Pedometers - How You Can Use Them to Determine Exercise Intensity in Physical Education Class

Pedometers - How You Can Use Them to Determine Exercise Intensity in
Physical Education Class

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education Update

Pedometers are inexpensive gadgets that have been shown to have a motivational effect on exercise adherence. Some schools are using them in their PE classes.

One of the criticisms of pedometers is that, while they will measure the number of steps taken, they do not measure intensity of exercise.

However by measuring the number of steps taken over a period of time, you can estimate the level of intensity of that exercise.

A recent study at Arizona State University, determined the number of steps per minute (stepping rate) required to achieve different levels of intensity. Of particular interest was achieving a moderate level of intensity -- the minimum level widely believed to be necessary to improve fitness.

The Study
Subjects walked on a treadmill at different speeds while their heart rates and VO2 were measured. A pedometer was used to count the number of steps taken.

These measurements were used to determine levels of intensity in Standard Metabolic Equivalent units (MET's). These units indicate the amount of oxygen used by the body for different levels of activity. For example, one MET is the amount of energy used while sitting quietly.

The number of steps per minute required to achieve each MET level was determined.

While the actual results were more precise, estimated stepping rates required to achieve each activity level is shown in the chart below.

Pedometers - How You Can Use Them to Determine Exercise Intensity in Physical Education Class

The above results are ballpark estimates taken from the results of the study. I've rounded them off to make them more useful in the field.

Generally speaking, 100 steps per minutes will provide a moderate level of intensity -- the requirement for improving basic fitness.

Practical Application
Students can monitor their exercise intensity both during and after their exercise session. For example, during a walk, they could measure their level of intensity over the first five minutes. If they took 500 steps in the first five minutes they are moving at a moderate level of intensity. Or, they could measure their level of intensity after the walking session by dividing their step count by the minutes exercised.

For example, if they've taken 3000 steps over a 30 minutes walking session, their step count is 100 steps per minute and they've been employing a moderate level of intensity.

To increase their level of intensity, they could take an extra 10 steps per minutes to increase by one MET. A hard level of intensity is considered to be about 130 steps per minute, while 150 steps per minute is considered very hard.

As a result, stepping rate can be used to measure progression for your students as they become more fit.

This study used adult subjects who were walking on a treadmill with no gradient. Students, depending on their age, may demonstrate different results. Hilly terrain may also change results, and there is often a difference between males and females.

So use these pedometer counts only as a ballpark guide. However, you may be able to use them as starting points and adapt them to more appropriate step rates for your own classes and age of student.


1. Richard MacManus, Trackers: How technology is helping us monitor and improve our health (Kindle Edition), David Bateman Ltd, 2014.

2. Catrine Tudor-Locke, Susan B. Sisson, Tracy Collova, Sarah M. Lee, and Pamela D. Swan, (Dept of Exercise & Wellness, Arizona State University), "Pedometer-Determined Step Count Guidelines for Classifying Walking Intensity in a Young Ostensibly Healthy Population." Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology (Now the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism (APNM)], 30(6): 666-676, 2005.;nid=5094



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