Burn More Calories on a Treadmill

Woman tracking calorie burn on treadmill
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Many people use a treadmill to burn calories, help with weight loss goals, and support cardio fitness. But how accurate is your method of estimating the treadmill calories burned? There are many factors to consider when tracking calories burned on a treadmill. From your age and body weight to exercise intensity and speed, there are many ways your ultimate calorie output can be affected.

Using a treadmill calorie calculator to find the estimated number of calories burned while performing a treadmill workout, and see how a heart rate monitor could be useful in measuring your output.

Factors Affecting Treadmill Calorie Burn

Understanding all of the elements that can affect your calorie output is the first step in estimating the final "calories burned" number at the close of your workout. While the treadmill dashboard may display a calorie burn estimate, it's important to note that these are approximate values.

Every person is different, and a number of factors come into play when it comes to how many calories the body burns during exercise and when at rest.

The number of calories you burn per mile or kilometer on the treadmill 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 individual. At higher speeds, running can be more naturally efficient than attempting to walk fast or using a racewalking technique.
  • Exercise intensity: The harder your heart and lungs work, the more calories you burn. 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. Treadmill calorie counters don't account for holding handrails, so if you are gripping the rails, the total 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% 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.
  • Age: As you age, your daily caloric intake naturally decreases. Your metabolism also naturally slows with age, which means the younger you are, the more calories you burn throughout the day, both during moments of exercise and rest. This is significant in calculating your calories burned on a treadmill, as the younger you are, the more likely you are to burn more.
  • Sex: Your biological sex also plays a role in the number of calories you burn during your treadmill session. Scientific research has found that men and women burn calories at different rates largely due to body composition. Men tend to carry more muscle than fat, which means they burn higher levels of calories during a workout and while at rest.

Treadmill Calorie Burn Display

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

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

Because calorie calculators vary widely, it can be important to use multiple tools to accurately estimate how many calories you're burning during a workout. While the treadmill display can give you a general estimate of how many calories you're burning throughout the workout, consult a calorie calculator (like the one below) for an additional calculation. It can be especially helpful if the treadmill you're using does not allow for entering your weight to give a more precise count.

Heart Rate Monitor or Fitness Tracker

Using a heart rate monitor with a 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 have the ability to 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, and 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 their accuracy can depend on how the wristband 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 the 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.

While fitness bands can also provide helpful reminders to move or alert you of incoming notifications, it's wise not to rely solely on the calorie expenditures they calculate. Fitness wearables can be a great health tool, but they may not always have the most accurate heart rate reading, and therefore calorie burn count. Put to an accuracy test, fitness bands have been found to overestimate calories burned anywhere from 16% to 40%. Remember this when using your fitness watch to track calories, and compare that count to your treadmill estimate as well as calorie calculator to make your best-educated approximation.

Whether you rely on the treadmill calculator or a separate activity calculator, heart rate monitor, or fitness band, keep in mind that all of these tools still offer only approximate calories burned calculations.

How to Burn More Calories on a Treadmill

While calories burned will vary depending on many independent factors, there are ways to increase your overall workout energy expenditure. Try practicing interval training on the treadmill by increasing your speed or incline for short bursts of time, followed by a period of recovery with a walk on a flat road.

Increasing the time of your workout can also help burn more calories, but make sure to follow the "10% Rule:" Increase the distance you're walking or running on the treadmill by no more than 10% week over week. This will ensure you're not overextending your muscles and can instead build endurance over time.

A Word From Verywell

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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