What's the maximum number of calories you can burn in a workout?

What’s the maximum number of calories you can burn in a workout?

The treadmill is lying to you

By Annie Daly  July 6th, 2018

Who hasn’t mindlessly used the elliptical at the gym while watching Real Housewives of New York — and then done a happy dance when you see that quick half hour burned 500 calories? Welp, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but…the cardio machine was almost definitely overestimating. Even if you pay for a fancy fitness studio workout — or a fancy fitness tracker, for that matter — you can’t necessarily trust what the machines (or the instructors) say your calorie burn comes out to. (Flywheel fanatics will recall that the studio recently rolled out new, more accurate calorie counts…that basically revealed they’d been overestimating calorie counts by almost double — womp womp.) A study from the University of California-San Franciso found that all of the cardio machines at the gym overestimate the number of calories you burn — sometimes by more than 40%.

Calories workout 2

Machines use something that’s not much better than a one-size-fits-all formula to estimate calorie burn, but the reality is that individual results vary a huge amount, based on factors like your weight, gender, age, how much muscle you have on your body, and more, says Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist at AYC Health & Fitness.

“Most companies aren’t trying to intentionally inflate their numbers, but in the end, it’s important to remember that the algorithms they’re using to measure your workout are just estimates,” says exercise physiologist and ACE certified personal trainer Pete McCall.

While we’re not really condoning hardcore calorie counting — working out should be a fun, not-at-all stressful part of your routine – it can be understandably frustrating if you’re trying to lose weight and aren’t seeing the number on the scale budge, all because you think your body is using way more cals than it actually is.

But if you can’t trust the treadmill, your fitness instructor, or your tracker, what can you trust? The exercise ~science~.

Calorie Real-Talk

You’ll be able to call b.s. on crazy calorie claims yourself if you know how to get a ballpark idea of the number of calories you’re really burning. “If you’re doing a high-intensity workout — like an eight or a nine out of 10 in terms of difficulty — you’ll end up burning around eight or nine calories per minute,” says McCall. “On the other hand, if you’re doing a more moderate workout — a six or a seven out of 10 — then you’ll likely burn around four or five calories per minute.”

High-intensity workout = 8-9 cals/minute / Low-intensity workout = 4-5 cals/minute

So…Are Any Trackers Accurate?

To be clear, there are many great reasons to use fitness tracker. Often, simply seeing how many steps you’ve walked (or haven’t) is enough to get you moving instead of couching it for the rest of the night. That said, fitness trackers are a bit weak in the calorie-counting department. A recent study from Stanford found that the most accurate tracker is off by 27%, and the least accurate tracker is off by 93%.

If you really care about getting the most accurate calorie-counting data, make sure you’re choosing a tracker with a heartrate monitor.

What Can You Do To Improve The Accuracy On Cardio Machines?

Plug. In. Your. Stats. “The more information you put into the machine at the beginning of your workout, the better the reading will be,” says Justice. So put it all in there — your gender, your height, and any other info you have — and you’ll be that much closer to accuracy.

Remember, at the end of the day, you’re still not going to get a 100% accurate number — but that’s okay. “When it comes to exercise, a little bit of info is always better than a whole lot of nothing,” says McCall.