How (In)Accurate Are Calorie Counters at the Gym?
Before you get too excited about your total, see which machines really stretch the truth
After 30 minutes of sweating on the elliptical, you look down at the console (326 calories burned—not bad!) and start feeling pretty triumphant about your cardio session. After all, you just torched off the calories in the turkey sandwich you had for lunch! Or did you? We went to the experts to find out just how accurate your calorie readout really is. Read on to see which machines you can trust, plus tips on how to maximize your burn.
Why pound your joints on the treadmill when you can burn just as many calories getting in the elliptical groove while you watch Real Housewives? Here's why: A recent study named the elliptical trainer the least accurate when it comes to calorie counting, with most machines overestimating your burn by 42 percent, says Jay Cardiello, SHAPE fitness editor-at-large and founder of the JCORE Accelerated Body Transformation System.
Why are elliptical machines so off base? Unlike treadmills, which can closely replicate your normal gait, the movement of the elliptical is not a natural motion, Cardiello says. Ellipticals also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer in terms of the range of motion, so a 'standard' just is not feasible. Plus, while using the arm levers (handles) will increase your heart rate, your arms don't weigh a lot compared to your hips, butt, and leg muscles, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University. "So don't confuse a pronounced increase in heart rate from more arm movement to mean a pronounced increase in calories expended."
Boost your burn: If you really want to maximize your calorie burn, try not to rely on this machine too often. The elliptical works well in cross-training cardio circuits because you spend a shorter amount of time on it (as sort of a recovery break in between two higher-intensity machines such as the treadmill and the stair mill, for example). If you can't bare the thought of stepping on a treadmill, use this ramped up routine to get the most out of your time on the elliptical.