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I've found various online "calculators" for looking up how many calories are burned when doing an exercise like using an Elliptical machine.

Is there a way to calculate how many calories I burned during an activity with some reliability? Does it matter if I train in intervals?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You should get yourself a decent heart-rate monitor and calibrate it yourself (as good as possible). What you do is you take a cycling home trainer and you follow the following protocol:

  • Maintain 80 rpm all the time
  • Start cycling for 3-5 minutes at 100 Watt
  • Add 30 Watt every 3 minutes
  • Monitor your heart rate

Assuming everything is more or less accurate, your heart rate should be increasing more or less linearly until you start get above your anaerobic threshold after which it may start to increase steeper.

The point is: it gives you a nice estimation of how much Watts you burn at what heart rate. And since Watts can be roughly translated to kilo-calories (1 kcal = 1.163 Watt), you get an idea of how much calories you've burned. Convert your heart rate over time to Watts and convert those to calories. Though I'm sure most of them will have one built-in. You can use your own 'calibration' to adjust the values.

If your a heart patient or you have any other diseases, your mileage may vary

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Quick note: I'm guessing that you mean Watt-Hours right? So that 1 hour @ 100 Watts ~ 86 kcal (using the same conversion rate, just reverse) Isn't that A LOT of energy? –  posdef May 16 '12 at 7:40
    
@posdef I don't know exactly how Watts would translate to for example miles per hour on a real bicycle, but 100 Watt isn't much. Besides, the test is terminated when you can no longer maintain a steady 80 rpm, which I think is rather slow when you get into the 300+ Watt region. Because you have to deliver more power in the same number of rotations, there a point where you simply can no longer sustain it. Whereas if you would be allowed to make more rotations, perhaps you could. Either way, it doesn't last an hour, because it increases with 100 Watt every 10 minutes –  Ivo Flipse May 16 '12 at 7:57
    
Note that heart rate to wattage factors are exercise specific; you aren't going to get the same value on a bicycle as you would on an eliptical –  Eric Gunnerson Jul 18 at 5:08

You could get a wearable heart-rate monitor like the Bodybugg. It won't be perfect, of course, but it can use your heart rate throughout the day coupled with your height, daily weight, age, gender, etc. to estimate.

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Using an app like DailyBurn or Lose It! which have built-in calorie calculators for typical exercises may be of use to you. I'm not sure how accurate they are, but this make it an easier job.

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I'm unsure of the reliability of the various calculators. The calculations depend on many factors including muscle density making it difficult to perform a precise calculation. You can buy a bodybugg which is purported to be incredibly reliable. These are the devices they use on the T.V. series "The Biggest Loser".

Breaking your routine into intervals will decrease the effectiveness of your workout. You will burn more calories and gain more tone working tired muscles than rested muscles.

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I think interval training is more effective. Overall it is more important to challenge one's capacity than just testing endurance. Interval training does help to challenge oneself more as it includes rest as well as workout bursts. –  Silverhorse Jul 17 at 17:24

You can try this calories burned calculator at http://www.totaldailyenergyexpenditure.com/calories-burned-calculator. It allows you to figure out one sessions worth of burned calories for any exercise, then add them up into a grand total.

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No, there is not a good way to get an estimate of how much you burn. Most machine estimates aren't very good, and they tend to be overly optimistic.

The only decent way to calculate energy burn is on a bicycle with a power meter, which is actually measuring the work that you are doing directly.

And no, it doesn't really matter if you are doing intervals.

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