So you just burned 350 calories on your 30 minute elliptical workout? Awesome! You just burned off that cream cheese bagel you had for breakfast. But did you really? Let’s take a look at how many calories you actually burn on your exercise machines.
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite, the low-impact machine we love to hate, the elliptical. According the a recent study, ellipticals are actually the least accurate at counting your calories burned. They can be off by up to 42 percent! Why are they so inaccurate? First of all, when you are moving on an elliptical, it is not a natural movement. On top of that, every elliptical is different. Their range of motion is very different from machine to machine so no real standard can be measured. It also can vary depending on whether or not you use the arm levers. They will increase your heart rate, but that doesn’t exactly mean you will be burning more calories.
If you have ever watched an avid stair stepper, you may notice they tend to lean forward and take short strides instead of taking advantage of the full range of motion. So, what’s the problem? Well, leaning forward actually decreases the amount of calories burned by about 50 percent. Plus, stair steppers overestimate your total calories burned by about 20 percent. This is caused by models calculating the gross energy expenditure rather than the net energy expenditure. The gross expenditure will include your resting metabolic rate, which is the amount you would burn by just existing. What you should be looking for when you exercise is how many more you are burning than your resting metabolic rate.
Great news! Your calories burned on the treadmill are accurate for the most part. It helps to improve this if you input your weight and lay off the handrails. However, if the treadmill doesn’t ask for your weight, it will probably use a reference number of 155 pounds which we know isn’t accurate for all of us. The other issue is the hand rails. When you use them, it can actually throw off your calorie burn count by 40 percent. As long as you input your weight, and work those arms your calorie count should be pretty accurate.
Stationary bikes are a little different from the rest of the cardio machines, mainly because they support your entire body weight during the workout. That being said, stationary bikes tend to be the most accurate of all the work out machines. They only overestimate by 7 percent. That being said, if you have poor pedaling technique, you final count could be thrown off. If you use a standing posture, you will obviously burn more than while you are seated. The difference between the two is about 15 percent.
These calories burned should not be the end all, be all for your work out. These machines almost never take into account some of the most important factors, such as weight, handrail usage, and fitness level. These all will make a big different in your calorie burn. A good way to measure your effort during a workout is your heart rate. Another good way is a “talk test.” If you are gasping for air and can’t talk, you are probably almost at max intensity. Whatever you decide to do, just don’t put all your calories in the machine count basket. Chances are, it will be wrong.