Debunktion Junction: The Lies Of The Machines

I hate when I’m talking fitness with the resident trainer and he gets that “I hate to have to break it to you…” look in his eyes. That look always means I’m about to be disillusioned, and it’s never pretty.

I recently got a dose of this particular brand of fitness reality when I showed him a post-workout picture of the screen on my favorite cardio machine. (I always snap a picture when I’m done, it helps me to keep track of my progress.)

Here’s the pic:

Almost 1000

“Look!” I proudly exclaimed. “If I can only kick it up a half a notch, I’ll burn ONE THOUSAND calories in the 65 minutes that the machine allows! That would be so rad!”

That’s when he got ‘The Look.’

The Look did not say ‘You’re 100% right! Good for you! Get it, girl!’

The Look was kind. It was filled with sympathy. My darling man does not like to bring me down. But, he knows I need truth. So – he broke it to me.

Cardio machines are big, fat liars.

It’s not enough that they make you run, ride, and climb to nowhere. Nooooo…. they also have to sabotage you! Stupid jerk machines.

See – the stupid jerk machines spit out numbers based on an algorithm that was not tailored for you. They were tailored to be in the right ballpark when considering the population as a whole. Depending on your height, weight, and fitness level, the algorithm might be assuming you’re heavier, lighter, stronger, weaker, taller, or shorter than you actually are.

If you’re petite and putting in time on the stair climber or elliptical, you’re working harder than I am, because I’m tall. If you’re 250 lbs, you’re burning a lot more calories than I am when we’re going the same speed. But when we program the machines for the same level of resistance and go the same speed, they tell us we’re burning the same amount of calories.

Pants. On. Fire.

I feel so betrayed.

So, what to do?

First – do your best to keep your workouts in the neighborhood of your target heart rate. If you’re not sure what your target is, subtract your age from 220 and shoot for 60-85% of the resulting number.

Here’s a handy-dandy chart to help:

Heart Rate Targets

Thanks for the math-assist,!

Once you reach your target, you can safely assume that you’re burning approximately 10 calories per minute, or 100 calories per mile.

So, when I did 7 miles in 65 minutes, I should assume a calorie burn of 650-700. Not 940.


But, if you’re like me and the hardest part of losing weight (or maintaining your weight) is the calorie control, then you probably want to be able to enjoy as many bites and sips as you can. If you’re assuming that you burned 300 (or however many) calories more than you probably did, and this assumption leads you to feel safe eating 300 more calories every day, then your rate of loss will be a lot slower than you want it to be. You’ll suffer through one of those dreaded “WHY ISN’T IT WORKING?!” episodes.

So, if you are doing everything right and beginning to wonder if maybe you need to get your metabolism tested because the damn scale refuses to budge? Could be the fault of the Lies of the Machines.

And with that, I’m off for a run in the sunshine. I can’t bear to look at a stupid jerk machine.

Hope For The Best, Prepare For The Worst.


I’m not sure I could have been a stay-at-home mom in the days before social media.

My Facebook network provides a vital dose of adult interaction when adventures in potty training and spelling homework have me climbing the walls.

I love to share in my network’s joys, and I appreciate the ability to reach out and offer support in times of struggle.

I may not know all 400+ friends on Facebook well enough to get a call when someone in their life passes away, but I read about it on social media. People post the most beautifully touching things in times of loss.

The news of friends of friends lost too soon was an integral part of my tipping point when I decided to get healthy. It’s one thing to hear abstract statistics about the dangers of sedintary lives, it’s quite another to console a friend whose cousin died of a heart attack at 38 years old.

Fear of mortality fuels my journey.

This week, another social media brush with tragedy caused me to look at the fragility of life from another angle. I was reminded that health & strength are not only important for prevention, they can also make all the difference when the things that we are trying to avoid go ahead and happen anyway.

No matter how hard I work at being the strongest and healthiest me I can be, I do not pretend that my efforts mean the things I fear will never happen.

Whether it’s a thrown clot or a major car accident, horrifying health issues have a terribly consistent habit of arriving whether we’re expecting them or not.

Have you ever met anyone who has had a major coronary and says they woke up that morning thinking ‘today is the day’?

Me neither.

I’ve devoted mountains of energy and rivers of sweat to the pursuit of prevention. What just dawned on me is how much better equipped my strengthened body is to handle the worst when and if it happens anyway.

I can’t re-write my family history of stroke, but I can use every healthy day I’ve got to work on strengthening my mind-body connection. That way, if I ever have to re-learn how to walk, I’ll be standing on legs that are used to being pushed beyond their comfort zone.

I may not be able to prevent a heart attack from ever occurring, but I can be sure that if it happens, my heart will be in fighting form. Before I flipped the script and got myself fit, I never asked anything from my heart beyond basic function. I don’t even want to think about what a heart attack would have done to my heart then.

Today, I know that my heart is strong. My cardiologist tells me so.

Not inspired yet? Listen to this:

One of my husband’s long-standing clients was recently diagnosed with cancer. Today, he works out with him while a chemotherapy pump actively drips into his veins. Can you imagine how difficult that must be? To go through so much struggle and still choose to push and sweat towards improved physical strength? That man is a walking lesson in the vital importance of Healthy & Strong. He’s not just hoping the doctors will cure him, he’s actively fighting for survival.

You never know when you’ll find yourself thrown in the ring, so teach your body to fight. I’m sure you won’t regret it.