Why your Apple Watch isn’t tracking or counting your steps or movement: Fix it today

Fitness watch face apple watch

Wearers of the Apple Watch undoubtedly vouch for its perks and benefits – including workout logs and step counting. But what if your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps?

Technology is a great thing, but sometimes you’ll still experience glitches with seemingly simple operations. We’ve compiled a guide to help you troubleshoot for when your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps.

Suggested Reading 

Reasons why your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps

Okay, so what’s going on? Let’s run down a list of possible reasons why your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps.

Before you troubleshoot, make sure you update your watch to its latest watchOS version. If already updated, restart your watch and see if problems persist. 

Update your personal information on a regular basis

Your watch uses personal data such as your height, weight, age, etc. to estimate calories burned during a logged workout.

If there is out of date or missing information, this could factor in to why your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps accurately or at all.

To update your personal info, on your paired iPhone open the Watch app > My Watch > Health > Health Details > Edit, then select/change any information needed. Update Health app details in Watch app on iPhone

Turn on Heart rate, Respiratory rate, and Fitness tracking

It’s a good idea to check that your turned on all the fitness and health tracking for your Apple Watch.

  • Go to the Watch app on your paired iPhone, select your watch and the My Watch tab at the bottom, then choose Privacy.
  • Toggle on Heart Rate, Respiratory Rate, and Fitness Tracking. If these are already on, try toggling them off, wait 30 seconds, and toggle them back on. Turn all fitness and health tracking on for Apple Watch

Check that you’re actually logging Move and Exercise minutes

This could be the culprit for why your Apple Watch doesn’t log your walking as an exercise. 

Apple determines your active workout minutes by every full minute of movement that is recorded with increased intensity. A brisk walk counts for this, but there are a couple things to remember.

Your Apple Watch picks up the natural swinging movement of your arm when you walk using its internal accelerometer. This is how it tracks your movement over time and helps detect the movement of your watch in any direction. So be sure that whichever arm has your Apple Watch is creating a nice, natural swing as you walk.

Again, you must maintain this movement and a brisk pace for one full minute in order to get credit. If it’s a leisurely stroll with no change in heart rate, you may not get credit for exercising.

If you’re walking dogs or pushing a stroller where your arm isn’t free to swing at your side, you’ll need to log your workout time through the Workout app. To do this, open the app on your watch and tap Outdoor Walk. Apple Watch workout app outdoor walk

The app relies on GPS, not just acceleration or heart rate. So it can log that you participated in some form of exercise based on your moving location.

Enable Wrist Detection if not already done

Your Apple Watch communicates its Stand notifications and resting/active heart rates through Wrist Detection. If this is off, you won’t get those notifications or your watch’s ability to designate resting versus active heart rate.

To turn Wrist Detection on, open the Watch app on your phone and choose My Watch > Passcode > Wrist Detection. Make sure the slider is marked as green to see that it has been enabled.

Apple Watch Wrist Detection

Does your watch fit?

As silly of a question as this may seem, if your watch is too loose or too tight, it may interfere with the function of the sensors.

Do note that the Apple Watch must be in direct contact with your skin (versus over a long sleeve). Although most people wear their watch on the top side of their wrist, if you experience problems getting accurate readings, try wearing it on the inside of your wrist for better sensor detection.

If you place your Apple Watch in your pocket, it can still track your steps but the measurements won’t be as accurate as when you wear it on your wrist.

And speaking of accuracy, ensure that your watch is receiving your most accurate heart rate measurements. First trying the adjustments above may do the trick.

Set up cardio fitness monitoring and notifications cardio fitness notification on Apple Watch

If you’re still having trouble, set up Cardio Fitness Levels to give your watch a better idea of how hard you’re working during exercise versus rest. You’ll need an Apple Watch SE or model 3 and above to do this.

  1. Go to the Health app on your iPhone and choose the Summary tab.
  2. Then go to Cardio Fitness > Set Up > Follow the various prompts for set up > Turn on Notifications > Done.
  3. If you don’t see Cardio Fitness, tap your profile picture and choose Health Checklist and look for cardio fitness levels. Health Checklist on iPhone Health app

Allowing your watch to track your cardio fitness (also called VO2max) with increased HR metrics should provide overall better detection when you are exercising. Learn more in this article: Cardio Fitness levels feature on Apple Watch, here’s what you should know.

