Weight loss comes down to burning calories, specifically the ratio of calories in and calories out. It's essential to know how many calories you're burning when exercising. Otherwise, you'll have no idea if you're making progress.
Most machines have calorie counters, but there's a lot of debate about how accurate they actually are. In this guide, we'll explore whether calorie counters on exercise bikes are accurate and the best way to work out how much you’ve burned.
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How Accurate Are Exercise Bike Calorie Counters?
Calorie counters are used to track how much energy you burn when you work out. They give you a convenient way to see this as you workout, and they can help keep you motivated by letting you see your achievements on the screen in front of you.
Almost all exercise bikes have calorie counters built-in. These are usually visible on the display screen, but on some bikes, you might have to toggle the display to see them. These calorie counters are useful, but they won’t be 100% accurate. In fact, most calorie counters overestimate how many calories you burn and can be wrong by up to 20%.
Exercise bikes tend to all use a standard formula based on a compendium developed in the 1980s. This lists the comparative calorie burn for activities and gives you a baseline for how many calories are burned doing nothing. This is known as the metabolic equivalent method (MET).
A MET is a measure of how many calories you burn relative to other movements. 1 MET is the equivalent of sitting doing nothing, and the higher the MET rating, the more energy your body uses to fuel it.
These ratings are programmed into exercise bikes to determine, roughly, how many calories you're burning. As your speed and intensity increase, so will the MET level, and this is how it keeps track of the calories used while cycling.
The MET ratings are configured as 5-digit codes related to the activity and the speed. The exercise bike uses this to gauge the average calories burned and give you a live readout of the energy you've used.
These codes and the associated MET ratings are updated periodically to reflect new information. These are then broadcast to exercise bikes, and the software is updated, but some older models won’t receive these updates and are therefore less accurate.
This issue with these built-in calorie counters is that they don’t take into account any of your personal factors which impact the number of calories you burn. These factors can have a significant impact on the calories used while riding, and you can therefore only expect your exercise bike to be 75-85% accurate.
Some modern bikes (like Peloton) use a heart monitor to track the user's heart rate, and allow you to enter your individual weight, which can improve the accuracy of the calorie counter to over 90%.
Unfortunately, many basic or older exercise bikes won’t have this functionality and could even be using out-of-date MET codes. You should therefore expect older stationary exercise bikes to be less accurate.
Exercise bike calorie counters might not be 100% accurate, but they’re useful for capturing the general trend and effectiveness of your workout. Just take them with a grain of salt, and you can still benefit from them.
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What Factors Affect Calories Burned On An Exercise Bike?
It’s impossible for the calorie counters in exercise bikes to be 100% accurate because they can’t track enough data. The actual calorie burn is impacted by a range of personal factors, and it's important to understand these so that you can adjust your workout accordingly. Here are the key factors:
Your Fitness Level
When you first start a new workout, you have to try harder, and it can be a lot more challenging. You’ll burn a lot more calories when you first start, and when you become fitter, your body will be more efficient, and you won't burn as many. As you work out more, expect the exercise bike calorie counter to overestimate more.
Interestingly, as your body develops, you will become more efficient at burning calories. This is because your body fat will turn into muscle, and it will become more efficient. So even though you’ll burn less if you’re fitter, you’ll burn more if you have a lower body fat %.
Age & Gender
As you get older, your body will start to slow down, so you’ll burn fewer calories at the same time. Unfortunately, this means you'll have to work out for longer to have the same impact. Men burn more calories than women, too, because they tend to have more lean muscle tissue, so, unfortunately, women will have to cycle for longer to burn the same calories.
We all know that not every workout is the same, and some days we really go for it. Well, the intensity of your training will impact how high your heart rate gets, which impacts how many calories you burn.
Some exercise bikes have heart rate monitors so they can gauge this and adjust the output, but some basic exercise bikes won’t have this function.
The heavier you are, the more calories you’ll burn. Some exercise bikes will let you enter your weight so they can give you a more accurate reading, but some cheaper exercise bikes won’t have this feature.
Type Of Bike
There are several different types of exercise bikes. You'll generally burn fewer calories on a recumbent exercise bike compared to an upright exercise bike because you don't have to work as hard. Some exercise bikes will also have more resistance settings so you can get your heart rate higher and burn more calories.
Read Also - Different Types Of Exercise Bikes
How To Calculate Reliable & Accurate Calories Burned
We’ve shown you that built-in calorie counters aren't entirely accurate, but how can you do it more accurately. The easiest way is to use a fitness or activity tracker. There's a wide range of these on the market, and this wearable tech is a game-changer.
These fitness trackers have become pretty advanced, and you can enter your weight and heart rate so they can take it into account. Then, they'll use this information, and the relevant MET value for a specific activity, to calculate a fairly accurate calorie burn.
If you are looking to calculate the calories burned yourself, you’ll need to know your weight in kg, and the MET rating of the activity. The exercise bike MET rating will vary depending on the speed you're traveling.
Stationary cycling with a light load will be 5.5, and if the resistance is turned up to high, it will be 12.5. For the purposes of this example, we'll estimate a medium resistance, so a MET rating of 7. We’ll also assume the rider weighs 75kg and cycled for 30 mins.
You’ll need to use this equation:
Duration of physical activity (in minutes) x (MET x 3.5 x weight in kg) / 200 = calories burned
30 x (7 x 3.5 x 75) / 200 = 275.63 calories burned
This equation is the same for men and women and relies upon the weight of the user as the critical factor. However, you should expect women, on average, to burn 5-10% less during a workout.
If you decide to up the intensity and cycle more quickly, you will burn more calories. If you really push yourself and up the resistance, then you could burn over 500 calories in 30 minutes, and usually, we recommend going for shorter but more intense workouts rather than long rides. Riding for 30-60 minutes 3-5 times a week should give you great results.
Here is a guide to the average calories burned for different intensity workouts:
Calories Burned For 30 Minutes of Activity
125 LBS (56kg)
155 LBS (70kg)
180 LBS (84kg)
205 LBS (93kg)
Frequently Asked Calorie Counter Bike Questions
How long does a stationary bike take to burn 100 calories?
This depends on the intensity of your workout and your current weight, but you could burn 100 calories in as little as 10 minutes.
How many calories does 15 minutes on an exercise bike burn?
Depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout, you could burn 150-200 calories in 15 minutes.
Are exercise bikes effective for weight loss?
Yes, regular cycling on an exercise bike will help you lose weight.
How long should I cycle to lose weight?
Aim for three to five 30–60-minute cycles a week to lose weight. Try to keep the intensity high to maximize the calorie burn.
Is a stationary bike better than walking?
Cycling on a stationary bike will definitely burn more calories than walking, so it's better for weight loss.
Exercise bike calorie counters are useful to give you an idea of how hard you’ve been working, but they aren’t 100% accurate. Most of them will overestimate how much you burn, and you should only expect them to be about 75-85% accurate.
Hopefully, this guide has helped explain why this is and has given you some helpful information about the best ways to track your calories.
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