Why does my watch count steps when I’m not moving

Why does my watch count steps when I’m not moving?

Your Apple Watch is a terrific device that comes with lots of sensors and features to help you monitor your health and well-being in the most awesome way possible. Your Apple Watch function in a complex manner with lots of monitoring and optimization. This will naturally push you to ask questions about the mechanisms and the accuracy of these monitoring mechanisms.

In this article, we tackle some of these questions regarding the sensor accuracy and performance of the Apple Watch. Read through the end to learn a wholesome amount of information.

How are steps counted on Apple Watch?

Your Apple Watch is insanely close or accurate when it comes to counting steps when you go out for a walk. And, I am pretty sure that you have often wondered how your Apple Watch counts your steps so easily and quickly. I will take care of that question today once and for all.

Your Apple Watch uses what is called Microelectromechanical systems or MEMS sensors paired with an efficient computational algorithm to detect steps and determine their counts accurately. These MEMS sensors are a broad range of devices and in the case of your Apple Watch, it is a 3 Axis Accelerometer along with motion sensors or Gyroscope that is used to detect when a step is taken by you.

The 3 axes are important as one axis tackles one orientation of the motion. These are Roll (Forward), Yaw (Vertical), and Pitch (side) motions. The value of acceleration or change of pace differs based on the fact that either you are running or walking as the relevant parameters change.

Once all the data is collected, this continuous data is put into an algorithm as an input and the step count is the output of the algorithm. Before using it as an input, the data is passed through a digital low pass filter to smoothen the recording signals.

Does Apple Watch count steps if arms aren’t moving?

Apple Watch relies primarily on its sensors for accurate recording of data like steps, distance covered, and other metrics. The main sensors that are responsible for detecting and counting steps are Accelerometers and gyroscopes.

The movement or swing of your arm (specifically the wrist on which the watch is worn) allows the accelerometers on the Apple watch to define and detect forward, backward, and sideways movements rather easily and accurately. The GPS tracker present on the watch measures the distance covered and so on.

So, if you don’t move your arm, the accelerometers along with the motion sensors will still be activated as they are highly sensitive but they might not count the steps as accurately as you want them to.

The margin of error can be huge from underestimating to overestimating the step counts. This is because, while the accelerometers with the help of the gyroscopes can detect motions without arm swings, it will be a difficult job for them to decide whether a particular movement is a genuine step or not. This is because the range of motion is limited and sometimes the threshold to decide whether a motion is a step or not is not reached.

So, to conclude, yes your Apple Watch will measure the step counts even if your hands are not moving. The accuracy will be compromised though.

Does Apple Watch count steps with hands in pockets?

There are a lot of Apple Watch users or smartwatch users out there who think that step counting is done via the GPS tracker. This is partially true. What I mean is, GPS is meant to track your distance when you are outside or outdoors. The step count is still measured by the accelerometers with the help of motion sensors. And, since outdoor activities are far more sparse than one moving around the house or climbing stairs, you will mostly rely on these accelerometers for the step counts.

With brands like Apple, the quality of sensors is expected to be the best. This means the sensors are robust and sensitive to the least of the motion to detect a step. So, if you keep your hands in your pocket with Apple Watch wearing on that wrist, it will still count steps as your body motion is detected by the sensors on the watch.

If you are walking outdoors, the GPS will find out that your point of location has changed, and thus this distance will help the algorithms to convert it into step counts based on a reference value or previous data that the watch has collected about your stride length or step size. Your Apple Watch is really smart at that.

So, to answer your question, Yes, Apple Watch will still count your steps with hands in pockets. The accuracy cannot be relied upon, nevertheless. The recommendation is to wear your Apple Watch on your wrist and swing it normally when you walk. But,  If for some reason you cannot keep your hands out of pocket (during cold weather), it is not a crazy idea to wear your Apple Watch on your ankle for accurate step counts. The accelerometers will have fun on your ankles as they will be able to detect steps rather precisely.  

Does Apple Watch count steps if not on the wrist?

Yes, Apple Watch does count steps even if you don’t wear it on your wrist and put it in your pocket. You might also wear it at some other place like your ankle.

The accelerometer sensor with the combination of the GPS tracker measures your strides or step counts. This step count is also determined by your stats entered in the Apple Health app like height, weight, age, etc.

