Your Cardio Machines are LYING To You!

Did you know that your cardio machines are lying to you? In this video, I am going to show you how the cardio machines you are using are incorrectly displaying the number of calories you are burning. In fact, the number of calories displayed may be grossly overestimated. I am also going to show you which machines are the worst at doing this, and which ones you might want to spend your time on instead.

First thing is first, if you are using cardio as your main method of creating a caloric deficit to lose weight, you are making a big mistake. The fact of the matter is that nothing is going to be as effective of creating a caloric deficit as keeping your nutrition in check. I talk about it all the time; you can’t outrun a bad diet. Make your caloric cuts through your diet to get the best results when trying to lose weight.

Where do the inaccuracies sit when it comes to the caloric display? Well, if the machine is not asking you for your weight, it’s already off to a bad start. The cardio machine is calculating the caloric burn based on something called a MET. This unit is multiplied based on the activity, but is calculated using a standard number for weight input; 154 lbs. If your weight is different, then your caloric readout is inaccurate!

The next way that your cardio machines are lying to you is by fudging the math a little bit. How so? Well, the number displayed is based on including something called the REE; the amount of calories you burn at rest. By including this number, the machine is inflating the number of calories burned. This will make you think that you are burning more calories and doing more work than you actually are.

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How else is are they lying to you? Well, this one comes from something you are likely doing that the machine can’t account for and that is your posture. By leaning over and resting on the handles of a bike or a treadmill, then you are actually unweighting yourself and doing less work. This can actually lead to a 50% difference in the calories you think you are burning. The fix is easy; stand up straight and perform the exercise with good posture.

Next, you have to pay attention to the range of motion when you are performing the work on the cardio machine. You would obviously be performing more work by taking the exercise through the full range of motion as opposed to an abbreviated one. It’s no different when it comes to cardio. On a step mill: taking short, choppy steps instead of driving the foot down and getting to full hip extension. Look at an elliptical machine; it is likely locking you into an abbreviated range of motion based on the design of the machine itself. When it comes to a bike, standing up is how you would be achieving full range of motion while further weighting yourself to perform more work meaning more calories burnt.

So, what cardio machines are lying to you the least? The stationary bike is the most accurate, overestimating the calories burnt by only 7%. The mathematical equations used to measure force output (watts) in combination with a weight input leads to a more accurate reading. Next up, is the stair master with a 12% overestimation on the calories burnt. Second to last is the treadmill, off by 13-20% which is compounded by the poor posture often included with this machine. Lastly, the most inaccurate of all these machines is the elliptical – a whopping 42%! Some of this is due to discrepancies in the range of motion from machine to machine.


What can we do to nullify the inaccuracies of the machines? Well, for starters, we can look to other cardio machines. Which ones we should be focusing our efforts on is based simply on the amount of effort you need to perform them. For example; using an air-bike, a rowing machine, or ski-ERG. They may require more work, but the more work done, the more calories burnt, so these are the best cardio machine options.

If you want to stick to the machines you are using right now but want to make it more accurate; try to find a machine that asks for you to input your weight to give a reading that is closer to the truth. You can also gauge the work you are doing by your heart rate (the higher it is, the more effort you are expending). Finally, you can take the output the display is reading and cut it in half and use that in your caloric intake guidelines.

Don’t think that your wearable calorie counters are all that accurate either with a 20-96% inaccuracy range!

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41 thoughts on “Your Cardio Machines are LYING To You!

  1. ATHLEAN-X™ says:

    “FAST ACTION” Q&A* – Leave your most burning question about this video or any other training, PT or nutrition question within the first 2 hours of this video’s release (AS A SEPARATE COMMENT!!) and I will pick 8 to get a detailed reply from me right here in the comments. Answers will be posted within the first 24-48 hours of you leaving the question. Good luck!

    • Thatsa Goodone says:

      I track my calories every day and it works well. When i will switch from losing weight to maintaining weight, i wonder what i should calculate as the calories burnt by my weight training. Any ideas?

