Fit or Fiction: Is the Elliptical Trainer a Good Fat Burner?Posted on May 4th 2010 1:00PM by Liz Neporent
Someone told me the elliptical trainer is not very effective for weight loss, is that true? -- Angie, New York City
There are three absolute truths I've put forth many times in this column. These truths hold true for the elliptical trainer the same as any other type of exercise be it running, walking, swimming, cycling or anything else. Let's break it down:
To lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in. Certainly, any calories you ellipticize off can potentially contribute to weight loss. However, if you jump off your elliptical and hop, skip and jump to the nearest fast food joint, the chances of weight loss are slim -- no pun intended. You need to be vigilant about keeping your calorie equation in balance. I know plenty of avid exercisers who are a bit chunky around the middle because they are also avid eaters. Would they be even chunkier if they skipped the elliptical to spend time with a video game or a Law & Order marathon? Probably. But all of the exercise in the world won't make up for a lousy diet.
The best cardio exercise is the one you'll actually do. The average 150-pound ellipticizer will burn about six to 10 calories per minute, whereas that same person sprinting laps on a track might burn up to 20 calories a minute. But if running in circles makes you feel like a lab rat on a wheel how often will you actually lace up your shoes and dig out a stopwatch? There are many plausible arguments for why one type of exercise is superior to another, but if you don't participate, it does you no good. Yes, you may churn off more calories per minute on the treadmill or in a boot camp class but if every moment is torture and you truly prefer the elliptical trainer, that doesn't make much sense.
What you put into your workout is what you get out of it. It's not enough to step onto the pedals of an elliptical trainer and tread half-heartedly for half an hour. If you've committed the time to working out, make the most of that time. The one big issue I have with elliptical trainers is that the calorie counters seem suspect. There are times when I don't break a sweat yet the readout registers a calorie count that is significantly higher than a comparable amount of time I've spent running at a fast clip on a treadmill where I finish up red in the face and dripping with sweat. For the most part, the formulas used to calculate calories burned on many indoor cardio machines are derived from tests done on healthy young males -- and in some cases, elite athletes -- working near their maximum effort.
Calorie predictions are skewed even further if you lean your body weight against the handrails, grip tightly, or otherwise position your body on a machine in a way that makes the exercise less strenuous. Some studies have shown calculations can be off by as much as 50 percent. To some extent, this is true of all cardio equipment, but I think this especially true of elliptical trainers. (It tends to be less true of treadmills which have been around for a long time and started out as medical devices.) I counteract overoptimistic estimations by putting in body weight lighter than I really am and by wearing a heart rate monitor so I have an accurate way to compare different workouts. Often, I cover the calorie counter and forget about it and instead focus on working up a sweat and keeping my heart rate in the zone.
For those of you who use the elliptical, do you find the calorie readouts outrageously high? Any other tricks you use to get the most out of elliptical training? You know what to do: post here or tweet me @lizzyfit. Get further information on the best way to workout on an elliptical machine by checking out how to crank up your elliptical workout.
Also, find out why intervals are a great way to burn more fat.