Are Treadmill Calories Accurate?

If you are an avid gym goer, you will be familiar with the calorie count or calorie burned function on most of the treadmill and other cardio machines.

Are Treadmill Calories Accurate?

But, when you are running on a treadmill, the calories burned counter actually may not be as accurate as you think it is. 

Learn why this value might be false, and what you can do about it with our insightful article below. 

How Accurate Is The Calorie Count On A Treadmill And Other Cardio Machines? 

Calorie counters on treadmill ellipticals and other cardio machines are useful. Seeing the number of calories you’ve burned at the end of your workout can be surprising.

It can certainly make running or exercising more enjoyable and motivating. It’s important to know, though, that these estimated calories are just rough estimates, so don’t use them for precise calculations. 

Some types of cardio machines are better at measuring your heart rate than others, but none of them will be completely accurate.

They usually overestimate your calorie burn rate by 15% to 20%, because they can’t account for all the individual factors involved in burning calories. The good news is you can improve your estimated number of calories burned.

Factors Involved In Your Personal Calorie Burn

Most of the high-tech exercise machines found in gyms these days require you to enter your personal information before you start exercising.

These include your weight, gender, and age, which allow them to be factored into your calorie-burning equation. There are other significant factors to take into account, which causes issues for the estimated calories burned.

Your Fitness Level

Whether you’re new to an activity or switching from one type of exercise to another, the younger you are, the more calories you’ll burn.

As you get fitter and more efficient, you will burn fewer extra calories when you’re doing the same activity for longer periods of time.

Your Body Composition 

When you start exercising, you may initially have more fat than muscle. Therefore, you will burn fewer calories than when you were not exercising.

As you build muscle mass, your body becomes more effective at burning calories for the same amount you’re exercising.

Your Body Size

If two people weigh the same and one has a larger frame than the other, then the person with a larger frame can use more calories than the smaller person.

Your Age 

Some machines factor in age, some don’t. Regardless, as you get older, you won’t burn the same number of Calories as you did when you used to be younger.

You can compensate for this by extending your workouts or increasing the intensity of your routine, for example.

If a 160-pound woman who has 35% body fat and another 160-pound woman who’s 20% body fat are running at a 10-minutes mile pace, the treadmill displays the same number of calories burned.

However, the second person burns more calories than the first person in reality. 

Form And Efficiency 

When running on a treadmill, your posture and efficiency play a greater role in calorie burn than they do when you’re using any of the other cardio/calorie counter functions. The machine cannot take into consideration these factors.

New runners usually burn significantly more calories than more experienced ones, even when running at the same pace and for the same distance.

Because beginners tend to be inefficient at first, they move their bodies from side to side and bounce up and down. These additional movements expend more energy than the efficient stride of an experienced runner.

As a beginner runner, you need to consider the length of your foot strike, but the machine doesn’t factor this inefficiency into its calculations.

Are Treadmill Calories Accurate?

There are other form factors that have an effect on the overall calories burned, such as whether you are using the handrail on your treadmill or cardio machine.

If you are not using it, you will burn more calories simply because you are engaging your core, and are swinging your arms, which takes up additional calories. 

There are also variables in the accuracies of different types of machines used by athletes. For example, a stationary bicycle limits movement, so people use it in generally the same ways.

These calorie counters are much more accurate than treadmill and stair stepper machines, which offer more freedom in terms of movement.

What Formulas Do Cardio Machines Use? 

Cardio machines use different formulas to determine how many calories you should be burning during your workout.

Most machines use formulas and statistics from the Compendium of Physical Activities, or CPA, which was first published in 1987 and receives regular updates.

The CPA calculates the number of calories burned by comparing your activity level to a baseline number of calories. Jogging burns about 7 calories per kilogram per hour.

Running six miles an hour burns about nine calories per kilogram per hour. Running ten miles an hour burns about fourteen and a half calories per kilogram per hour. 

From this, you can gather that the more you weigh, and the further and faster you run, the more calories you will burn. However, these formulas don’t account for any of the factors that relate to you personally. 

Final Thoughts 

In conclusion, it is usually best to take calorie estimates with a grain of salt, and view them as more of an estimate rather than a fixed value. When using the calorie counter, don’t rely too much on the numbers.

You may gain weight even if you’ve exercised hard if you are eating back calories based on the ‘calories burned’ function. Take at least 20% off the number of calories burned to garner a more accurate number.

You can tell how hard you are working out by how much effort you feel you are putting into it, and by using your target heart rate. You can also use this information to determine which exercise machine is right for you.

If you feel that you are doing the same amount of work on different machines, then you may be using the wrong machine.

Megan Rinzel
Latest posts by Megan Rinzel (see all)