    • Sports Fandom says:

      Should an “ectomorph” separate cardio entirety during a work out? (in terms of doing cardio on different day)

    • Rordog says:

      Just wanted to say thank you for this video. I’ve been debating purchasing a rower for some additional cardio and this video answered a lot of questions I hadn’t even considered before.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      @Eddy Jimenez I used to have some body fat calipers. 3 spots pinched and use the chart to determine bf%. It was probably somewhat accurate. Immersion tanks are used to determine by%. I read it’s possible to get to zero percent for men but 5% for women. I think 5% bf would be the lowest safe limit.

    • Sooraj P says:

      I have been diagnosed with sacrilization of L5 and sacrom cz of which my 8 have got kyphosis and lordosis will I be able to do heavy training and what exercise I need to avoid ?

  2. Chris says:

    Hey Jeff (Q&A) – what’s the deal with massages for tissue/muscle recovery and the ideal (or not) timing after exercise? Stuff like intense static cupping, or lighter roaming cupping, soft muscle massage, deep tissue massage, theraguns, thera-canes, foam rolling, things like that? Is doing this killing or helping my gains? Cheers!

    • SubOxyde says:

      Need this info! Is message actually accelerating the recovery process or does it just distract the neurons, providing temporary relief?

    • SubnetMaskedMan says:

      Last week I had a 90 minute deep tissue massage by this chinese lady. She knew her shyt!!!!
      She even gave me the massotherapy receipt so I got 80% refunded with Insurance.
      She was doing all these things, and 90 minutes is a session where many many things are being done to you, like she started standing on my back and digging her heels in certain areas, then she started crawling on my back and digging in my back with her knees is specific areas. She knew EXACTLY where to dig, she was an expert at her craft!
      I came out feeling like a new man, shoulders felt better and she gave me a little more leg mobility which i’m sure will help my squats.
      People got insurance through work and don’t even use it, it’s such a shame!!

  3. Christopher Braccini says:

    So, usually ignore the calorie output on the machines when I do machine cardio. I do use an Apple Watch, in the matching mode. How accurate are fitness trackers?

    As an aside, if you feel an answer is insufficient in the comments, a piece on fitness trackers similar to this, for both strength and cardio, would be very interesting. Thanks for your awesome content!

  4. Akai Kujaku says:

    Question for the Q&A: Hey Jeff, what about doing a constant/same pacing throughout of a incline setting on the treadmill for an hour? with a break when I am 30 mins in? I am 6 ft and 185 lbs.

  5. John Glosson says:

    Jeff, I just started AX1 last week and did the agility ladder. This really got my heart rate up and forced me to master the steps but is this to burn calories, get my heart rate up or what? And is there a calculation you can do for these types of exercises to determine how many calories you burned? Should I be counting calories AT ALL?

  6. letsgetfree1 says:

    Question: Jeff, when you do unilateral training, but one arm (or leg) is weaker than the other, how do you train so that it catches up? Thanks!

    • Антон Занков says:

      @letsgetfree1 I’m guessing that if you train unilaterally diligently enough with the same weight on both sides it should slowly mitigate the imbalances because the weaker side would be “training harder” than the strong side with the same weight. Does this make sense?

    • Sayim says:

      If your right side can do 5 reps for 3 sets but your left can do 6 reps for 3 sets then just do 5×3 for both sides

    • VikingTheDude says:

      @Антон Занков yeah i always thought of it this way. Like if the strong side is 3 RIR, then the weak side would be like 2 or 1 RIR

    • Peter Allen says:

      Same exact workout for both sides and they will eventually even out. Let the weaker side dictate, then bring them both up together once they have equalized.

    • LJ S says:

      Train the weak side first to failure then thats how many reps the good side does. Thats the only way

  7. IGORÖK says:

    Hi Jeff, I have a question. In your latest videos covering face pulls you suggested us to lift our hands overhead when reaching the top contraction of the movement.

    Isn’t it bad to lift the arms not in the scapular plane?

    Thanks in advance!

  8. SmithyQ says:

    Jeff, any advice for training, or returning to training, after illness? When I get the flu, just getting out of bed feels like a workout. It might take a week to feel normal again, but my gym results seem to take a giant step back. This is especially true if its a stomach bug and I cannot eat much over several days.

