedometer is best for you depends on your needs and fitness goals.
Pedometers typically use one of two types of sensors to pick up your body movement -- a spring-suspended lever arm or an accelerometer mechanism. The spring-suspended lever arm moves up and down when your hip moves up and down. This motion opens and closes an electrical circuit, resulting in a counted step. If you shake your pedometer and you hear a clicking sound, you likely have a spring-suspended lever arm mechanism. An accelerometer pedometer uses a piezoelectric strain gauge which bends when you take a step. This technology is similar to that found in the latest video game consoles that track your movement.
Regardless of the type of mechanism your step counter has, you can test its accuracy by performing a simple test. Place your pedometer on your belt or waistband in line with your knee, resetting it to zero. Take 20 steps at your typical walking or running pace. If your counter reads between 18 and 22 steps, the American College of Sports Medicine states it is a fairly accurate device. If the count is off, try repositioning it, as a tilt can skew a spring-levered pedometer's accuracy. If you are unable to obtain an accurate count after a few tries, consider purchasing a different pedometer.
Several factors can affect how accurate your pedometer reads your steps. If you own a spring-levered counter, rest it securely on your waistband or belt; tilting can disrupt the pendulum effect of the arm. If you have a large abdomen, it may be difficult to place the pedometer in a level, upright position. If this is the case, consider purchasing an accelerometer type of counter, which can be placed in a pocket or around your neck without affecting accuracy. Your speed also impacts your reading. Most pedometers are most accurate when you are moving above 2.5 mph, but even the most accurate devices can miscalculate steps at slow speeds.
If you are a minimalist, and are looking for a pedometer that only measures steps, "Good Housekeeping" rated Yamax's CW-300 Digi-Walker as the best "no-frills" step counter. Able to count your steps and your time, it includes a step filter that prevents arm movements or other quick upper-body motion from being counted as steps. For a counter that has several features, including a goal-tracker, Accusplit's Eagle 190 Multi-Function counter is an excellent choice. With a memory that can log up to 10 million steps, this pedometer tracks your steps, calories, distance and time. Omron offers a product that can hook to your computer to view and print your stats. In addition to tracking calories, distance and time, this pedometer also takes a crack at measuring the fat you burn as well.