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Are the Calculations of Calories Burnt by the Cardio Machines Accurate?

December 17th, 2008 · 5 Comments ·
 
 

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When you are running on the treadmill which shows you the calories you are burning, have you ever wondered whether the figure is correct or the number has been exaggerated to make you happy?  In fact, sometimes, when you run so hard yet the figure is so low that it does not seem to be correct.

The truth is, the reliability of the calories burnt depends on following few factors:

  • Body size – If the machine does not ask for your body weight, most likely the calorie count is not accurate. A 50 kilogram person will burn less calories than person who is 80 kilogram, assuming they run on same pace with the same duration.
  • Body composition – Also consider that a person who has a high percentage of lean muscle will burn more calories than a person with less muscle, because lean tissue is more metabolically active.
  • Workout intensity – The higher the intensity, the more calories you will burn.
  • Technique – Your workout will be more effective if you swing your arms at your sides, instead of holding the bar. Hanging onto the handrails will reduce the number of calories burned by 40 to 50 percent if you are using treadmill.

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  • Familiarity – The more familiar you are with an exercise, the fewer calories you use at the same level of effort. Your body may have got used to the cardiovascular exercise and therefore less challenge your body has to work and fewer calories you will burn. That is why it is good to do different cardio at different days.
  • The machine – Without good maintenance, machines may get out of calibration. So, the figures you see on the screen can be way out of the real range.
  • The manufacturer – Even if everything stays the same, the amount may still be different depending on the manufacturer of the equipment. This difference is possible because companies use their own formulas to calculate what an average person of a given size will burn at a given level of intensity.

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Does this mean that the readouts are worthless?

Not really. When I did my run yesterday, the readout said that I burned 80 calories in 10 minutes. While I may not have truly expended that amount of energy, it is a great reference for me.

Why?

Because the next time that I perform cardio on that same machine, I am going to push myself harder and try to burn 100 calories. Again, I may not actually be burning 100 calories, but I can be certain that if the readout gives me that number, I have worked harder than I did yesterday with the same machine. So, it is still a great tool being used as a relative measurement to gauge my progress.

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Therefore, do not take the readouts on cardio machines literally – use them as a scale to gauge your own progress. Worse, I have seen people trying to use the machines to burn exactly what they eat as a way to maintain their weight. Too much focus in figures may cause you to lose the big picture. Instead on drilling into the numbers, remember the reason why you exercise in the first place. In short, if you are recording your calorie burnt, stick with one manufacturer equipment and use it as a benchmark.

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5 responses so far ↓
  • Angie Tan // Dec 17, 2008 at 12:01 PM

    My trainer said that the read outs were not entirely accurate but can be used as a reference of sorts.

    Better to understand how your body is like during exercise which can indicate how intense the exercise is. :-)

  • Tom Parker // Dec 17, 2008 at 3:27 PM

    Good topic Mun. I never really thought about this before but it’s definitely a noteworthy point. One other thing I have noticed at my gym is that all the machines are the same brand. However, some are a lot more difficult than others in terms of speed. For example, 20km on a couple of the treadmills is difficult but manageable. However, if you step on certain other machines the same speed is almost impossible. I suppose this is again a perfect example of how the readouts should not be taken literally. Some of the treadmills must be better maintained than the others.

  • Hugo // Dec 18, 2008 at 5:36 PM

    At last! Thank you for bringing this to peoples attention, I can’t tell you how many times I have to tell my clients not to focus on the calorie counters on cardio equipment for all the reasons you mentioned and also because the majority of the time if you’re not counting the calories you are consuming the need to count the calories you are using becomes less useful.

    But as you say the calorie counter is good as a reference for how much work you are putting in each time you use it.

    Thanks again for bringing the subject up.

  • Shaun // Feb 16, 2009 at 9:55 PM

    hey Man really like your Blogs…some really interesting stuff…keep em coming.

    Shaun

  • alaa // May 30, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    cross training is so good but dont play everyday, u must change the exercise, for me i found it useful to play 3 days a week, a day and a day off, 3 days a week, 50 min per day is the best, so you give your body rest so when u play you lose calories, running is so useful too, as it burn calories, playing 50 min cross training doesnt mean that you an run 50 min, you still need to practice more on running as you hold all you body not like cross training which lift you

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