How Does Apple Watch Track Steps

Your Apple watch is designed with health and fitness tracking in mind. It can display your health profile, heart rate, and medical ID. 

Depending on the model, it can also detect a fall, measure your blood oxygen levels, record the electrocardiogram of your heart rhythm, help you unwind via a mindfulness app, track steps and distance, and many more!

If you want to know how the Apple Watch series tracks steps or see the number of steps you’ve taken daily without going through the health app, keep reading. Here’s everything you need to know about the pedometer complication on your Apple watch.

So, How Does Apple Watch Track Steps?

The Apple Watch tracks your steps in two ways: GPS data and arm motion

Your Apple smartwatch tracks your arm motion when your indoor or GPS data is unavailable because of a lack of signal. It relies on the built-in accelerometer when estimating data, including distance and steps.

For best results, swing your arm naturally as you move. This technique most especially applies to the wrist that is wearing the watch.

Calibrating your Apple watch can improve the accuracy of step estimation by the Workout or Activity app. Calibration teaches your smartwatch how your arm movements affect your stride lengths at varying speeds when running and walking. It does this during outdoor walks and runs recorded through your Workout app by comparing the GPS and accelerometer data.

Open the Fitness App and turn or swipe the digital crown to check your total steps. Keep scrolling and tap Weekly Summary to view your seven-day total steps. A few false steps won’t affect the total step count.

Related: Which Fitness Tracker Is Most Accurate For Calories Burned?

How to track Apple Watch steps on iPhone?

Once your Apple watch is paired with your iPhone, it will automatically track steps once you’re wearing it. You can also open the Fitness App on the iPhone and go to the Summary tab and then the Trends section to check the average numbers for Distance, Stand, Move, and more.

Another option is to download a third-party app, such as the Pedometer++, that you’ll find in the App Store. Once downloaded, open the Watch app and add the step counter complication.

Does Apple Watch Count Steps If Arms Aren’t Moving?

Yes, your Apple watch can still count steps even if your arms aren’t moving, but it won’t be accurate.

Like other fitness trackers, the Apple watch also comes with many sensors. These help the device track your activities. It likewise comes with a GPS tracker and an accelerometer, which allow the timepiece the data it needs to track your movements.

The GPS provides information on how fast you’re going and how far you’ve gone, while the accelerometer measures movement changes over time.

Manually adding steps on an Apple Watch face via the Health app

If your Apple watch’s pedometer glitches or is not recording your steps accurately, you can still manually add steps to the Health app on your iPhone.

To get better and more accurate results, enable the location services. On your iPhone, tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Turn on the Location Services, and you should also see Apple Watch Workout and Apple Watch Faces. Set both to “While Using the App.

All you have to do is open the Health app, tap Browse>Activity>Steps>Add Data. You can likewise change the time and date of your entry.

When you set up your Health app, you will be asked for information such as age, gender, weight, and height to estimate steps and calories burned. Open the Watch app on the My Watch Tab, tap Health and Edit.

Remember, though, that the maximum number of steps you can manually add to your Apple watch at once is 90,000. Depending on your pedometer app, these steps may not show on your Apple watch face or sync up. And just as you can manually add steps, you can also delete unearned steps.

Some watch faces allow you to add info from the Activity app after adding hours standing, exercise minutes, and calories burned.

Related: Best Fitness Tracker for Weight Lifting

How to Fix Apple Watch Not Tracking Steps or Activities Properly

Minor software glitches can happen on Apple devices. However, if your Apple Watch is not tracking your steps or activities properly, you can quickly fix it by rebooting your device.

To reboot an Apple watch, press the Side button for a few seconds and drag the Power Off slider. Once your watch is turned off, press and hold the Side button again so you can turn on your smartwatch.

Another fix is to wear your device properly. An Apple watch can have difficulty counting steps if not worn properly. Moreover, it cannot use the sensors to track your steps, leading to inaccurate or no step counting. 

Apple recommends that you wear its smartwatch properly – not too tight, but enough to sense your skin and gather all the required information.

Another solution is to enable wrist detection. This feature keeps your watch unlocked as long as you wear it on your wrist. To turn this feature on, open the Settings app, tap on the option to view the passcode menu, and find a toggle for Wrist Detection. Turn it on, and your Apple watch should track your steps or activities properly.

Top Pedometer Apps for Apple Watch

Here are some of the best pedometer apps for your Apple watch to help advance your health and fitness goals:

1. StepsApp Pedometer

This app is easy to use and well-designed. It has different views for daily, weekly, and monthly progress.

2. ActivityTracker

This Apple watch app monitors your daily activities and provides relevant data about your daily physical activity. These include the number of calories burned, flights of stairs climbed, the number of steps taken, and the distance covered.

3. Pacer

The pace is one of the top-step counter apps with powerful features. For instance, you can use it to get motivation from the community, find new routes to take, and watch guided workout videos. Additionally, it can work as a map, workout, and social app – all in one.

4. Pedometer++

Pedometer++ can easily see your weekly progress via a bar graph. Each bar is color coded so you can see whether you achieved your step goal, surpassed it, or fell short. Achievement tabs also allow you to set your own goals and participate in lifetime miles, rewards, and monthly challenges.

5. Stepwise Pedometer

Lastly, the Stepwise Pedometer is a great pedometer app that can motivate you to stay in shape. It allows you to set a personal goal daily and update periodically on your progress.

Related: Best Fitness Tracker for Weight Watchers

Wrapping Up

I hope this article helped you find answers to common smartwatch questions. 

Now that you know how Apple tracks steps, moving toward your health and fitness goals will be easier. More movement means more calories burned, leading to better fitness.

If you find this page helpful, you might want to read our other tips and reviews at

Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.