when is a step not a step?

AKA Not All Steps Are Created Equal.

My motto is ‘keep moving’. In accordance with this, I have a set goal of moving a minimum of 10,000 steps each day.

10,000 steps is not that much, really. Unless you find yourself in back-to-back meetings from 9 to 5 – in which case you really need to bust a move to get to 10,000 before you turn into a pumpkin at midnight. Welcome to my world.

Working from home means that virtually all my meetings are conference calls.

The upside: My commute is minimal (approximately 75 steps from my bed to my office), AND I get to work in my pajamas.

The downside: I will often look down at my fitness tracker and notice that I’ve moved a sum total of 350 steps by 3:30 pm.

No bueno.

Interesting though is that when I sometimes take a break during lunch to bang out a quick HIIT workout – my step count barely moves. So a high impact interval workout for 30 minutes garners me less steps than if I had just marched around the house for 30 minutes.

Hmmppff. Lots of actual effort; little recognition for said effort.

Several of you commented recently on how great it was that Sam and I took 25,000 steps that day in London.

And it was great.

It just wasn’t that hard, if you know what I mean.

This idea came into sharp contrast for me on Sunday when I took my first hike in 3+ months in Red Rock Canyon.

My total steps for Sunday? 13,771 (of which ~7,500 were in the mountains). Not too shabby, BUT, for the level of effort expended hiking those 7,500 steps, it felt like I should have been rewarded with a way higher step count.

Instead I was rewarded with a great workout for my calves, quads and glutes.

And also with an opportunity to take in nature in all her glory.

2015-03-08 13.37.46

2015-03-08 13.39.33-1

The same thing happened yesterday. It was a workday so my ass was planted in front of my laptop and speaker phone from 6am to 2pm (keeping my Eastern Time Zone hours to give myself maximum hiking time while here in Vegas).

My total steps were 11,463 (of which ~9,000 were in the mountains, on two separate hikes). The second hike, in particular, was all about going up and up and up. It resulted in a killer 360 view of the valley, but my step count didn’t align with the level of effort I felt I had exerted.

2015-03-09 16.22.23-1

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any movement is better than no movement. It’s better to go slow, move, do something than it is to sit on the sofa watching TV.

But…it’s also important to be cognizant that hitting a designated # of steps per day (alone) is unlikely to get you to optimal health. Sometimes I get so fixated on the analytics and metrics – not to mention the ego boost of knowing you hit a daily target – that I lose sight of which activity I should be doing to help me meet my fitness goals.

Doing squats, lunges, deadlifts or planks will barely register any movement on my fitness tracker, but these are amazing and important movements I need to make time for – even if no one is rewarding me with a pat on the back for hitting a step count – and even if it means 30 minutes less to march around the mall or my house.

All steps created equal? I think not.

Regardless… Keep moving,

xoxo nancy

p.s. For a stroll down memory lane on two occasions where the step count met the effort of exertion, check out:

  • That time I took 35,316 steps trekking up to the 2nd highest peak in Southern California.
  • Or that time I took 45,506 steps during my profanity-laced and YouTube-documented descent of 4,380′ from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River only to turn around and climb back up to the top.

87 thoughts on “when is a step not a step?

  1. You’ve hit on one of the key things I dislike about fitness trackers–they only record movement assumed to be a step and therefore miss much of the big picture. People should only use them as a guideline. I can do an hour of power yoga where I work up a sweat and strengthen my muscles and yet get only a handful of steps on my Fitbit. Same thing with HiiT as you pointed out. So we can’t let these trackers lull us into a false sense of accomplishment, especially for those of us who exercise on a regular basis.

    So glad you were able to get some hiking in!

    • I’m two for two so far Carrie. Getting ready to head out just after 2pm local time to make it 3 for 3. 🙂

      Yeah, I’m amazed at how much importance I’ve found myself placing on getting to 10,000 each day. Often at the expense of doing squats or lunges (or yoga, or, or, or…). It is absolutely important to move – walking offers so many wonderful benefits – but getting 10,000 steps in each day is most certainly not the be all, end all. Lesson learned.

  2. Welcome back to the U.S. Nancy! I’m sure the weather in Vegas is almost as nice as it is here in La Quinta. 🙂 And I think you know I COMPLETELY agree that the quality of your workout always trumps the quantity. Remember, it’s the journey, not the destination! ~Kathy

    • The weather couldn’t be more perfect, Kathy. Sunny and beautifully warm in the mid to high 70s. Perfect hiking weather. Very happy. I plan to take full advantage before I need to fly back Sunday night on the red eye.

  3. You hit it bang on Nancy. When I realized how annoyed I was that my Garmin was not counting ‘steps’ while I was spinning on the bike, I decided I was fixated on the wrong thing.
    … and I’m so jealous of your hiking time 🙂

    • T-minus 10 minutes and counting. Just picked a new trail. “Lone Mountain” out in the middle of nowhere. Can’t wait to see what this one delivers!