So, with this kind of information at disposal and the quality of the sensor, your Apple Watch is more than capable of detecting motion even if the watch is not on the wrist and assisted by the arm swings.

However, there is a strong possibility that the step count readings can be misleading as the accuracy of the sensor is determined. Remember, the manufacturers guarantee a certain percentage of peak accuracy when you wear the watch on the wrist which is recommended. So, if you find the step counts underestimated or overestimated, you cannot blame the watch or the manufacturers for false reading.

Sometimes, wearing the watch on the wrist might be distracting during some exercise regimes and it is fine to occasionally take it off the wrist and put it in the pocket. But, most of the time, you should wear it on the wrist as the Apple watch gets seriously handicapped when it is not worn on the wrist.

Does your arm have to swing for Apple Watch?

It is totally up to you if you don’t want an accurate step count on your Apple watch and prevent your arm from swinging while walking. The Apple Watch will still record your steps and distances.

But, if you are concerned about accuracy and want your Apple Watch to perform at its optimum level, arm swings are necessary when you walk. The arm swings should be natural one that takes place involuntarily during your walk and not some conscious pretending.

You see the accelerometer sensors decide whether to count a particular movement as a step or not based on your forward, backward, and sideways motion. Your arm swings help the accelerometer to make that decision with greater precision.

Why does my Apple Watch count steps when I’m not moving?

Apple Watches, like all other premium smartwatches in the market use high-end motion sensors and accelerometers to detect any movement in any direction. When there is no movement at all, it normally doesn’t count a step.

But, like all other watches, there are some false alarms like a stationary arm swing or a jerk that compels the algorithm to decide whether a particular erratic movement is a step or not.

The algorithm for converting your accelerations into steps is a robust one and is supported by AI. This helps the algorithm to learn your movements better and make accurate readings in the future. The algorithm is also designed to discard false or erratic movements. But, sometimes the algorithm fails as no machine or algorithm is cent percent efficient. When this happens, a step is registered in the step counter even when you are not moving at all.

How accurate is Apple Watch with steps?

Apple Watches are considered to be the most accurate smartwatches for counting steps. There have been many tests and studies going on over the last decade to determine the supreme smartwatch for step counting and Apple has emerged at the top in most of them.

In a study published in May 2021, Apple Watch was put against Fitbit Charge 2 and Fitbit Alta for accuracy study of different health monitoring and step counts was one of them. The step count accuracy was referenced against a pretty accurate Yamax Pedometer. The result showed that when the Yamax read 10,906 steps, Apple Watch Series 2 read 11550 steps as was closest to Yamax readings. This indicates that Apple Watch is fairly accurate for step counting.

In a little older test by Cnet, Apple Watch (Calibrated) was tested against major smartwatches and activity trackers. The deviation or error shown by Apple was a mere 0.3 percent and Garmin Vivosmart was next accurate with a deviation of 1 percent. The rest of the fitness bands were way off the reading by 4 to 16 percent.

In the smartwatch department, the second-best smartwatches were the Samsung Gear S and Garmin Vivoactive, each with a deviation of 2 percent. This result was pretty much in the expectations as all of these are focused smartwatch manufacturers who use the best-in-class sensors for their fitness bands and smartwatches.

Apple has upgraded the accuracy and quality of the sensor over the years and the latest Apple Watch Series 7 is expected to be a piece of good news in terms of the accuracy of step counting.

How to Improve the Accuracy of my Apple Watch?

While Apple Watch actively relies on its sensors for measurement and monitoring of your health and body stats, it indirectly depends on the personal data that you feed in the apps. These personal data like height, weight, age, medical conditions, etc. are considered while taking a reading.

Thus to improve the accuracy of your Apple Watch, you can do the following things –

  • You have to be pretty sure about the personal data that you have entered into your Apple watch about your body and fitness activities. If the entered data are way off from reality, the Apple Watch will fail to track your activities accurately and you will be presented with garbage results.
  • Make sure you wear your Apple Watch tightly enough while taking readings of ECG or SpO2. For other activities, make sure the strap is not loose enough for the watch to move erratically on your wrist. This will also lead to inaccurate data.
  • If you own the Apple Series 1 or older version of the Apple Watch, you will need to calibrate your watch from time to time for improving its accuracy of the smartwatch. Newer Apple watches are not required to be calibrated unless you are planning to customize them for a specific workout.

