The Calories You Burn on a Treadmill

Treadamill Workout
Treadmill Workout. B2M Productions/Photodisc/Getty Images

Many people use a treadmill to burn calories and help with weight loss. But how accurate is your method of estimating the treadmill calories burned? You may want to check the calories it says you are burning against calories burned exercising calculator to see if it is giving you a reasonable number. Learn when you can trust the numbers and how to improve the estimate.

What Determines Treadmill Calories Burned?

The number of calories you burn per mile or kilometer is determined by:

  • Efficiency: The smoother your motion and the more trained you are in it, the fewer calories you will burn over a given distance. Some speeds are more natural and efficient for your body, and this will vary by the individual. At higher speeds, running can be more naturally efficient than attempting to walk fast or using a racewalking technique.
  • Exercise intensity: You burn more calories if your heart and lungs are working harder. This can be measured by your heart rate or pulse.
  • Holding onto the handrails: You will likely burn fewer calories if you hold onto the rails while walking or running on the treadmill. Also, keep in mind that treadmill calorie counters don't account for holding handrails. So if you are gripping the rails, the number you get is likely higher than what you are truly burning.
  • Incline: Walking or running uphill burns more calories than going downhill or on a level surface. You will burn an extra 3 to 5 calories per minute depending on the incline.
  • Motorized treadmills: The moving belt and smooth surface reduce your calories burned per mile compared with non-treadmill walking or running. The difference in calorie burn can be made up by having at least a 1 percent incline on the treadmill.
  • Speed: Covering the same distance in a shorter amount of time, you'll burn more calories due to the higher intensity. You'll also burn more calories for a longer period of time after exercise when you work out at a higher intensity.
  • Stride length: A shorter stride means picking up and putting down your feet more times per mile or kilometer, which burns more calories.
  • Body weight: Your muscles must use calories to move your body mass across a mile or kilometer. This is the most important factor. The more you weigh, the more calories burned per mile or kilometer.

The number of calories you burn per minute is based on several factors. Speed and stride length are important, as they boost the distance you cover in a given amount of time. Body weight is also important as it impacts your total workload.

Treadmill Calorie Displays

Many treadmills have a calorie display. You can improve its accuracy by truthfully entering your weight (including your clothing and shoes). Remember, the more weight, the more calories burned. If it doesn't ask for weight, the number will be very inaccurate.

If the treadmill asks only for weight, it estimates your calorie burn based on the speed, distance, and incline it is measuring, and your entered weight. It is not factoring in your stride length or exercise intensity.

Treadmill Heart Rate Estimates

Using a heart rate monitor with chest strap that is connected to the treadmill will factor exercise intensity into the calorie estimate. Along with accurate weight and speed, this should produce the best estimate of treadmill calories burned. Some treadmills sync to wireless heart rate monitors.

The result may or may not be more accurate than just wearing a heart rate monitor that estimates your calories burned by your age, weight, and heart rate. But it should be more accurate than just basing it on weight, speed, and distance.

Keep in mind that there are several methods for measuring your heart rate. Some are more accurate than others. Heart rate monitors with a chest strap tend to be the most accurate. Wrist worn monitors can also be accurate, although it can depend on how the wrist band is worn. Other methods such as grips on exercise equipment or finger clips may be less accurate.

You can play with treadmill speed and intensity to check the accuracy of your heart rate monitor or calorie estimator. First do a workout using your normal speed and incline. Then change a variable, such as incline. If you increase the workload by increasing incline and your heart rate or calorie burn estimate does not increase, then your monitor is not accurate.

A Word From Verywell

Methods other than the treadmill calorie counter can have their own accuracy problems. For example, can you trust the calorie figure from your fitness band? Your fitness band may or may not have a heart rate reading.

If it doesn't, it is basing estimates mostly on your weight and number of strides per minute. It won't know whether you are using the incline on the treadmill, either. No matter the source of your calorie-burn figure, it is best to take it as an estimate. You should also try to use the same method from workout to workout so that variations in your heart rate are not due to equipment changes. You'll find it is easier to track heart rate trends with better accuracy if you can keep your tech tools consistent.

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