      And, TOTALLY on the no counting of spinning – same applies to the elliptical! (Well, it counts SOME steps, but not nearly half!) Pisses me off in a way that is ridiculous! Why do I care that my gadget knows I’m exercising?? 🙂

      • No kidding! For example: I just had the 1 hour 15 min hike of my life! It was sheer climbing up a steep incline the entire way. No switchbacks, just climb straight up. My heart felt as though it would explode from my chest, yet the Garmin tells me I only did 4,600 steps. THAT workout was worth at least 12,000 steps. In fact, I should invent a step counter to real world exercise conversion chart. 🙂

      • Sorry … but I just had a good laugh out the indignation in your comment 😀
        I think this post and the related comments have just convinced me that not replacing my Fitbit was a good decision … although I still miss the feel-good moments 😉

  4. All steps are definitely not created equal!!
    I am on 15000 today about 10000 of which have been during my run…these are definitely not the same as the ones mooching about work!

  5. I agree with you, all steps are not created equal. Good for you that you got hiking!! When I have meetings aka conference calls, I usually walk around in my office all the time…unless it’s a Skype call and they need to see my face and my pajamas collar 🙂

  6. I definitely have a hard time wrapping my brain around not getting the step payoff I always want. I’ve been on 2 hours of trail running that completely crushes my soul and barely hit that 10,000. I’ve put hours in the weight room that leave me fetal and barely clear 200. I’ve gone grocery shopping and unloaded said groceries and hit 10 grand. So weird how it works, but math is math.
    Still I prefer those hard earned steps to an afternoon of milling around the toilet paper aisle. 🙂
    Great perspective and I’m sooooo glad you’re back to getting your hike on. I know that puts you in your happy place!

    • You summed it up perfectly. And as much as I love to hit the jackpot of 10k steps, like you I prefer to do it with “real” steps.

      SO in my happy place this week. I’m still grinning like a fool from just getting home from a hike. Conquered a new peak today. God I love the feeling of climbing a mountain!

  7. If I was tracking steps I would find this soooooooo frustrating. Still, like you say, the important thing is to keep moving, moving, moving. The step thing is clearly a good guide but not the be all and end all when it comes to health and fitness.

    • Exactly right Miss Ems. I know that on days when my step count is li, I do feel super sluggish, even if I’ve done a strength workout. So the steps alone won’t qualify for a workout (unless I got them from a run, power walk or hike). Quality over quantity.

  8. You go girl! Such a smart woman you are. 🙂 Today, I walked up and down my basement stairs several times and there is such a different feeling when you are climbing than walking. I prefer to feel my legs reaching and climbing, it makes me feel alive. 🙂 Keep on enjoying Vegas. Wonderful pics too!

  9. Beautiful photos, Nancy! I’m guilty of moving my fitbit around from my waistband to pant leg, sock, anything that will record more movement. I know I shouldn’t compete with a little digital counter but some days I want to see the number climb!

  10. Spot on, once again. Trackers are great as long as they don’t become the ultimate goal that makes you loose sight from the actual point of exercise; I bet you didn’t just get stunning views when climbing the mountains, I bet you also felt quite good in your body? But trackers are good reminders of you needing to get up and moving!

  11. Glad you’re getting some outdoor movement in this week, Nancy. I love the result……pretty pictures for me!! But you’re totally right. Activity counts, even if it isn’t logged on a tracker.

    • I’m more disturbed by the fact that I am so worried about what my tracker thinks of me. That is a whole new level of crazy.

      Glad you’re enjoying the mountain vistas.
      Safe travels to Chi-Town!

  12. I completely agree, Nancy. It’s quality and variety rather than quantity. I’d say those uphill treks give a total body workout, plus the views are amazing! Red Rock Canyon is on my list – I hope to get there some day. Enjoy!

    • Amazing total body workouts, June. So much bracing of core as you try to balance in rocky terrain, upper body too as you pull and hoist yourself up boulders. All around goodness. God, I love hiking!!

  13. Not all steps are created equal – very true. I get practically zero for yoga, which isn’t exactly sitting on my behind. But the really GOOD thing about step counters is the exact situation you describe – when you check your count and it says 330 at 3pm and you’re like “omg, I’m practically a dead person” and it inspires you to get up and move. Now that’s worth it, even if it means on the days where you walk up a mountain it doesn’t quite credit you what you’re due. It’s kind of like having a parent that always expects more from you, but without the emotional trauma of never being good enough!

    • Haha! Kind if like that, indeed. 🙂

      I guess for me it’s the aha moment of realizing that there have been several days where I’ve been well above my 10k steps, but can honestly look at myself and say I don’t feel I exercised at all that day. So for myself, it’s the reality check that while I do have to move lots, I can’t call it a day just because the counter hit 10,000.

