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Are Elliptical Machines Accurate for Distance?

Compared with treadmills and stationary bikes, elliptical machines are relative newcomers on the gym workout scene.  Marketed as a low impact way to get in an aerobic workout, ellipticals quickly became popular with early adopting joggers, bicyclists, and skiers.  Not only do they work the lower body, but they give the upper body something to do as well.  Most elliptical machines have displays that allow you to determine how much energy is expended, how fast you’re moving and how far you would’ve gone had you been on dry land.  But are elliptical machines accurate for distance, speed and calorie burning?

Display Panel Readings

Certain readings on the elliptical machine display panel are quite trustworthy.  If the timer says you’ve been exercising for 10 minutes, you can be pretty sure that it’s as accurate as you need it to be. 

When it comes to distance, it can be harder for an elliptical machine to calculate compared with a treadmill or stationary bike.  That said, elliptical machine manufacturers have come up with mathematical formulas that will give a fairly accurate measure of distance. 

Speed on an elliptical machine needs to go through a similar type of calculation, but you can be fairly certain that it will be in the ballpark of how fast you’d be going on dry land. 

Readings get a little more questionable when it comes to calculating calories burned, heart rate and wattage.  When manufacturers come up with formulas for something like calories burned, they’re using base rates that are calculated from average users.  It’s actually just an estimate based on an average person with your weight and age. 

A Jogging Mile Versus an Elliptical Mile

You’ll probably find that it’s easier to run a mile on an elliptical machine than it is running the same mile around a track.  Part of the reason is that the elliptical machine helps you run once you get moving.  Running outdoors is complicated by external forces such as wind, terrain, and elevation.  The elliptical machine measures distance by the length of each stride which is fairly uniform while on the machine.  However, the length of your stride can vary greatly when free running.

Do the Figures Matter?

If you’re consistently using an elliptical machine, the actual distance you’re running may not matter that much at all.  The difference between how far you ran on the elliptical yesterday compared with today will be relative and can give you an idea of how much work you’re actually performing.  On the other hand, if you’re comparing miles run around a track with miles run on an elliptical, the comparison may not be very accurate at all.  That said, regardless of what the display panel says, spending time on an elliptical machine will definitely get your heart pumping and cause you to burn calories.  How far you’ve actually gone maybe beside the point.

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