That machine is a liar

I hate to break this to you,  but that machine you are pedaling, stomping, pushing away on? It’s not being totally honest with you. It’s giving you a false sense of confidence; making you think you are free and clear; convincing you that the Snickers bar you ate for “lunch” doesn’t really count. Lies, all lies.

This is me expressing my feelings about the dirty deception. So pretty. Ok, actually I’m annoyed because we are stuck in a four-hour traffic jam on the freeway back from our Fourth of July hike, but whatever, the point is I’m p.oed.

One of the most common questions I get as a trainer giving new member orientations is, “How accurate are the calorie counts on the machines?” Well, that depends on several things: how recently has the machine been serviced; did you input your height, weight, gender and age; is it a Tuesday? But the short answer is that they are not very accurate, and it doesn’t matter what kind of machine it is. Those ellipticals, treadmills, bikes and stepmills have all banded together in their quest to delude you.

To illustrate my point, while I was at the gym last night I wore my heart rate monitor while I was on the elliptical. My trusty Polar monitor knows I am a female, 34-years-old, 5’9″ and one hundred thsmmming lbs. After a 20 minute interval workout, it registered my calorie burn as 175. The elliptical machine knows I did the exact same workout (though I didn’t tell it anything about myself) and it registered a calorie burn of 230. That’s a pretty big difference, don’t you think? Is 55 calories going to make or break your calorie count for one day? No. But add it up over a month, and at it becomes much more significant. Let’s say you did that same workout, three times a week, for four weeks, and tracked your calories with the count the elliptical machine gave you. That machine has tricked you into believing you have burned 660 more calories than you likely have. Are you still with me?  To lose one pound, you need to eliminate 3,500 calories, usually through a combination of dietary changes and exercise. To lose the recommended one pound (or so) a week, that means cutting 500 calories a day. So that 660 calorie difference is more than one whole day’s worth of hard work, eating right and exercising. Just one of the many reasons I don’t like math.

If you aren’t counting calories, who cares. But if you are trying to lose weight, and are carefully monitoring your intake and output, this could mess with your calculations, or just kind of tick you off. My advice; if you are concerned about accurate calorie counts, and getting the most out of your workout, think about purchasing your own heart rate monitor. They are a helpful tool for novice exercisers, a good motivator and a fun way to take it to the next level (one of my favorite mantras–try it: “oh yeah, I’m taking it to the next level people). Go ahead, you can use my mantra, I’ve got lots of good ones.

I guess I’ve now set myself up to write a post about the purchase and use of heart rate monitors. Stay tuned.


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