  14. These points are why I have yet to get a step counter and probably won’t. Although I do love gadgets, so maybe. I think they’re helpful for some people though. I got my husband one. He’s overweight (um, obese) and has arthritis in his knees. I told him to get 6000 steps a day as the minimum recommended for arthritis. Most days he does not get the 6000 😦

    • The gadgets were vital for me in the early stages of my 365-days journey. Totally kept me on track for calorie burn as I made sure to log every activity. For me it was more about achieving calorie deficit each day – and for that purpose it was perfect.

      Somewhere along the way I started to make the step goal the be all, end all, which was ridiculous for the reasons I outline in this post.

      Move? Yes!
      Move intentionally and in a way that exerts effort? If you want to lose weight or increase fitness levels – absolutely!!!

  15. Thought you would enjoy this article:


    Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona is included. Jonathan Buttall · Top Commenter · Fairleigh Dickinson University commented:

    There is one glaring error in this otherwise good article. The Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon is the least dangerous and the easiest of all the trails and routes in that area, although still a very strenuous hike. Nankoweap on the North Rim, with it’s very long stretch of extreme cliff exposure, isolation, hard to follow route and huge elevation change is probably the hardest and most dangerous in the Canyon.

    • The main issue with the Bright Angel trail is that we did the full Rim to River and back in the same day, at the end of May. They don’t recommend the same day trek from May to October because of extreme heat, advising to overnight/camp at the River bed instead, Nancy.

      We got lucky in that it was overcast for all but the last 90 minutes (for ne) and the last 2+ hours for Mr. Enthusiasm. If the sun had been out that strong all day we would have been done for. Lucky, lucky.

      • Yes, I had to invest in a can of bear spray for the Mount San Jacinto hike in SoCal, AND had to deal with the thin air.

        Makes me wonder why I love hiking so much??? 🙂

      • It’s a mystery. 😛
        It might have something with movement and air and light and sound and glorious vistas.

        We just got back from a 2 mile “hike” (if you’re being charitable) on the beach ~ air, sunlight, splashing waves, turquoise seas . . . BLISS! 😎

  16. First off, because you are awesome, I’ve discovered that I hit 10k steps every day except on my rest days. And, as for the steps in a HIIT workout – have you ever considered attaching your device to your shoes? or tucking it in a sock – I know your’s is bigger… but would putting it on your foot help the tracker monitor your movement?
    It’s been too cold for me to go outside, so I can’t run or walk everyday, so I put my tracker in my sock or attach it to my laces and go ride the stationary bike… that way it counts my steps and I still get in a good workout.

    • I guess what I’m not articulating clearly is that rather than worry about hitting 10k every day, I need to refocus my sights on having a good sweat. 25,000 steps in London that day was a piece of cake – and I wouldn’t qualify it as a workout. 🙂

      So, on those days when I’m hell-bent on getting to 10k, and involves me driving to a mall to walk around until I’ve hit the mark, instead I should be less concerned about the # of steps and more concerned with doing an ACTUAL workout. 🙂

  17. I wish I had a stamina like yours! LOL Who am I kidding, I can’t even get up to the 3rd floor at the office using the stairs without cursing. Sigh.

  18. Same page, same page! Yesterday I went to the ‘Y’ and did 10 minutes running on the treadmill followed by 50 minutes in a spinning class and an hour in zumba. Guess which part of my work out had the most steps. You got it, the 10 minutes of running! Seriously, sweat pouring down my face in the spinning and zumba classes, barely broke a sweat in the running but that’s where my Fitbit said I got the most done. Craziness. Of course, I did reach my 10,000 step goal by 10AM but you’re 100% correct, all steps are not created equally.

  19. I get stuck on numbers too. I’ve been running and I have this standard to hit a certain mileage and calorie burn. Then i decided to change up the run and do one of the preset workouts…with incline and speed changes. It kicked my butt! Yet, the time, calories and distance were smaller but I felt worked over. I think its important to switch up workouts for the variety and because I think that workout probably built more muscle than my normal higher calorie burning runs. Anyway, I hear you on fixating on the numbers, I do it too!

    • It’s certainly one reminder to move more, Cecilia. I’m not sure that hitting 10,000 steps every day is the ultimate measure of leading a healthy life though. Still, every step counts.

  20. Yes, I’m totally on board with you inventing some gadget that is the true measurement of movement and how it relates to actual health. In fact, I would give my left lung for somebody to do that, which, of course, would be a slight detriment to my overall health factor from then on, but still … accuracy. It might be worth the extra effort to breathe.

    • Hey, this reminds me, I keep meaning to try this OrangeTherapy Fitness that everyone is raving about. It’s a circuit-based classroom workout rotating around Rowing Machine, Treadmill and free weights. Totally tied to heart rate (chest strap monitor – and big screen/real-time readouts for everyone in the class). This workout is getting some rave reviews (including from my BFF in Denver, who swears by it). I must go check it out once I get the go-ahead from the doc.

  21. Pingback: Danger! Danger! | Spirit Lights The Way

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