My gym has recently installed a vast array of shiny new treadmills, stationery cycles and elliptical, all with impressive screen displays and access to a wealth of information about your workout.
So much information is available on the exercise equipment that it often takes me more time to work out how to get the thing started than do the actual workout. I admit to being an eavesdropper in the gym because the conversations floating around the barbells and leg press provide me with a wealth of material.
My eavesdropping tells me that its good to know how fast and hard you are working out but there is no doubt that in my gym and probably in most others everywhere, the calorie counter on the cardio machines is the proverbial gold nugget. It’s not just the satisfaction of knowing how much you have burned off but also an unofficial license defining the boundaries of how much you can eat as soon as you leap off that machine.
Sadly but not really surprisingly, some recent studies have shown that cardio machines and fitness trackers are not entirely accurate and in some cases, not even remotely reflecting reality.
Researchers have found that exercise equipment like cardio machines overestimated calorie burn by 19% on average. The elliptical was the biggest fibber, overestimating calories burned by a substantial 42%, the treadmill by 13% and the stair climber by 12%. The stationary bike told the most truth but still overestimated calorie burn by 7%.
It has been shown that newer machines are more accurate which means happy days in my gym but usually most of us just have to deal with whatever exercise equipment is available at our gyms. None of this should be a huge surprise though, as most machines only account for age and weight without considering heart rate, body temperature, body fat, fatigue and hormones which fluctuate often.
Outside of the gym, you will see fitness trackers such as Fitbit, Jawbone and now the Apple watch gracing the wrists of many people who might not step a foot in a gym. Various studies have shown that these devices also have a margin of error but do give a more accurate assessment of calorie burn plus they can be worn all day to measure overall energy expenditure. The downside is that many of them can’t track stairs or cycling as they don’t contain an altimeter but they can track basic steps, calories and the length of exercise.
I love that fitness trackers help motivate people to maximize their daily step tally and improve fitness levels making them a very useful tool in managing health and well-being. I love the conversations and comparisons in workplaces that drive those extra steps and encourage us to do a couple of laps of the office to reach our target for the day.
Accept that the numbers flashing results while you are striding out on exercise equipment or the tally on your wristband as benchmarks and not scientifically written in stone. Don’t base your calorie intake or consume extra calories based on the number provided but do use them as a push towards being more active and increasing your fitness levels. Calories are a bit like money in the bank, it’s good to know you have some extra up your sleeve for when you really need them.