Cardio Fitness Apple Watch

Calibrate your Apple Watch

Keep aiming for increased accuracy if your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps. By calibrating your watch, you’ll get improved distance, pace, and calorie measurements. It should even have a better idea of your overall fitness level and stride length.

There are a few steps needed to do this. First, check your general settings.

  1. On your iPhone > Settings > Privacy > Location Services (make sure this is turned on).
  2. Scroll down to the Apple Watch Workout and make sure it’s set to While Using the App and that you toggle on Precise Location. Apple Watch workout settings and permissions for location services
  3. Return to the previous options and then scroll all the way down to System Services > Motion Calibration & Distance (make sure this is turned on).

Apple Watch Motion Calibration

Now, while wearing your Apple Watch, go to an area that has good GPS reception. Of note, if you have an Apple Watch Series 1 or earlier, you’ll need your phone with you for GPS. If you have an Apple Watch Series 2 or later, you’ll just need your watch.

Open the Workout app > Outdoor Walk [or] Outdoor Run. Open Workout App on Apple Watch

Spend twenty minutes doing a walk at a pace that you normally would when logging an exercise.

In order to build the best calibration over time, follow these steps at the start of each workout. This allows your watch to become more familiar with your pace and stride length for increased accuracy.

You can always reset your fitness calibration data if needed. If for some reason your walking pace changes, like maybe you’ve had surgery that slows you down temporarily, it’s best to still get this data as accurate as possible.

A change in walking pace could be one reason why your watch doesn’t register that you are engaging in a workout. This could be one reason why your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps all of a sudden.

To reset fitness Calibration data:

Open the Watch app on your iPhone, then choose My Watch > Privacy > Reset Fitness Calibration Datareset fitness calibration data on Apple Watch

You can proceed with the previous steps of logging a twenty-minute walk or run to give you watch an updated pace and stride.

Unpair and Re-pair your Apple Watch

Sometimes, it’s as simple as using the figurative and physical “restart” option. We would recommend that you unpair your watch using the Watch app on the iPhone. This creates a backup of the Apple Watch which allows you to restore its features later.

To do this, first, make sure both your watch and iPhone are near one another.

Open the Watch app > My Watch > All Watches > tap on the [ i ] next to your watch > Unpair Apple Watch > Unpair [Your Name’s] Apple Watch and enter your passcode to complete the process. apple watch unpair from iPhone

Once your phone shows that the watch has officially been unpaired, you can then go through the initial pairing process for when you first set up your Apple Watch with your iPhone.

For details on unpairing your Apple Watch from its iPhone, see this article: Unpair Apple Watch with or without your iPhone or Watch.

Contact Apple Support

If all else fails, then it may be time to contact Apple Support. Sometimes they can offer additional troubleshooting tips if your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps.

FAQ FAQ frequently asked questions

Can my Apple Watch track my steps even if it’s in my pocket?

To some degree yes, your Apple Watch can still track activity if you place it on your pocket since it uses the accelerometer and data from its built-in GPS to determine steps and movement.

However, the readings are not as accurate as when you wear it on your wrist because it cannot track your arm motion data from your swinging arms.

Does my watch track activity and steps when I’m at the store and pushing a shopping cart around?

Yes, even with your hands holding on to a shopping cart, your watch still tracks your motion and counts that activity (steps.) Your watch calculates this information from the accelerometer and GPS data.

How do I set up my Apple Watch to track my steps and motion activities (walking, running, etc)?

Once you allow your watch access to your Location, Motion & Fitness, and Heart Rate data, you don’t need to do anything else. Just wear your watch and go!

Can I set up a step goal on my Apple Watch like Fitbit offer?

At this time, Apple does not have a daily step goal like Fitbit and other fitness trackers. But you can monitor your step count from the watch’s Activity app or iPhone’s Fitness and Health apps.

Alternatively, you can use a third-party pedometer app from the Watch’s App Store to keep track of your steps and set up a daily (or weekly) goal. 

Wrapping up 

Many of us use our Apple Watches daily for everything from meeting notifications to workout reminders. Apple has created an amazing fitness wearable – that most times – is more helpful than not.

On the off chance that your Apple Watch isn’t tracking your steps, don’t fret! Try walking through the steps listed above and get back to tracking your workouts and reaching your fitness goals.

I am an occupational therapist and kinesiologist with a long history in the health and fitness industry. Plus, I'm also an avid cyclist with a passion for writing and travel that have helped shape my interest in the fitness tech world. You can catch me in a nearby cat café planning for my next road route or bucket list destination!

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