Accuracy of Cardio Equipment with Calories Burned

If you’ve ever been to a gym before, I’m sure you have noticed the little screen on any cardio machine that says “calories burned”. It might look nice when you see it say you burned 500 calories, but have you ever questioned just how accurate it was?

As a fitness professional, I can assure you that by just entering your “age” and “weight” is nowhere near enough information for an accurate calorie burn. So many other factors come into play like gender, height, body fat percentage, and fitness level. In addition, if you are constantly hanging onto the hand rails on the treadmill this will significantly decrease your calories burned as well. With all of these factors skewing the data, just how far off can these predictions be?

What does the research say?

The University of California at San Francisco’s Human Performance Center did a study to test just how accurate these cardio machines were. They had subjects perform a workout on a treadmill, stationary bike, stair climber, and elliptical. Simultaneously, they were also hooked up to equipment for a VO2 max test. A Vo2 max analyzer assesses a user’s calories lost during exercise by tracking breathing patterns. [side note: I’ve been lucky enough to have a VO2 max test performed on myself numerous times and they are extremely accurate…trust me!]

Related – Looking for the best treadmill to buy for your home? Check out this extensive review of dozens of treadmills here.

Research Results

The study results were shocking! They found that:

  • The treadmill overestimated calories burnt by 13 percent
  • The stationary bike overestimated calories burnt by 7 percent
  • The stair climber overestimated calories burnt by 12 percent
  • The elliptical overestimated calories burnt by 42 percent

Pretty substantial huh? So now what are you suppose to do?

I recommend using these “calories burned” estimations as guidelines for how hard you are working. For example, if after one workout it says you burn 250 calories, the next time you go to the gym try to match or beat that number. It’s more about the quality of your workout than just the numbers of calories burned anyway.

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