Exercise Equipment Calorie Counts

Ever wonder how accurate the calorie count on your exercise equipment is? While not 100% exact, the treadmills and elliptical machines at your gym can at least provide an estimate of how many calories you burned during your workout.

Most treadmill and elliptical machines allow you to enter your body weight before beginning and therefore are typically more accurate than bikes and rowing machines. The calorie readouts on exercise equipment are based on formulas that calculate calories used per mile per pound of body weight. So, more calories will be used the faster you move or the more you weigh.

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While this may seem like an accurate measure, there are a few discrepancies. The calorie formulas do not take  into account that muscle is more metabolically active than fat and therefore may overestimate or underestimate the number of calories actually burned by about 10-20%. Another source of error is gender. Men tend to be more muscularly dense than women, but exercise machines do not take gender into consideration. Finally, people who are new to working out on exercise equipment will burn more calories than someone who is accustomed to working out regularly. As our bodies get accustomed to exercise, we become more efficient at expending less energy and  the number of calories burned decreases.

Even the most expensive of fitness equipment cannot accurately determine the number of calories burned for every individual. To test this hypothesis, I performed my own experiment at the gym tonight. I entered my weight into the treadmill and jogged for 2.5 miles. The calorie readout on the treadmill was 224 calories. However, my Polar heart rate monitor (which takes into account weight, height, and heart rate making it slightly more accurate) read 207 calories. The treadmill overestimated the amount of calories I burned during my workout by about 10%.

So what can you do to get a more accurate reading? Whenever possible, enter in your body weight. If you choose not to do this, most machines will use a reference body weight of about 160 lbs to estimate the calories burned. Don’t hold the sides of the treadmill, elliptical, or stair climber. While this may make your workout feel easier, it will decrease the number of calories you burn. Finally, be aware of the discrepancies mentioned above and realize that the calorie count is not an exact amount, but rather a ballpark estimate. 

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