CALORIE BURNING MISTAKES: Exercise physiologists say one of the biggest mistakes people make at the gym is over-exaggerating the number of calories they're really burning. The potential risk of this is that people will believe they can eat more due to the number of calories they think they've burned. Luis Alonso, a certified metabolic technician from Boca Raton, Fla., says you can't trust the amount of calories cardio machines say you've burned. He says, "They're completely inaccurate. It's just a doo-dad. If you keep following that, you're just going to plateau and most likely quit because you get frustrated." He says everyone burns calories at a different rate -- depending on sex, size, fitness level, and just plain individual metabolism. The machines don't know those specifics about the people working out on them and thus, will never be accurate. Alonso says even people who are the same sex, weight, height, age and fitness level burn a different number of calories at the same level of exertion. Another problem at the gym is that people often do the same thing, day in and day out. It's vital to vary the exercises and the intensity of them.
One study shows people who rode stationary bicycles six days a week for 12 weeks ended up burning 10 percent fewer calories at a given level of effort after their training. Why? Fitness trainer Bob Esquerre says, "Your body gets so used to it, you'll plateau, and all of a sudden, you'll start regressing. If you do the elliptical, the treadmill flat, treadmill inclined, take some spinning classes ... all of a sudden, your body stays challenged."
BURNING CALORIES BETTER: The surest way to get the most calorie burn out of your workout, says Alonso, is to get a metabolic test. A personal metabolic assessment profile measures how a person's body processes calories. It basically takes a snapshot of a person's metabolism. It first measures a person's aerobic base, which is the point at which a person's body is most efficient at burning fat. For example, if someone's aerobic base is defined as 158 heartbeats per minute, they will burn the most fat at that level of intensity. Any exercise where they reach a heartbeat above that -- or below -- is an inefficient way to burn calories. A metabolic test can also measure anaerobic threshold -- the point at which the body physically cannot utilize any more fat. For a person with an aerobic base at 158 beats/minute, their anaerobic threshold may be 173 beats a minute, where they'll still be burning calories, but not calories from fat. The goal, says Alonso, is to work out at an intensity where half of the calories you're burning are from fat. That's the aerobic base. Alonso says metabolic testing has been around for a while in hospitals, at NASA and universities, but only recently has it become miniaturized and accessible to fitness clubs and members. Alonso says the benefits of metabolic testing are worth it. He says, "They're showing up at the gym -- why not just make the most out of their time?"