Are the Calorie Counters on Elliptical Machines Accurate

Written by: Krista

Updated on:

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You’re chugging along at the gym or at home. The elliptical machine display shows your heart rate, your resistance, and your time on the machine. However, it also shows the calories you’re able to burn.

But is the elliptical trainer right? Is it really showing how many calories you burned? How accurate are they in showing one’s total number of calories burned?

How Accurate Are Elliptical Calorie Counters?

The calorie counters on elliptical machines or other cardio machines, like your stationary bikes and stair steppers, aren’t always very accurate. They can be quite unreliable when it comes to understanding the energy expended for your weight loss and fitness goals.

In reality, they often provide a rough estimate of your total calories burned and not your actual calories burned. This is why they can’t give you an exact calculation of your energy expenditure and calorie count.

When you’re counting calories for a set goal, such as to lose weight, this can make the process that much more confusing and potentially frustrating. After all, you’re trying to burn calories and part of it is knowing your total calorie burn. Yet, the calories displayed on the elliptical machine might make you unsure whether you are in a calorie deficit, which is necessary if you plan on losing weight.

These gym machines overestimating your number of calories burned by 15-20% can be a huge problem for your fitness goals. In this article, we’ll dive into why this is the case and how you can improve your overall calorie burn before you start exercising.

Understanding Personal Factors Involved in Your Calorie Burn

So, why aren’t the calories burned displayed on your elliptical machine accurate?

Unfortunately, calorie counters on exercise machines, such as elliptical machines, don’t consider most factors involved in how calories are burned. While they may ask for your personal details, such as your weight, gender, and age, these calorie counters don’t include several other important factors

Calorie counters on elliptical machines and cardio machines don’t consider non-exercise factors. They assume that all the calories you burn are due to exercise alone.

However, factors like your basal metabolic rate, your activity level outside of exercise, and your diet can also affect the number of calories you burn.

Other factors that can make the calorie counter in other machines inaccurate include:

a woman using an elliptical machine while looking at the display

Your Body Composition

Body composition refers to body fat, water, muscle, and bone that make up the entire body. Many of these entities change depending on your physical activity and health.

For instance, someone who works out more and lifts weights likely has a higher muscle mass. This means that their calorie burn rate at rest and during activity than a person with more fat than muscle.

This will impact their total calories burned on an elliptical machine or through any other activity. In fact, it significantly affects the number of burned calories in a day. Someone with a higher muscle mass will burn more calories than someone with less muscle and more fat even though they are using the same machine.

Your Fitness Level

Your fitness level also greatly impacts your calories burned. The body aims to become more efficient constantly. The more often you perform an activity, the more efficient it becomes, thus further translating into calories burned.

If you perform the same activity on the same machine– such as the elliptical machine on the same resistance, stationary bike, or stair stepper– every day or even weekly, your body will burn fewer calories over time.

Why? Again, because it becomes more efficient. It will not let you burn more calories.

Human Error

A machine with a calorie counter may not be accurate if you don’t input your weight and age correctly, or if you don’t use the machine properly.

For example, if you’re holding onto the handles for support, you may not be engaging your core muscles as much. This may mean burning fewer calories than what you want.

The same is true when you’re leaning forward while using short and quick strides when exercising on elliptical machines. A poorly calibrated power output can have the same effect too.

Your Age

Some elliptical machines ask for your age before you dive headfirst into a set program. However, not all of them do. But your age matters.

As you get older, the body becomes less efficient when it comes to burning calories. This means that the younger you are, the more calories you can burn.

Generally, these factors aren’t included in the calorie counter displayed on the machine, which means they aren’t exactly right. Even high-end elliptical machines compared to inexpensive ellipticals may provide inaccurate readings. So, what can you do?

Counting Calories Accurately

a woman measuring the calories she burns with an elliptical machine

What can you use as a calculator for how many calories were burned on an elliptical machine? What is your actual calorie burn?

If your goal is to lose weight, it may be more beneficial to take about 20% off what the machine is displaying as your total calories burned. This can provide a more accurate range – or at least it will help you better calculate your deficit and get that scale moving.

Another way to determine how many calories you are burning on elliptical machines is by going off of your perceived exertion or aiming for a target heart rate. For example, suppose you feel more exhausted by the elliptical and the machine shows more calories burned compared to the calories burned on a stair stepper or another cardio machine.

In that case, it’s safe to say you likely burned more calories – even if it was the same amount of time.

What Are The Most Accurate Calorie Counters?

There are several types of devices that can show your calorie count and track your calories burned, including fitness trackers, smartwatches, and smartphone apps. The most accurate tracker for calories burned depends on the type of activity you’re doing and your individual physiology.

Generally, most machines with a heart rate monitor tend to be more accurate at burned calorie counting compared to those without. This is because the number at which your heart beats per minute is a good indicator of how hard your body is working, which is directly related to the number of calories you burn.

That being said, even devices with heart rate monitors can have some degree of error, as they rely on a rough estimate of your physiology and the type of activity you’re doing. In addition, factors such as your age, body weight, and fitness level can also affect the accuracy of calorie tracking.


All in all, it can be tough to accurately track the calories you’re burning without knowing your exact body composition, personal details, and other factors – but it’s not impossible. The first step is recognizing that these gym machines may be misleading and not trusting the calorie counts you see on those machines.

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