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Does "Machine X" REALLY burn more calories than a treadmill? NO, NO, NO, NO, NO

Losing weight is probably the #1 reason why people start exercise programs. Equipment manufacturers know this.

If you are selling a new type of exercise equipment, the best way to attract attention from potential buyers is to claim that your product "burns more calories" than any other piece of equipment. Especially if that equipment has a unique design or movement and is only available from limited sources (i.e. an infomercial).

The fact is, however, that calories burned during exercise depends on only two factors: Body weight and intensity.

(Note: for the purposes of this discussion, I am going to stick to cardiovascular exercise and stay out of the chum of claims about resistance exercise, HIIT, etc).

The intensity of an exercise (and thus the rate of calories burned) depends on the amount of oxygen required to fuel that particular movement intensity. As the exercise workload increases, there is a greater need for energy, and thus oxygen uptake increases. When oxygen uptake increases, more calories are expended.

It's that simple.

If someone is exercising at a given intensity--i.e. a given oxygen uptake--they will burn the same amount of calories no matter what the exercise activity. Running, swimming, cycling, climbing stairs, an elliptical, etc, etc.--it makes no difference.

It is physiologically impossible to work at the same intensity (oxygen uptake level) on two different machines and have a higher calorie burn on one machine over the other.

If any commercial claims that '"Machine X" burns 3 times the calories as a treadmill"', they are lying by not telling the whole truth. They are not comparing equal workloads.

So, in principle, it is possible to burn calories at an equal rate no matter what kind of cardio you are doing, as long as you are working at the same intensity (i.e. oxygen uptake).

In reality, there are some differences. The nature of some movements is such that it is easier and more comfortable for people with less experience to work at a higher intensity.

In studies where subjects choose the exercise workload based on perceived exertion, the subjects worked at a higher absolute intensity (oxygen uptake) when running or working on an ARC Trainer as compared to a bike or stairclimber. That makes sense given that running or doing an elliptical uses more muscles, features more dynamic movements, or includes a bounding movement. Activities such as cycling or stairclimbing focus the effort on fewer muscles and so beginners often experience localized muscle fatigue and this limits the effort at first.

But while some exercises may "feel harder" at first and result in lower exercise intensities, the difference can be made up over time. It may take a little longer to learn the techniques and increase muscle endurance for activities such as cycling and swimming, but people trained at those activities can achieve similar intensities and calorie burns as any other execise modality.

As always, there are two principles at work here.

One: there are no "magic bullets". There is no "secret" form of exercise that provides unique results that cannot be achieved any other way.

Two: WHAT you do for your exercise is not nearly as important as HOW you do it.

Don't be fooled by deceptive marketing hype. If you see a product and decide you like the exercise and will want to work out using that equipment, then by all means, go for it. But don't choose any exercise activity based on overstated claims of "unique" properties and "magic" calorie burns that can't be achieved any other way.

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