Do Elliptical Machines Overestimate Calories?

When it comes to calculating your rate of calorie burn, the figures you read on your elliptical can give you a baseline idea of where you are in managing the battle of the bulge, but research indicates that you should take the info gleaned therefrom with a grain of salt. So to answer the question as posed in this article’s title, the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” and the object of this post is to explain why.

The Research Indicates That This Is So

The Alternet website cites a study performed by the Human Performance Center in San Francisco, in which cardio machines overestimated calorie burn by 19 percent on average–this is all exercise machines total, keep in mind. However, when it came to elliptical machines themselves, the website indicates that this number pole-vaults to over 40 percent. What this demonstrates, then, is when you are determining how many calories you burn while using an elliptical trainer, always count on there being a margin of error.


Age, weight, as well as personal effort all come into play here. As we age, the calorie burning portion of the readout becomes less and less reliable. In fact, Georgie Fear, a registered dietitian, says that there are even more factors that should be taken into consideration. For example, a person’s fat, body temperature, and hormonal changes are all variables in actual calorie burn.

Other factors such as ones the individual controls, such as the intensity of exercise, are a relevant determinant of calorie output. Everyone has different results, because–whether we like to admit it or not–we put out different levels of effort, depending on the day, our mood, or whatever else. For instance, we are more likely to burn more calories on a day when things went well on the job, than on a day we found out our parent, or a favorite singer, has just died.


Remember that when you buy an elliptical trainer, it’s calibrated in the factory. They use volunteers to test ride these machines, and the figures you see are based on these tests, which occur in controlled exercise environments. So, as the Livestrong website points out, short of having a researcher examine you while you are using it, you can’t really know for sure that you are burning the exact number of calories that are shown.

Thus because each model is calibrated differently, the model or make of the machine is also a factor in determining how many calories the machine will show you to be burning.


Before you congratulate yourself on having burned 600 -plus calories on a given day, remember to give your machine a margin for error. Work consistently hard and combine work on an elliptical with other forms of exercise to ensure that you are getting the job done. And keep a scale by you to more accurately measure your calorie burn by the amount of weight you’re actually losing. As your mother probably told you in times past–“the proof’s in the pudding.”

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