Calories Burned on Elliptical Trainers


How are calories burned on elliptical trainers different than calories burned on treadmills? 

I have been using treadmills for the past few years and I know that every 30 minutes I burn around 500 calories.  I was recently advised by my doctor to use a non-impact machine, so I've started using a Precor and LifeFitness elliptical at the gym. While I burn 500 on a treadmill, it looks like only 300 calories burned on elliptical machines. 

I sweat a lot more on the treadmill so it definitely seems that I burn more calories than when using an elliptical, or am I just totally confused here? By the way, I am a 37 year old woman and I weigh about 135 pounds.  Thanks for the help!

Answered By:

Mike Behnken, MS, CSCS ANswers the Fitness Question

Qualifications of Mike Behnken


Short Answer:

No cardio machine really "burns more than the other."  You will get out what you put in on any cardio machine, meaning, how many calories you burn, depends solely on your effort.  While on some cardio machines it may be easier to get your heart rate up, hence burning more calories you could always work harder on an "easier" cardio machine to increase your caloric expenditure.

Secondly, the amount of calories burned on any cardio machine is going to be a rough estimation at best. 

To get a truly accurate measurement of the calories burned on elliptical or any other cardio machine, you will need to be hooked up to a "metabolic cart" (pictured) which collects all gasses you expel during an exercise session.VO2 Max

As you can see form the photos above, it's not something you would do every day, and not a pleasant experience in general.

Long Answer:

There are many factors that could influence the calories burned on elliptical trainers, treadmills and all other cardio machines:

1.  Machine Inconsistency/Inaccuracy

Just because the cardio machine has a readout that shows the calories you burn does not mean it's accurate.  Cardio machines may calculate estimated calories burned during exercise differently. 

To ensure the machine's estimates calories burned on elliptical trainers most efficiently make sure to enter as much data about yourself as the machine allows.  The same goes for treadmills, recumbent bikes or any other cardio machines.  Use the programs which allow you to enter variables such as your weight, age, gender and height when using cardio machines.

2.  Your Biomechanics

The way your body moves may be limited or changed by the motion of an elliptical trainer compared to that of a treadmill or other cardio machine.  Factors such as flexibility could cause you to burn less calories on an elliptical than on a treadmill with the same perceived exercise intensity.

3.  Rate of Perceived Exertion

Since the exercise performed on elliptical trainers and treadmills is different, you may need some time getting used to the elliptical trainer motion.  It is possible your Perceived Exertion (RPE) for the same intensity exercise on the elliptical may be greater than the treadmill.  This would mean you think you're exercising as hard as you usually did on the treadmill but you're really not and thus your calories burned on elliptical would be less.  Print out the following RPE chart and monitor your intensity while on the machine.  Are you really exercising the the same intensity?

RPE Chart

Download Chart in PDF

If you would like to clarify how cardio exercise burns energy (calories) regardless of which machines you do or don't use read this page:

What You Need-to-Know About Cardiovascular Exercise

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