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When it comes to burning calories, the elliptical is an ideal tool for beginners to elite exercisers. Because they deliver a total-body workout at various resistance levels, elliptical machines work all the major muscle groups, which increases caloric expenditure. And because the workload is dispersed through the entire body, the perceived exertion is lower, so exercisers typically don’t feel that they are working as hard as they actually are.

Calorie burn during exercise is based on several factors, including:

  • Body weight – the heavier you are, the more calories you typically burn during exercise
  • Body composition – people with more muscle mass tend to burn more calories
  • Gender – because men can be heavier and have more muscle mass than women, they may burn more calories for the same workout
  • Duration – the longer the workout, the more calories you expend
  • Intensity –  greater resistance, a faster pace, a higher heart rate and incorporating vigorous intervals will boost your calorie burn
  • Upper-body work – the more you actively engage your upper body, the greater your caloric expenditure

In figuring your calorie burn on elliptical, it’s important to input your body weight before your workout. If you don’t provide your body weight, the machine usually defaults to calculating calories for an “average” 150-pound person. If you weigh less than that, the calorie burn noted on the machine will be an overestimate; it you weight more, it will underestimate your actual number.

And keep in mind that these numbers are estimates and can vary by the elliptical manufacturer; without being measured in a lab, you won’t know the exact number of calories burned. According to the Harvard Medical School, you burn approximately 2.16 calories for every pound of body weight during 30 minutes of elliptical use. For example, a 160-pound person would burn about 345 calories during 30 minute on the elliptical.

Here are some standard figures:

  • 120-pound woman, 30 minutes = 250-310 calories; 60 minutes = 450-600 calories
  • 150-pound woman, 30 minutes = 300-400 calories; 60 minutes = 550-800 calories
  • 180-pound man, 30 minutes = 375-500 calories; 60 minutes = 750-950 calories
  • 200-pound man, 30 minutes = 400-550 calories; 60 minutes = 800-1000 calories

Maximize your caloric expenditure by working hard (don’t just coast and read a magazine), incorporating intervals, challenging yourself with higher resistance levels and paces, watching your heart rate to stay in your zone and adding minutes to sessions as your endurance improves.