Why use a step counter? Using a pedometer to support your fitness goals

How to use a step counter to support your fitness goals

Almost everyone carries a step tracker these days, whether they know it or not. If you do not have a dedicated piece of equipment, such as a Fitbit or other brand of activity monitor, the chances are your smartwatch or mobile phone has a step-counting feature.

In this post, we are going to discuss how you can use your step data to support your fitness goals, be they weight loss or muscle gain focused.

Do step counters actually work?

If you’re looking to grab a step counter, or a step counter app, or fitness tracker, you might be wondering if they’re a gadget or just another pointless bit of gear that will end up not getting used. The quick answer is that step counters absolutely do work at building muscle, losing weight and improving your health.

So let’s look at what the simple act of counting those steps can do for you, your health and your weight.

Will a step counter help me lose weight?

If you are trying to lose fat, then you should be following a ‘move more eat less’ plan that combines regular cardio and strength training with a calorie deficit.

We generally recommend that people aim for 3-4 workouts per week, as any more than this can be too much for the average person with a busy life.

However, what you do outside of these sessions is equally important to your fat loss programme because it will directly affect your daily calorific needs.

If you lead a sedentary life (e.g. office worker) then your body will be burning minimal energy, whereas if you are the sort of people who are always dashing about (e.g. walks to the shops, does housework) then you will be burning more energy.

step counter for fat loss

It is important to identify your incidental exercise and factor this into your diet planning.

If you are aiming for a deficit of around 500 calories per day, you might find that your inactive days are hampering your weight loss progress because your low energy expenditure cancels out your low intake.

Or you might discover that, after incidental exercise is taken into account, your deficit is more than you thought.

It is important not to starve the body when trying to lose weight because your energy levels and motivation will suffer; by tracking your steps you might discover that your body needs a few hundred calories more than you thought to remain healthy.

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Step counters can’t help build muscle… can they?

step counter for muscle gain

If you are trying to pack on muscle mass then you might think that step tracking is not suitable for you and your goals. After all, if you are not focused on reducing your fat levels then why would your step count matter?

We will tell you why: (i) to support your muscle gain goals and (ii) to support your overall health.

If you are training to increase muscle mass then you will be challenging yourself in the gym and paying close attention to your diet.

To build new muscle tissue, your body needs to have enough protein and carbohydrates to satisfy its basic energy needs and to fuel the new muscle growth. If it does not, then your results will be hampered. Tracking incidental exercise will help you to identify those days when you need to eat an extra snack.

While we generally find that people who are into strength training understand the importance of the basic principles of health, insofar as they relate to short-term muscle goals, there is a danger of tunnel vision-obscuring long-term health.

To be healthy, we need to keep active. Sometimes people skip out on cardio training because they think that it slows down muscle gain (when really they just need to put back the calories burned) and they forget that cardio is about more than just fat burning.

It trains the heart and the lungs, promotes a better oxygen supply around the body, and protects us against countless diseases and illnesses.

If this sounds like you, tracking your steps will help you to see how much – or little – you do each day and the consequences this can have on your long-term health.

Why do you need to know how many steps you’ve done?

So what’s the point in all this counting? Whether you do a hundred steps a day or 50,000, how does knowing the number you’ve done help with your fitness? The first step to increasing anything is to get a baseline of what it currently is. Simply knowing what your average daily, weekly and monthly steps are will allow you to plan new ways to increase it.

And that’s where the fun starts.

There are many ways to increase your daily steps without doing anything crazy or spending hours you don’t have walking just to get your number up. With a few tweaks and changes, you’ll be able to drastically improve the number of steps you do.

Step counting apps vs step counters vs fitness trackers

Next, let’s dive into the main 3 methods people use to count the number of steps they take during the day.

Step counter apps – fast, free pedometers

Step counter app

There are some really good (and free) pedometer phone apps you can download. The benefit to these is you can track loads of data over time, workout calories, see distances and get fun challenges like walking to France from the UK (virtually, that is).

The downside here is you’ll need to take your phone everywhere with you during your day to get a realistic picture. Not a problem for many people but might be a limitation to lug it absolutely everywhere.

If you want a decent step counter app, try Step Tracker.

Dedicated ‘pocket’ step counters

You can grab a simple step counter on places like Amazon for around £20 – £30. They’re cheap, lightweight and you can carry them on you so easily you’ll forget you have them. They’re very accurate too and will track absolutely every step – even ones up and down your stairs at home or the office.

The downside to these is that they often have way less data than an app, or fitness tracker – with some having a simple led screen. Don’t expect any fancy graphs, targets or accurate distance or calorie data.

One of the best step counters we’ve found is the 3D FitBud. It’s cheap, simple and has a lot of different ways you can wear it. Find out more on Amazon.

Fitness trackers and watches

Fitness trackers like the famous FitBit are brilliant ways to track all kinds of fitness data. While they’ll count a lot more than just your steps, they’re one of the most accurate ways to monitor your daily walking activities and the heart rate sensor will also provide super-accurate calorie counts too.

The downside is of course the price. A Fitbit can set you back around 4 times the price of a simple step counter. So, if you don’t already own one, and are just looking for a simple pedometer, you might find they’re a tad expensive for what you need.

The FitBit Charge is one of the best, and more affordable of the Fitbits. It’s also got a 7-day battery and is ideal for tracking steps. Find out more about it on Amazon.

How to increase your step count

The first thing you need to do when you begin tracking your steps is to set a daily goal. The idea of 10,000 steps a day was originally a marketing device used by a Japanese pedometer, but it has stuck around as a good goal for the average person.

If you have a sedentary job, you might find that you only hit a few thousand steps a day and therefore need to build in more movement into your day.

Some ways of doing this are to:

  • Walk to the next bus stop (or as many as you can manage) when travelling to work,
  • Try taking a stroll to the shops (even if you have to take the bus or a taxi back)
  • If you live near the school, try walking to pick the kids up (it’s a great habit to instil in them too)
  • Go on a walk after dinner
  • Ask a friend to go for a coffee and a walk in the park instead of sitting in a café.
  • Even if you normally drive everywhere, one sneaky trick to boosting your steps is to park a block away. You might even save some cash on city parking fees.

If you have any tips on how to increase your step count please let us know!

Final thoughts: counting steps is a great way to increase your steps

Hopefully, we’ve made the case for counting steps as something that’s actually useful in losing weight, getting in shape and smashing your health to new levels. Far from being a gimmick or a meaningless stat, it’s something that can help you whether you’re looking to get in shape or you’re an athlete looking to boost your incidental exercise.

Happy step counting!

Tom Armstrong

Hey! I've been training in all kinds of places, with all kinds of equipment for the best part of 30 years. I love training with my weights at home and writing about new products and training methods online. Well, with a name like Armstrong, I would have to be into training, right?