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Is Your Cardio Machine Overestimating The Calories You Burn – Research Says YES

Posted Jan 26 2012 12:00am

    Many people at the gym depend heavily on their cardio machines to tell them when they have burned enough calories to hit the locker rooms.  I’d say about 40%  of the people that use the wide variety of cardio machines depend on calories, not time, to give them permission to hop off.

Of course, as trainers we have  already been telling our clients that the machines aren’t the most accurate. Instead, we would suggest using a bodybugg to measure their REAL calorie expenditure.  Once they did, they understood the importance of having one!

Another important point is … the longer you do a particular type of cardio, the less amount of calories you burn!  It’s human nature to adapt, improve and conserve energy.  Therefore your body will find the best way to do an activity without burning up it’s precious fuel.  That’s why you must consistently change the intensity, the type, or the time of your cardio to continually lose.

The Experiment 

GMA technology contributor Becky Worley used the VO2 test on a treadmill, stationary bike, stair climber, elliptical machine and  fitness watches . She used each for five minutes and, in each case, according to the VO2 test, the number of calories burned was overestimated.

On average, the machines overestimated by 19 percent and the watches overestimated by 28 percent.

Here’s the breakdown:

Treadmill: Overestimated calories burnt by 13 percent.


Stationary Bike: Overestimated calories burnt by 7 percent.


Stair Climber: Overestimated calories burnt by 12 percent.


Elliptical: overestimated calories burnt by 42 percent.


Are you shocked??  Human error can also really mess up the machines analysis.  Your age, height and weight must be as accurate as possible to get a true reading.  So if you are exercising next to some hot guy / girl and you deduct 20 pounds off of your weight (scared that they will see your real numbers),  you’ll be staying on that elliptical a bit longer ;)


What Do The Manufacturers Have To Say?

According to the makers,  calorie counting  software doesn’t adjust to machine wear and tear. Also,  machine resistance  can change overtime, which skews the calculation. And none of the machines can calculate a user’s metabolism rate, health history and fitness level, all of which affect calorie counters.


 My personal favorite is a calorie counting device called the bodybugg.  I use this with the digital display to see how many calories I’m really burning.

If you don’t have the money to buy extra equipment, the machine manufacturers recommend entering a slightly lower weight.  This will compensate for some of the overestimation.


If you know a hard core gym bunny, then don’t forget to forward this on!  This fitness tip should not be missed!!!

Adria Ali


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