Are Exercise Machines Accurate on Calories Burned ?

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Last updated on February 12, 2023

When it comes to losing weight, it’s all about the calories. Unless you end the day burning more than you take in, you will not lose weight. As a result, people who work on exercise machines are keen to know exactly how many calories they are burning during their workout. But just how accurate are the readouts on those cardio machines?


Let’s investigate.

A General Guide

Even though the manufacturer does not very often spell this out, the calorie readouts on exercise machines are intended to provide you with a general guide rather than a specific accounting of exactly how many calories you are burning off.


Some cardio machines will be more accurate than others but, generally, they will provide you with an overestimate of your calorie burn. The reason for this is obvious – the manufacturer wants you to think that you are getting as much benefit from their machine as possible. As a result, most cardio machines will overestimate the calorie burn by between 10-20 percent.


Even if they wanted to be as accurate as possible, it is difficult for manufacturer’s to get an accurate calorie burn. That is because the amount of calories you burn depends on a number of variables that it would be difficult for the exercise machine’s console to account for. These include your weight, the amount of muscle vs body fat you are carrying, your age and your metabolic rate.

you may also want to read Engaging in Battle Ropes Cardio for Weight Loss.

Calorie Burn Factors


While it is true that many cardio machines ask you to plug in your personal data, such as your age and weight, there are a number of variables that they do not collect. They make use of the data collected to process your calorie burn with standard formulas that can be found and used by anyone.


A formula that is often used is the following …


Calories burned per hour = MET x weight in kg


MET means the metabolic rate of the particular exercise that you are doing. This can only give you a general guide because it does not take the following important variables into account …


  • Body composition
  • Fitness level
  • Age


Because muscle is much denser than body fat, it requires a lot more energy to sustain itself. So, a 200 pound guy who is carrying a lot of muscle will burn more calories than a 200 pound guy who is carrying a lot of body fat.


Beginner exercises will burn more calories than experienced trainers when doing the same activity at the same intensity level. As you become experienced, your body adjusts to the exercise and the calorie burn slows down.


Age is another important factor in calculating your calorie burn. While it is true that some cardio machines ask for your age, many of them do not factor it into their calorie calculation. Yet, the older we are the lower our rate of calorie will be.

Exercise Form

Another factor that affects the rate of calorie burn is exercise form. Yet this is another factor that is not taken into account by cardio machine calorie calculators. This particularly the case when you are exercising on the treadmill. Ironic as it may be, the more efficient you become with your exercise form, the fewer calories you will burn. People who are running with sideways movement and extraneous hand movement, for instance, will burn more calories than runners who use a highly efficient movement pattern.


Another factor that is impossible for the built in calorie calculator to take into account is whether or not you are using the handrails of the machine. This will make a difference, as when you hold onto the rails the exercise becomes easier, reducing the calorie burn.

you may also want to read 5 Leg Press Form Tips.

Different Formulas, Different Outcomes

Cardio machines use a range of formulas to calculate their calorie readouts. So two people could be exercising side by side on treadmills doing the exact same intensity level workout but get quite different results because the machines are based on different formulae.


The majority of cardio machine manufacturers base their calorie burn calculators on what is known as the Compendium of Physical Activities. This was started in 1987 and assigns a value to a range of different types of exercise. This is the MET figure that we referred to earlier.

The Bottom Line

The key takeaway from this article is that you should use the calorie readout on your cardio machine’s monitor as a general guide only. It is not able to give you a precise accounting because of all of the variables that need to be accounted for. To get a more accurate picture, I recommend cutting 10 percent off the figure that your cardio machine gives you.


At the end of the day, your fat loss success is not about getting a precise readout of your calorie burn. It is about consistently ending the day in a negative caloric balance. So, rather than fixating on the numbers, just be sure to reduce your daily calories and get in your workouts everyday, and the fat loss will take care of itself.


About the author  Steve

Steve Theunissen is from New Zealand and is a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over 30 years experience. Read more about Steve in the 'about us' page.

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