Does moving your arms count as Steps?

As funny and ironical it sounds, it does. Like I said earlier, the accelerometers on your Apple Watch heavily rely on the movement of your wrist to detect a movement and register the steps.

So, if you are moving your arms in a close to swinging motion, the Apple Watch will detect them as motion by registering them as steps. This happens when you are inside your house where GPS cannot work.

If you are outdoors and the GPS is working fine on your Apple watch, moving your arms might not be counted as steps as the GPS will help the algorithm in classifying a motion as a step. Since the location on the GPS won’t change, no steps are counted as well.

Can I Shake my Apple Watch for Steps?

If you are indoors where GPS is not working, the Apple Watch solely relies on the accelerometers to detect and record steps. The accelerometer takes help from your arm movement or swing to determine a legitimate motion. So, if you shake your Apple watch there is a chance that those shakes might be counted as steps.

If you are outdoors where GPS is fully functional, shaking your Apple Watch won’t be counted as a step because the GPS will show that you have not moved an inch.

Which is more accurate for counting steps Fitbit or Apple Watch?

Apple Watches and the Fitbit Watches are the two most common wearables on the market currently. Both of these devices perform similar functions when it comes to health and fitness monitoring in a continuous and real-time way.

In a study where 39 volunteers both a Fitbit and Apple Watch while performing various physical activities like running to walking. Overall, the study showed that Apple Watch performed slightly better than Fitbit when it comes to counting steps.

A couple of other studies discussed above advocate the same. The Apple Watch manages to leave its closest rivals behind by a thin margin. This goes to show how well Apple Watch is crafted and designed. The sensors it has are top-of-the-shelf sensors without cutting any corners as their accuracy is simply unbeatable.

So, While Apple Watch is better at counting steps compared to Fitbit by a thin margin, Fitbit offers some of the best monitoring features that are not present on Apple watches. Besides, Fitbit’s price makes it much more popular among budget-oriented people.

How accurate is Apple Watch fitness tracking?

Apple Watch is a complete and comprehensive smartwatch that never disappoints its users when it comes to features and performance. But, with other close rivals available in the market, it is only natural to wonder how does Apple Watch fairs in terms of accuracy when pitted against these devices.

Well, with this particular objective in mind, studies and research have been done and are going on. One particular study compares Apple Watch with Fitbit Charge 2 and Fitbit Alta for various fitness tracking features like step counting, heart rate, and moderate-to-vigorous minutes (MVPA). The results are in the favor of Apple Watch as the Apple Watch shows a greater correlation of 95 percent with the reference medical readings. The MVPA reading was severely underestimated by all three devices.

The sensors on the Apple watch are a tad bit superior and are calibrated so beautifully that even the smartwatches (Garmin and others) which are more premium fail to beat it when it comes to the accuracy of fitness tracking.

How accurate is Apple Watch ECG?

According to Apple, the ECG app on the Apple Watch is capable of producing an ECG report that is comparable to a single-lead medical ECG used by health professionals. The ECG test is used to read and record the timing and strength of the electrical signals created by the heartbeats.

Doctors and paramedical professionals can take this ECG to learn about the rhythm of your heart and diagnose any irregularities if seen. The electrodes built into the digital crown of the Apple Watch along with the back crystal are used to read these electrical signals.

The accompanying app is then used to interpret these readings or signals to show whether there are any abnormalities like atrial fibrillation or not.

ECG was introduced in the Apple Watch Series 6 and it received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. This means that the ECG readings from Apple Watch are dependable enough to make medical decisions based on them.

The results are not definitive though and one has to take a standard 12-lead ECG or EKG test to reinforce the readings.  Apple has done vigorous trials and testing to optimize and calibrate the ECG to make it capable and comparable to real medical equipment.

Apple studies the accuracy of the ECG with 600 people (half of them had atrial fibrillation and half did not). The device was conclusive 88 percent of the time and inconclusive about 12 percent of the time.

When the ECG was conclusive, it was able to identify people with no atrial fibrillation 99.6 percent of the time. The accuracy with positive atrial fibrillation was 98 percent of the time. This is quite impressive considering it is a feature on a smartwatch that has loads of other tasks to perform and optimize at the same time. According to FDA, the Apple Watch ECG is for people over 22 years old only.

