a woman using an elliptical machine at the gym

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 your calories burned. But is it right? Is it really showing the actual amount of calories burned?

The hard truth is that these calorie counters on elliptical machines or other cardio machines aren’t always very accurate. In reality, they often provide a rough estimate of your total calories burned.

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. Yet, the calories displayed on the elliptical machine might make you unsure whether you are in a calorie deficit, which is necessary for weight loss.

These machines might overestimate your number of calories burned by 15-20%. In this article, we’ll dive into why this is the case and how you can improve your overall calorie burn.

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 your personal details, such as your weight, gender, and age, these calorie counters don’t include several other important details, including the following factors:

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 they burn more calories 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 burns more calories than someone with less muscle and more fat.

Your Fitness Level

Your fitness level also greatly impacts the calories you will burn. 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 – such as the elliptical machine on the same resistance – every day or even weekly, your body will burn fewer calories over time. Why? Again, because it becomes more efficient.

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, meaning you burn fewer calories than you did during your younger years. Thus, it takes more work to burn the same amount of calories, and this also means the calorie counter on your cardio machine might be inaccurate.

Generally, these factors aren’t included in the calories displayed on the machine, which means they aren’t exactly right. Even high-end ellipticals 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.

Fitness trackers, such as Fitbit or other smartwatch devices may display a more accurate calorie burn – depending on the info you give and what it is capable of.

Another way to determine how many calories you are burning 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.

All in all, it can be tough to accurately track your calories without knowing your exact body composition and other factors – but it’s not impossible. The first step is recognizing that these machines may be misleading and the accuracy of the calorie counter on an elliptical machine isn’t always the most reliable.

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