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Are Cardio Machines Calorie Counts Accurate?

You Asked: Cardio Machine Accuracy?

Hey Fit,
I was wondering if you knew how accurate the 'Total Calories Burned' number is on cardio machines at the gym. I put my weight and age in when I start, but I just wanted to know if my total calories are being calculated right on a typical machine. Thanks!
— Kathy

Good question. To see my answer


The calories burned readout on cardio machines are not known for their accuracy. Some machines are even known to bump up the calorie readout by almost 25% (apparently the feel good factor keeps us using their machines). Furthermore, machines do not always take into consideration all the factors in individual fitness levels and the specificity of the exercise and they're not often re-calibrated after hitting the gym floor, so things can get off set with time. Basically you can (and should) use the calorie readout only as a guideline but not as the end-all-be-all of how many calories you've burned.

Learn from my mistakes. I used to always use this one elliptical machine in the gym because it always showed that I had burned a ton of calories compared to all the other machines. Then I got a heart rate monitor. My new gadget helped me realize that I was kidding myself thinking I was burning all those calories. If two machines show the same calories burned but one workout seems way easier than the other then remember your common sense! Unfortunately you've most likely burned less calories on the workout that felt easy.


Skyline Skyline 9 years
If you do a lot of different activities, a good heart monitor (like a Polar 11 or 55) lets you equate calorie burns among them. I have found the ellipticals usually read about 25% higher than the heart monitor, and stationary bikes are much closer. Recently I biked across the continent wearing a Polar 11. (I was surprised I burned only 65,000 calories but given the resulting weight loss and the limited calories, it computes about right.) Once (a different time, of course) I went to bed with a fever and wore it -- in 22 hours it said I burned about 5,000 calories. I'm not sure I believe that particular result because the watch assumes an increased heart-rate means increased physical activity, not so in this case. Anyway, after a few years of using the watch daily at the gym, I've learned you can still burn a heckuva lot of calories on an elliptical trainer -- (more than on a bike in the same amount of time, because you are supporting more of your weight) --you just have to go 25% harder than you may be used to. With the watch I have burned 1000 calories in an hour -- (an Ipod and a free "180 bpm Podrunner" music download really helps.) On days when I choose instead to read a mystery while I pedal a stationary recumbent, the caloric output is astonishly low. The bike says 450 and the watch says about 300 after an hour. My take is that the machines don't factor in itensity very well -- and itensity is what burns the most calories.
DeviousMuse DeviousMuse 9 years
cvandoom - It may be that your treadmill is right on distance, and your Nike+ is wrong, which means you may need to re-calibrate it, especially if you've increased your speed/power. When I run on the treadmill or with my running team, my Nike+ is usually off by about .5mi/3mi run, which I've come to accept... (this is also really prevalent when I incorporate hills into my route). I've had to recalibrate it twice since I started, as my stride has changed significantly over the last 4.5 months.
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
I always wondered this myself, too bad they're not more accurate.
melanie-RN melanie-RN 9 years
I was wondering about that myself, especially since I always put in my age and weight and all that jazz.
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
That is the best part about the machine but I knew not to trust it.
md12398 md12398 9 years
^ (same model and everything that is, just new machines)
md12398 md12398 9 years
i knew this was wacky when my gym replaced the elliptical machines, and suddenly i was burning 150 fewer calories per hour on the same setting. debunked!
Spectra Spectra 9 years
My elliptical's calorie counter is WAY off. It says I burn 2500 calories during my workout, which I KNOW is wrong. I usually use my heart rate monitor to get a better idea of how many calories I'm burning and how hard I'm working. I guess I KIND of use my machine's calorie counter because I use it to time my workout...I go until it "says" I've burned 2500 calories. Works for me, even if it isn't very accurate, lol.
kbarre kbarre 9 years
I found this NYTimes article on the subject really interesting:
allthingsgrow allthingsgrow 9 years
I measure my work-outs by time and how hard I work, and like someone said above, I use calories to compare how I worked out that day from previous work-outs. Still, I'm not going to deny that I sometimes tell myself "I'll stop when I burn 350 calories!"
MandyJoBo MandyJoBo 9 years
A heart-rate monitor is the BEST. A good one will run a little over $100 (I did research before I bought mine and bought the highest-rated one around that price range), and it's a good investment. A good one will let you input your weight and resting heart-rate, and then alert you when you are in the calorie-burning zone! I LOVE the one I got a year ago! It's also really comfortable to wear while cardio-ing. :) Mine never matched my treadmill, but wasn't off by much.
Allytta Allytta 9 years
the first thing i was told during the induction in the gym, that those numbers are BS. i was running on a treadmill for 15min and it showed only 10cal.
missyd missyd 9 years
I just knew I couldn't be burning 800 cals in 50 minutes on my treadmill crosstrainer. Ridic. Mine doesnt even ASK for weight or anything, so I heard it bases the count on a 150 lb person. Well that sucks, because I am 130. So I would burn much less. Right?
saritabonita saritabonita 9 years
what if the count is extremely low? can that happen? for example, yesterday i was on the elliptical machine and after one hour of hard core "running" and moving my arms etc ... only 200 calories were burned... i find that ridiculuous :(
calliope calliope 9 years
I usually rate my workouts by the amount of time I exercised and my Perceived Exertion Rate. Today, I was just proud of myself that I got to the gym for a half hour with horrible cramps. :)
doogirl doogirl 9 years
Great question, I've been wondering about this myself lately.
rpenner rpenner 9 years
I do the same thing as MA cw. I've never fully trusted the machine readouts
Novaraen Novaraen 9 years
I never look at the calorie count....i just KNOW it isnt right.
Francoisehardly Francoisehardly 9 years
I don't really base it on calories since I don't actually think it actually can measure how many I would burn accurately, but then again I have an old treadmill at home and you can't put any info about your age or weight on there so of course it would be even less likely to be accurate.
Soniabonya Soniabonya 9 years
Darn it. I usually go by calories burned and distance done. I felt so proud of myself when I got the 9 mile mark on the treadmill at home. Grrr.
jdeprima jdeprima 9 years
Also, when you grab the bars of the stairmaster/treadmill/elliptical, you're reducing your calorie burn by lightening the load. I read somewhere that you can cut calorie burn by up to 40% depending on how much you're assisting yourself. Also also, running/walking on a level treadmill is much easier than running outside--trainers recommend setting them on a 1% incline to mimic level ground. All the more reason to cut up the gym card and get some fresh air!
Kazagirl Kazagirl 9 years
Awww man, how depressing. I base my workout around calories burned. I need to buy a heart monitor.
ElectroPopTart ElectroPopTart 9 years
I measure my workouts on treadmil by distance, and on the ellipticle or any other machine I just use time.
cvandoorn cvandoorn 9 years
Not only are the calories burned inaccurate on most machines, I find that that the mileage on the treadmill is also inaccurate. I use a heart rate monitor and my Nike+ on my ipod, and I get different calories burned results on all three. I rely on my heart rate monitor though. The part that annoys me is the mileage. Sometimes the treadmill is off by half a mile!
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
I noticed the same thing as Serena when I got my home elliptical. I just try to get in a good workout now and have tried to stop relying on the calorie counts so much.
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