Does Apple Watch count steps when pushing a stroller?

When you are pushing a stroller, you engage both your arms to do it. This simply means that the Apple Watch on your wrist is having a hard time counting steps since it cannot get that arm swing it expects from you.

Nevertheless, the Apple Watch will still count your steps when you push a stroller because the accelerometers are still capable enough of detecting motion. After all, you are not standing still. The result might be as accurate as you expect them to be, but still, they won’t be way off.

How to Calibrate Your Apple Watch

Calibration can be referred to as training a sensor or a smart device with a threshold amount of data so that it can learn and adapt to a particular scenario or condition of performance. When you calibrate a device like Apple Watch, you are making it adaptable and accurate to suit a particular need of yours.

If you are compelled to carry your watch in your pocket or wear it somewhere else except the wrist, you can calibrate it to perform and count steps more accurately.

Calibrating your Apple Watch

  • Go to the settings of your iPhone and tap Privacy.
  • From there, tap Location Services and toggle on the Location Services
  • Now, scroll down and tap on System Services. Next, toggle on motion calibration and distances
  • Now, unlock your Apple Watch and put it in the pocket or wear it at some odd place that you want to calibrate it for. Go to a flat space, preferably outside.
  • Make sure that the GPS tracking is functional by checking the amps app.
  • Open the workout app on your Apple Watch and select workout like “Outdoor run” or “Outdoor walk”
  • After that, tap on three dots in the workout section and set a realizable goal of 20 minutes
  • Start walking or running at a normal pace and normal speed
  • When you run or walk, your Apple Watch records it and marks the speed as a reference for your future runs and walks.
  • Your Apple Watch is now calibrated.

Things To Keep In Mind For Accurate Tracking With Your Apple Watch

There are a few things that you can do to maintain accurate tracking of your step counts and fitness data with your Apple Watch.

  1. First,  make sure that all the personal data you have entered on your Apple Watch is correct. Since fitness tracking draws insight from these data before registering a particular reading, wrong data can lead to garbage monitoring.
  2. Check the grip of the strap of the Apple Watch on your wrist. This should be tight enough for measuring vital stats like ECG, SpO2, and heart health. If the Apple Watch is loose on your wrist, the readings will be way off from the accurate ones.
  3. Calibration can be helpful in special scenarios. If you are doing an activity in a condition that is not recognized by your Apple Watch, you can calibrate it for that condition to help it perform accurately.

How does the Apple Watch count steps without iPhone?

Your Apple Watch doesn’t rely on your iPhone to count steps at all. The smartwatch is perfectly functional in doing this with the help of its sensors and algorithms.

The accelerometers and motion sensors present on your Apple Watch are independent of your iPhone and they will detect your movement to register a movement as a step.

You can also view these counted steps on your Apple Watch without the help of your iPhone. This is the whole point of the Apple Watch. It wants you to be free from your iPhone when you are focusing on your fitness.

Do Apple Watch and iPhone Duplicate Steps?

Both Apple Watch and iPhone come with their motion sensors (accelerometers and gyroscope). Thus, they are capable of measuring or counting steps independently without depending on each other.

This means Apple Watch and iPhone do not duplicate steps. All they do is send the data to the Apple Health app and the app uses the correct algorithm to record or sync the data and remove any kind of duplicate records.

Why are Steps on Apple Watch different from than iPhone?

It is quite normal for the step count on Apple Watch to be different from that iPhone. It has to do with how you use the devices individually.

Since you wear the Apple Watch on your wrist for most of the time, it will register step counts based on arm swings and thus can be relied upon for better and accurate tracking.

On the other hand, your iPhone sits in your pocket most of the time and the motion detection will not be as accurate as that on your Apple Watch. So, it might deviate from the accurate tracking of the steps.

This is why step counts on Apple Watch can be different from than iPhone. It is obvious that the steps on your Apple Watch are more reliable than those on your iPhone.

So, the question and answer session ends here. I hope it has covered and answered most of your doubts. If there are some other questions regarding the accuracy of the Apple Watch, there are several reliable and tested guides available on the web that will answer them for you. Have fun with your Apple Watch!