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Can You Trust The "Calories Burned" Number on Cardio Machines ?

If it says calories burned 600 cal - for 1hr elliptical can I trust that is right, if I have entered my weight into the machine?

Tue. Jun 12, 9:06am

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Age, weight, fitness level, sex and height all play a part in the number of calories you burn when you exercise. There's no way a cardio machine used by a 50-yr old, 6' man with 100 Lbs to take off and a 20-yr old, 5'5", athletic woman could be accurate for both (probably more accurate for the man than the woman - she'll burn less calories because her body is more efficient). The number is very approximate and can be off by as much as 20% (and it's not usually the case you're burning more than it says).

That said I still look at, measure progress by it, and I try to use the same machines for consistency - just be aware that the actual number is probably less than you think. Then consider that your body will keep burning calories at a higher rate for a good hour or two afterwards than it would if you hadn't exercised. Happy exercising!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007, 9:45 AM

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I've wondered about this too. My guess is it is a stab and probably somewhat in line but not entirely accurate. I see it as more of an incentive to stay on the machine working away than the real measure of what is happening.

Weight is only a measure of the gravity on your body...what is happening metabolically is really what matters here...and that is determined by how much muscle you have, how efficiently you burn, age, gender. A weight measure doesn't take those things into account.

But really, it shows you are working and burning calories (and really that is why most of us get on those things) ...probably shows the machine intensity of the workout (some machines more accurately than others)..but not that accurate translation in colories of what is happening in your body. So if it is motivating, it is a good thing.

You know, a lot of this comes down to shaping behavior for the long run. As our behavior improves on the calorie burning front, results show up. The absolute numbers are not what REALLY matters...getting healthy is.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007, 9:53 AM

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I read an article that said that older machines, like treadmills, are more accurate at calculating calories burned than newer machines like ellipticals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007, 5:42 PM

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I have a stationary bike at home (it's 5 years old) and the total it gives me is nowhere near the readout on my heart rate monitor. The bike more than doubles the actual total calories.

Unless you can input weight, height, age, sex and activity level on a machine, I wouldn't even bother looking at that info.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007, 5:50 PM

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I understand from assorted fitness professionals (whom I know outside of their work) that the "calories burned" isn't as out of whack as you might think. They're rarely off by more than 10%. I guess if you're a very unusual body type, e.g. under 5' tall, you'd have more of a reason to worry about this.

Sidebar: Food package labels can be incorrect by up to 20% before the FDA starts imposing fines. I think that's more detrimental than incorrect readings on a cardio machine.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007, 5:56 PM

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I use a Polar heart rate monitor for consistency in tracking calories burned in exercise. Even though the eliptical machine at the gym receives my heart rate data via my monitor strap (I also wear the watch piece at the same time) the calorie burned reading on the eliptical is about 40% higher than my Polar. What's really nice about using the HRM is that no matter what piece of exercise equipment or aerobics class I'm in, I can find out how many calories I burned, and I don't have to use a sliding scale for inaccurate cardio equipment readings. Even if it's wrong, it's consistently wrong so I can better track myself.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007, 7:39 PM

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I'm new to biking so excuse me if anything I say doesn't seem right. I was biking for about 20 minutes with a heart rate of 150-160 at about 130 rpms and only burnt about 92 calories according to the machine. I'm 23, male, 6'2, about 170 lbs, and have a pretty decent physique (not including the small beer belly I'm trying to lose). Do these results sound accurate to you or is this bike a piece of crap calorie wise?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007, 4:34 PM

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mine seems pretty acurate... especially since jogging 1 mile = ABOUT 100 cals (150 lb person)...on my treadmill, jogging for 1 hr uphil burns about 500 15 min miles...pretty close.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007, 5:30 PM

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From a physics standpoint, energy expended is a function of how much mass is moved how far. It is probably only peripherally related to heart rate. That's why an 150lb person expends about 100 calories whether they jog or walk a mile. The heavier a person is, but more calories they are going to burn simply by having more mass to move. I would think that the calorie monitors calibrated to a specific machine (and inputing weight) would be more accurate than a heart rate monitor. This is an interesting question.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007, 6:34 PM

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look at this... someone used the "search feature" and brought back this oldie!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007, 7:31 PM

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