    In short, is there a way to ease back into training after an illness? Something like 50% less volume to start, and then adding more back over the next week or so? As is current, I just guess, and it feels like I’m losing a month’s worth of progress over something I have little control. Thanks for your time, you rock Jeff!

    • שי אברהמוב says:

      I am also with the same case. I had flu, fever and lungs infection took antibiotics for 2 weeks and lost some weight. Now I work on improve strength and form on the main lifts. I can tell you this: Forget your old numbers, because the flu makes you weaker, and it’s frustrating if you keep comparing yourself to before the flu. After a few sessions now I already see the weigths and volume go up. Also, since I restarted with lower weigths I took it as a chance to improve my form which went down hill as I lifted more weigths probably due to ego. You can check the video on muscle memory, because it’s related.

    • Byron Rogers says:

      It’s impossible … unless you’re Jeff. He has also outran a cheetah, a bullet and an angry wife.

    • Iso blue says:

      Jeff says a lot of great things but this saying is like one of the most generic pieces of fitness advice, weird thing for you to highlight.

    • BDL30 says:

      @Byron Rogers I can believe outrunning the first two. But an angry wife? Not even God could help you there

  9. Jesse J says:

    Great video! I’m going to be hitting my training and weight loss hard in about a month. I’m post surgery and my activity restrictions will be lifted soon and I’m eager to get back to it.

  10. ShapedSilver says:

    When I first started working out, I was on the elliptical for hours mostly because the big numbers made me feel good. Luckily my diet was also improving so the encouragement of the numbers probably did me more good than harm, and I lost a lot of weight. Just putting that out there

    • Spirit of '76 Forever says:

      Elliptical is great for those of us who cannot take the hard pounding of running

    • Richard Harris says:

      The best exercise is the one that you do. If you can sit on an elliptical for hours then that’s more effective than forcing yourself to do 10 minutes on the rowing machine and maybe giving up because you hate it. For me it’s Beat Saber, I can play >1 hour every day. It says I burn like 800 calories so I usually half that to 400, but it adds up over the week.

  11. Grass Cat says:

    For the wearable trackers, I use them as a guideline. Workout A burned 200, Workout B burned 300. All that means to me is that I hustled a lot better/had a more intense workout with B.

  12. Vince Natale says:

    I used to use the elliptical and would shift effort from legs to arms intermittently, as well as exaggerate upper body movement (twisting at the waist) instead of simply moving my arms. The machine had body weight input and I Always used heart rate and respiratatory levels as my guides to how I was improving, and always increased resistance levels when I stagnated. It worked!

  13. voltron88888 says:

    Thank you, Jeff, for finally answering a question I’ve had for a long time… does the machine give you total calories burned or calories burned beyond a resting state. It makes such a huge difference.

  14. Bill M says:

    Hey Jeff,
    Thanks so much for your training tips. They are an integral part of my regimen. Just saw your recent Instagram post. Beautiful family! My buring question is…
    I’m a 68 year OLD MAN! Have been obese all my life who weighed 367 on November 1, 2018. Have acheieved my goal weight (212#) about 6 months ago and feel great. My goal now is to try to get a bit more lean (current body fat 30%). All my friends, family (and from what I’ve read) say I am fighting against time and my history and this is the best I can expect. Is this true? It’s perfectly Ok if it is. Just want to see my reality clearly. Thanks Jeff!

  15. cody stoll says:

    It’s been years, and this man still makes some of the best quality videos out there. As much as he talks about Sly Stallone being his idol, I’d say he’s right there with him in terms of being a real life legend.

  16. Jared Jordan says:

    One of the best videos on this topic I’ve ever seen. Once again, Jeff and Jesse killing it and proving why they are at the top of the mountain. Thanks brother.

  17. Rob Schoenbaum says:

    Question: First- thanks for these videos. I’m stretching and training rotator cuff, delts and lats to deal with arthritis of the shoulder, with good results. In some of your videos you suggest exercises that push the ball into the shoulder socket, in others you suggest exercises that pull the ball out of the socket. There is logic to both but please clarify. Thank you again.

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