Elliptical Machines: You’ve Probably Been Using Them Wrong

When you join your local gym for your 2016 New Years resolution (that you’ll stick to this time) you should first note something about a common mis-used machine that is also misleading: the elliptical machine.

U.S. News & World Report reports that stair-climbers and treadmills overestimate total calories burned by 12 percent, according to researchers at the University of California-San Francisco. These numbers are a tad skewed but not overly misleading. At least not compared to elliptical machines, which overestimate total calories burned by a whopping 42 percent, the university researchers also found.

So are we lured into a false sense a gratification while sweating profusely after an elliptical workout? UC San-Francisco would say yes, depending on how the machine is handled.

Such skewed numbers can be detrimental to those who keep track of their caloric intake and the amount which they burn. Simply rewarding yourself with your favorite sweet treat, let’s say a couple of Oreos for instance, can do damage towards your fitness goals. This is so because elliptical users do not burn as many calories as they think they are, thus resulting in little-to-no weight loss.

Elliptical users may actually be piling more calories on top of their totals without even noticing it.

“The readout information on exercise machines can be off by as much as 20 to 30 percent – giving you numbers that are 20 to 30 percent higher than the calories you actually burned,” said Michele Olson, of the American College of Sports Medicine and a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University–Montgomery.

There is a multitude of reasons why this may be occurring. U.S. News & World Report reports that older machines experience the same wear and tear as other machines do without proper maintenance. Sometimes this results in a sub-par performance in terms of actual machine efficiency. The caloric monitor is not adjusted to keep track of these changes.

Another reason is because of the algorithm used by manufacturers of elliptical machines to calculate the number of calories burned by its user. A user’s personal information may not be in tune with the formula used by the manufactors resulting in the overestimated results on elliptical machines.

“We respond to exercise in a very individual fashion that may be different from Joe or Jane Average,” says exercise physiologist Cedric Bryant, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise.

Other personal factors such as age, weight, and fitness level also play a role as elliptical machine users may know. However, some machines do not even have the option to enter this arbitrary data.

Higher end elliptical machines, like the E35 Elliptical pictured above, come with such settings and the option to do interval training. [Image via Amazon]

Lastly, U.S. News reports that manufacturers and researchers claim that the main reason for cardio burning miscalculations is user error. Dr. Olsen explains that the main mistake that elliptical machine users like to do is lean too much of their body weight on the bars instead of standing upright.

“When they’re leaning on the rails or propped up on their forearms [on the machine], people aren’t doing the work with all their body weight involved.”

An elliptical machine can’t account for laziness, in other words.

Elliptical machine users must be cautionary of these deficiencies (both human and machine) while exercising. The elliptical machine dilemma may sound discouraging, but effective workouts can be done, if you use the elliptical the right way.

Exercise and healthy living website, The Greatest, suggests that a variety of workouts on the elliptical and interval training is the best way to make the most use out of your elliptical machine.

The elliptical machine can yield great benefits if used right so figuring it out for the New Year could be worth it.

[Image via AP Images]