How does Fitbit count steps?

In this brief guide, we are going to discuss “How does Fitbit count steps?” and talk about other parameters you can measure by using your Fitbit.

How does Fitbit count steps?

The Fitbit counts steps by using inbuilt sensors that measure body movements. It then uses its algorithms to figure out rhythmic movements and translating them as steps recorded. The Fitbit device uses an in-built 3-axis accelerometer to count your steps. This sensor allows your device to monitor the pattern, intensity, duration and frequency of your movement.

The mechanism

The step count displayed is an estimate of steps detected using the embedded 3-axis accelerometer and algorithms at work. These algorithms are designed to exclude accidental readings such as a bumpy car ride. However, it still has its limitations and, this means that movements close to walking such as moving your hands rhythmically, a moving vehicle such as riding a bike can also increase the step count.

How does the accelerometer track steps

The accelerometer is a sensor that measures dynamic acceleration. It is a Micro Electro Mechanical System (MEMS) device. MEMS devices are very small electromechanical devices that contribute to translating mechanical movements into electrical signals. An accelerometer is essentially a MEMS device that consists of a fixed element and an elastic element. The elastic element is suspended and is sensitive to external movements, which cause the suspended element to make contact with the fixed element, hence completing a circuit. The rhythmic completion of the circuit then translates it into steps.

3- axis accelerometers are more advanced and can even measure how hard or soft each step is. To make better judgments regarding steps the built-in accelerometer works in conjunction with step counting algorithms, made to improve the accuracy of step count.

The accuracy

As stated above, many activities that cause a rhythmic movement of hands, riding a vehicle can also register as steps. Fitbit makes use of an intricately design algorithm for step counting. The algorithm is designed to look for intensity and motion patterns that are most indicative of people walking and running. When working at a desk, cooking, or performing other activities with arm movements, the movement of the wrist might add a few steps. However, when viewed as a daily step count the steps counted mistakenly would be far less which will still give an accurate reading of step count within 90-100%. It is easily arguable that even if the tracker is inaccurate, it still logs daily progress. The inaccuracy would be by the same number of points, each day. Hence, if you sit around most days, the app will clearly show the days in which you gathered the courage to go out for a walk.

What does step count tell me?

A simple step count reading can be a start to tracking your health activity. It can be a quantitative way to tell you that you have been lazy and need to workout. It can act as a motivator for you to start taking your health seriously and focus on your overall fitness.

How much distance

Fitbit devices calculate the distance from step count using a formula. It uses your stride length which is determined by your height and gender.

Steps x Stride Length = Distance Traveled

When going for a run, the device uses GPS data rather than steps to measure distance. Once connected to the GPS, the device can even inform you of the route you took while taking a jog and measures distance accordingly.

Floors climbed

Apart from distance, you can even measure floors climbed with your Fitbit. The device uses an altimeter ( a device that measures altitude) along with the accelerometer to measure the floors you have climbed. The device registers 10 feet as one floor so depending on the building type it might not be completely accurate.

When we talk about burning calories, we are essentially saying that the body burns calories to perform respiration, digestion or temperature regulation etc. The body burns calories while in a completely restful state as well. 

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body needs to function at rest. The BMR is identified through age, gender, height, weight and daily physical activity. The fitbit app calculates the calories burnt during rest, walking and exercise by initially calculating the BMR and using it as a reference.

The calories viewed are a total of your calories burnt which include your rest state as well as calories burnt during exercise.

Customize your step goals

To Set your step target follow the steps

  1. From the Fitbit app dashboard, tap or click the Account icon.
  2. Scroll to the Goals section.
  3. Tap the goal you want to view or adjust, in this case the step goal.
  4. Tap the individual step goal and follow the onscreen instructions to adjust it. 

The fitbit is a great way to count your daily steps and work towards achieving better health goals.


In this brief guide, we discussed “How does Fitbit count steps?” and provided further information about other parameters you can measure by using your Fitbit.