How to Calculate the Calories Burned on an Elliptical

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Elliptical trainers are a popular tool for burning fat and increasing cardiovascular health because they are low-impact machines that can give a feeling of low exertion. Many elliptical machines have built-in calorie counters that provide satisfying calories-burned numbers, but it's difficult to determine how accurate these numbers really are.


While your actual caloric burn rate depends on many internal and external factors, you can use simple metabolic equivalent of task (MET) calculation guidelines to reach an estimate of calories burned on an elliptical trainer. The MET system assigns a number from .9 (resting) to 19 (sprinting) for different exertion levels, and when this number is multiplied by your weight in kilograms, you get a number of calories burned per hour for any activity.

Things You'll Need

  • Elliptical machine
  • Scale
  • Calculator or paper and pencil
  • Weigh yourself to get an accurate reading of your weight. If your scale measures weight in pounds, multiply the number by .45 to convert it to kilograms (for example, 120 lb. x .45 = 54 kg).

  • Keep track of your level of effort during a workout. Compare your average exertion on the elliptical machine to walking, jogging or running.

  • Examine a list of MET rates and determine which number best corresponds to your exertion (see Resources). You will likely choose a number between four and eight.

  • Record the length of your workout in portions of an hour (for example a 20-minute workout would be recorded as .33 of an hour).

  • Multiply your weight in kilograms by the MET rate you chose (for example, 54 kg x 6 = 324).

  • Multiply the resulting number from the previous step by the portion of an hour that you worked out to get your total calories burned (for example, 324 x .33 = 107 calories).

Tips & Warnings

  • Your caloric burn depends on your personal metabolism, which is determined by your age, weight, gender, body composition and cardiovascular state.
  • Maximize your caloric burn by increasing your level of effort, lengthening workout duration, utilizing intervals (increasing speed for 30 seconds every few minutes) and involving more muscle groups. If your elliptical machine has moving arm bars, alternately push and pull with your arms. Most elliptical trainers allow for forward and backward leg strokes; alternate between the two to work more muscles.
  • Don't obsess over caloric burn numbers because there isn't a realistic, 100 percent accurate way to calculate this. Other health factors like weight, body fat percentage, cardiovascular state and muscle tone are far more important.
  • Do not push yourself beyond your limits for the sake of a higher calorie burn. Overexertion could lead to injury or even a heart attack in a person with certain cardiovascular conditions.

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  • Photo Credit Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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