These days just about everyone has exercised on some type of cardio machine that has a digital display showing calories burned. And if you’re like most of us, when the computer display says you burned 500 calories during your one hour elliptical workout, you’re probably feeling pretty good. I mean, think about it, if you did this just once a day while continuing to eat exactly the same way, by the end of one week you could lose one pound of fat (7 X 500 = 3500 calories) – right? Well, unfortunately, this is not exactly true and here are some reasons why:

To begin with, cardio machines only give an average value for calories burned. The more accurate cardio machines will ask you to input your weight, sex and even height, but regardless the calories burned value displayed is only an estimate and not an exact value.

Still, the biggest mistake people make in calculating the extra calories burned from exercising is forgetting to subtract the calories they would have burned anyway if they had done absolutely nothing. The average person burns about 12 calories per pound of body weight each day just sitting around. The actual number of calories burned at rest (BMR) also depends on your metabolism. Metabolism rates are influenced by many factors such as height, weight, and age, but can also vary because of genetics and other factors. This is why some people can eat whatever they want and not gain weight, while others must keep to a strict diet to avoid gaining weight.

On average a 150 lb person will burn about 1800 calories each day without any exercise which translates into about 75 calories per hour. Therefore, if this 150 pound person did a one hour workout on the elliptical and the computer display said 500 calories were burned, technically it means only an extra 425 calories were burned from exercising on the elliptical during this hour and not 500 calories as the display indicated (500 – 75 = 425). This also means that instead of seven workouts to lose that stubborn pound of fat, you will actually need to work out a little over eight times.

Cathe Friedrich

I found this information interesting, and wanted to know how you would calculate the same information in increments of 25lbs.? For example someone at 175lbs., 200lbs., 225lbs., 250lbs. etc. Or would you calculate in 10lb. increments?

I’ve been using the Bodybugg by apexfitness since January and discovered that, while my treadmill records 500 calories burned, my bodybugg records only about 325. I learned that I really needed to ramp up my workouts in order to burn calories, especially since I sit at a desk all day while at work.

Thank you for the information! I’ve never seen or read a professional take into account the calories you would have burned already for that time frame. That little tidbit really does have an impact; more so than one would have thought!

The most accurate way to calculate your BMR is to use our BMR calculator in the Workout Manager. The less accurate, but quick and easy way to calculate your BMR is to multiply your Body weight by 12. This will give you a rough estimate of how many calories you burn just sitting around for an entire day.

If you weigh 175 lbs:

BMR = 175 lb x 12 = 2100 calories per day (24 hours)

2100 calories per day / 24 hours = 87.50 calories per hour

87.5 calories per hour / 60 mins = 1.45 calories per minute

Thanks so much. This is very interesting b/c when I first started out as a trainer, my first client would fabricate (not sure if this was on purpose or out of ignorance) his calories burned on the treadmill. He would give this really high number. I knew it was FALSE because he was on the treadmill for less than 30 minutes (I would be on the treadmill doing my own personal workout before our appointments at least 15-20 BEFORE he even showed up)! I never depended on these numbers.

As a trainer and anywone, we should go by measurments and how clothes fit us–the scale shouldn’t necessarily be our “guiding light” especially if you are strength training. 🙂 Thanks for posting this.

Confused – I took a “breath test” to determine BMR and my results were 1525 calories burned at rest. I was told that this is slighty higher than normal due to my above avg muscle mass burning more calories while at rest. I am 155 lbs and 5 8 .

Your article states that 1800 calories is average for someone 150 lbs – that a big difference

Hi Dee

I don’t know who gave you your results but I agree with the article.

On average, for every kg of body mass you have you will burn 25 calories a day at rest. You are 155 lbs = 73.8kg * 25 = 1845 calories a day.

I was a biochemist and that figure of 25 cal kg^-1 comes from medical textbooks.

What a eye opening article. This information helps explain why it is taking so many workouts to lose the weight. Thank You Cathe

Okay. I’m totally confused. I’m 5’9″, 150 lbs. I eat no more than 1400 cals/day. So, if I’m burning 1800 cals/day by doing nothing, plus I do on average 1 hour of cardio every other day and toning on the other days, then why do I not weigh less than 150??? I should be weighing a lot less since it seems I’m in the negative with my cal intake/day by just doing nothing at all, plus I’m sweatin’ my butt off. I have worked out religiously for a year, starting at 165 lbs., but I can’t seem to get below 150, on occasion maybe 147, but get back up to 150 in a matter of a day or two.

I have been exercising consistently for 40 years. I took a test on cruise ship to see how many calories I burned at rest during the day and it was a mere 1358. I’ve been exercizing for such a long time my body is very stingy with how it burns calories. If I ate 1800 calories in a day, even though I work out at least 60 minutes a day, I would gain weight very quickly. The older a person gets, the slower their metabolism, regardless of how much muscle they have. Find the right number for you through experimentation, and honor the individual that you are.

Yvette, the 12 calories per pound is just an average value and your actual BMR may be far from this value. Our BMR calculator in the Workout Manager will give you a more accurate value, but still will not be exact.

After I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any means you can take away me from that service? Thanks!