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How accurate are the calorie counts on gym machines?

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Updated July 19, 2006

Question: How accurate are the calorie counts on gym machines?
Answer: First, it's important to remember that the calorie counts on machines (or those you get from using any formula) are just estimates and will never be 100% accurate. Cardio machines usually have a computer that uses standard formulas to figure out how many calories you're burning with exercise. But, these machines and formulas don't always take into account all the factors involved in energy expenditure.

For example, most machines don't take into account your body fat percentage. A person who has a higher percentage of body fat will usually burn less calories than a person with more muscle mass. It also doesn't take into account your fitness level...if you're new to an activity, you'll usually burn more calories than a fit person doing the same activity.

Some experts estimate that cardio machines can overestimate calories burned by up to 10-15% so it's best not to take these numbers as gospel but, instead, simply use them as a benchmark from workout to workout.

Instead of relying on calories burned, go by your perceived exertion and/or keep track of your target heart rate. If two machines show the same number of calories burned but one feels easier and keeps your heart rate lower, that's a sign that you're probably burning less calories than you think.

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