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The Truth About Calorie Burn on Cardio Equipment
Are you actually burning that many (or few) calories according to your elliptical or stair stepper? Calories and cardio…..ugh.
This is something I have wanted to address for a while. People often ask me about my workout routines when I was competing or what I do now for exercise. I am one of those wierdo cardio-loving people. I LOVE to sweat. It makes me feel accomplished. I am also a numbers person. I do really well with numeric measurements like “How fast, how far, how long, how much?” (Which also makes me a scale stalker, which is bad!) But a lot of people are numbers people, which is why I want to address this : the calories shown on your cardio equipment are NOT accurate! WHOA. So does that mean you didn’t “earn” that cheat meal last week. (Earning food and cheat meals will be another post down the road) But yes, it kind of does mean exactly that. So unfortunately, the chances that you actually burned that many calories is slim to none. Sad I know.
The question: “I just exercised on a cardio machine. Did I really burn as many calories as the machine says I did?”
The expert: Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist and author of Mind Over Fatter
The answer: In a word, no, says Justice. Most cardio machines use your weight and age to calculate the calorie burn for the average person meeting those two conditions. What it’s not always accounting for: your gender, height, body fat percentage, and fitness level. All of those things determine how many calories you’re actually burning. So if two women both weigh 135 pounds but one has 20 percent body fat and the other has 35 percent body fat, for example, they’re not going to burn the same number of calories when they do the same exact workout, says Justice. (From an article in Women’s Health June 2010)
So in short, those machines are super inaccurate. They just simply can not take into account all of the factors and variables that go into calorie output. If you are looking to track your calories more accurately, I highly recommend a heart rate monitor. You can customize this MUCH MORE to your body.
If you are curious as to just how inaccurate these machines are, you can plan on anywhere from 10-40%. OUCH. In an experiment done by the University of California, San Francisco’s Human Performance Center for Good Morning America in 2010, treadmills overestimated calorie burn by 13 percent, stair climbers by 12 percent, and stationary bikes by seven percent. The worst offender? The elliptical, which overestimated calorie burn by 42 percent. Yikes! My rule of thumb if I am not wearing my heart rate monitor is to cut the number shown in half. That way I probably burned more, but I am underestimating my number so I can not over estimate my caloric intake, Make sense?
So long story short, you just can’t depend on the machines. My suggestion is get a heart rate monitor, track your workouts and compare the readings. I use the Polar FT4 and I love it!!! I’ve had it for almost 2 years and never had an issue! You’ll find a higher calorie burn in a shorter period of time with High Intensity Interval Training but there is also nothing wrong with Steady State Training. Both carry benefits. More on cardio routines in the next post!