This story happened to me in 2015 while wearing a Fitbit Charge HR fitness tracker. In the meantime, I switched to the newer Fitbit Charge HR 2. Although I haven’t tested this trick with the new version, it is probably still working. I would even say, this works with most if not all ‘floor counting’ fitness devices.
What is this all about?!
Those fitness tracker devices try to measure your daily activity and overall fitness level.
Since it’s not really possible to look into somebodies actual fitness level, those devices measure health related indicators. Common examples are how many steps a person has walked or how the heart rate behaves while performing different activities.
In our case, however, we’ll focus solely on the count of floors a person has climbed upwards.
To further motivate the users, companies like Fitbit tend to build a community system around their products. Part of Fitbit’s community system are badges you can achieve by hitting some milestones.
This is the story of how I managed to climb 700 Floors without actually climbing 700 Floors, earning the following precious batch. (It is in German, due to my default language settings).
Just for reference how insane this is. At least for somebody like me, whose fitness level could be described as ‘average’.
The tallest building in the world is right now The Burj Khalifa with 163 floors above the ground. Therefore, my 700 floors batch tells the community that I climbed an equivalent of 4–5 times the tallest building in the world in one single day!
Quite impressive, isn’t it? Especially to people that know me in real life.
How does Fitbit track floors?
As you probably know, all fitness trackers contain at least a movement sensor. This sensor detects specific movement patterns and the software decides “Yes, this was a step … let’s increase the overall step count.”
But how to distinguish a step on a normal street from stepping upwards on stairs or a hill?
By only using a movement sensor, this is quite impossible to do reliably. The movement differences are just to subtle. Thus, Fitbit has also integrated a second sensor to help out with this task. This is no secret and they are fairly open on it. Their FAQs state:
Fitbit devices that count floors have an altimeter sensor that can detect when you’re going up or down in elevation. Your device registers one floor when you climb about 10 feet at one time. It does not register floors when you go down.
They further state:
Fitbit devices do not count the elevation gains simulated from a StairMaster, inclined treadmill, or other stationary exercise equipment. Your device uses changes in barometric pressure to detect elevation change, and therefore requires that you physically change elevation in order to properly record floors.
Let’s collect interesting facts we just accuired.
- An altimeter sensor is used to detect changes in barometric pressure
- Only upwards movement is tracked
We can further deduce that a combination of barometric pressure change and actual physical movement is required to increase the floor count. Why? Think about using an elevator in a tall building. If only the pressure change is counted, every ride in an elevator would heavily distort the floor count.
Somebody might suggest now: ‘Let’s walk in circles while using an elevator!’ You can try it, but I couldn’t make it work. I guess that the barometric pressure is changing in an elevator way to quick for Fitbit to fall for it.
Since Fitbit only counts upward movement and barometric pressure decreases with rising altitude, we are only interested in falling barometric pressures.
Let’s update our list:
- A decreasing barometric pressure, combined with physical movement is required
- The pressure must decrease in a ‘humanly possible' speed
We don’t want to climb any hills or stairs for that precious 700 floors badge. A long walk, however, is fine.
Therefore, we need to find a way for manipulating our surrounding air pressure while talking a loooong walk. That way, we coud trick Fitbit into counting these steps as upward movement instead of simple forward movement.
But how to manipulate air pressure on the streets while talking a walk?!
This is a nearly impossible task! At least for us mere humans! Mother nature got you covered, though.
When weather changes from ‘good’ to ‘stormy’ the air pressure tends to fall. Or it will at least dynamically rise and fall over a given period. This phenomenon is what we want! Just take a long walk while a storm is arriving.
On one day, after work, I saw on the weather map a summer storm making its way to my location! I went out and walked for about 2 hours straight from work to home and it worked.
That’s it! That was the trick!
When I arrived at home, I had reached 700 floors and earned a shiny new rainbow batch! ☺
Please take care and use your brain when taking a walk during a storm. Don’t risk your health for a silly batch!
I think that cheating is in general a bad thing and the badges should be earned in an honest way.
I, however, also like to understand things … and that is what this article is about. Understanding!
Take a long walk when a storm is going to arrive.