Holy Grail of Exercising, Exercising without exercising.
September 5, 2017 1:12 PM   Subscribe

How effective is exercising on a 'machine' vs 'reality' differ on the various exercise machines available such as a stationary bike, under the desk cycle, treadmill, stairmaster etc?

I recently purchased an under deskcycle.com, and I was pretty excited about the prospect of being able to exercise easily without going outdoors and getting needed exercise anytime I waste time online. It fit nicely under my desk and after getting a back brace to push me up a further and keep my posture straight, and cycling was comfortable, and I was able to continue my computer work, browsing, watching movies while exercising.

I was able to cycle up to 20 miles a day, and based on their calculator, resistance 6 of 8, 90 minute workout , 20 miles (average mph of 13.3Mph) it indicated i 'burned' 516 calories cycling that distance/pace/resistance. It also calculated the normal calorie burn by sitting during that time, of 111 calories, so theoretically, it states that I burned 627 calories during that 90 minutes.

627 calories seems pretty good, based on other random 'walking' calorie calculators, that equates to about 6 miles of walking during the same duration at 4.5mph.

(Im getting to the question soon)

When I did the 20 miles on the deskcycle a day, I rarely broke a sweat, nor did it raise my heart rate much, after doing it for 3 weeks, I excitedly weighed myself, and to my dismay, I gained weight! (I know Im not supposed to use weight as a measurement of becoming healthier, but.. come on!)

I have my doubts about the effectiveness of the under the deskcycle, it seemed to be the perfect exercise gadget, as it let me continue working/goofing off on the computer, and i could easily access it anytime that i was at my desk, it was quiet enough to do at any hour and not disturb anyone even in the same room.

Is exercise all about raising your heart rate? If I casually walk on a flat surface during the cool season, you could walk for miles without raising your heart rate much, much like the desk cycle, If i had set it to the least resistance, my legs would literally be 'gliding' along, at least the resistance i set provides some resistance and hence, some effort on my part.

Is there physics involved in the effectiveness of exercise machines vs 'reality', so for example, 20 miles on the exercise bike really isnt 20 miles in reality because of the resistance/hills and the fact you're exerting energy to move my body horizontally?

My final goal would be to hook up the cycle to a game (my feeble attempt), so your cycling would translate into game movement, hence tricking your mind even further to exercising
posted by edman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Think about the physics. If you're just moving your legs while you're sitting down, you are moving a lot less mass a lot less far than if you walk your whole body. You're not using your core to stabilize your upper body, you're not swinging your arms for balance, you're not adjusting your gait around obstacles or terrain. It's just way less work.

If you're using the deskcycle and not raising your heart rate or breathing hard, all you're doing is getting better at moving your legs through that very small range of motion at the specific resistance you set. It's not nothing, but it's not much. In general, machines, especially ones that isolate parts of your body, are less effective exercise than bigger movements.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:20 PM on September 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

I would say the desk cycle is not the same as "real" cycling, because in real cycling, you have to balance yourself and steer the bike. Don't estimate the core exercise you get from the balancing.

You do not need to break a sweat in order to be "exercising". It's just not cardio.

As for the calorie count, it depends on how they're calculating it. Many of those calculate the calories you burned while you were exercising, including your base metabolic rate (what would happen if you were in a coma), so you have to calculate the difference between the calories burned exercising and calories burned just sitting, in order to get the real value of how much extra calories you're burning by exercising.

The best exercises at home I've found are calisthenics. You can adapt them to whatever level you're at. You need no equipment (at least to begin with), and very little space. You exercise every muscle group and may even improve your posture.
posted by ethidda at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2017

My intuition is that yes, (aerobic) exercise is reflected in heartrate, and the research supports that ("... it is possible to estimate physical activity energy expenditure from heart rate...").

So if your heart rate increases only slightly, you're burning only a few more calories per hour. But even a low rate will add up to a large total if you use it consistently. Add in the fact that weight normally fluctuates because of hydration level and other factors, and that even a small change in diet has a much larger effect on caloric balance than a large change in physical activity, and the answer is ... there's no way to tell.

If you like it, or don't mind it, keep doing it. But I wouldn't substitute that kind of activity for more vigorous exercise or use it an excuse to eat more.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:29 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your body is expert at expending the least amount of resources to adapt to the loads placed on it. You placed a tiny load on it, it was not fooled, in fact, it tricked you into consuming more resources.
posted by bdc34 at 1:56 PM on September 5, 2017

I doubt very much that the deskcycle can offer very much resistance, simply because it weighs 23 lbs, and hard pedaling would have it bouncing all over the place.

Calorie estimates can be all over the place. When I go for a bike ride, my fitbit makes one estimate of my calories burned, which is always at least 10% lower than my bike computer's estimate. I just consulted an online calculator, and it came up with 385 calories at 13 mph over 20 miles (for someone of my weight). That's not really very much, and without knowing what you've been eating (385 calories is like 1½ Snickers bars, FWIW), it's impossible to say whether you should have lost weight. Because weight loss is just calories in vs calories out, and there's 7500 calories in one pound of fat.

Some exercise machines are designed for very intense workouts, but there's a limit to what you should expect from something like this, especially if you're rarely breaking a sweat.

There are lots of other ways to measure your fitness: your resting heart rate, your heart rate at a given level of power output, your maximum output level, etc.
posted by adamrice at 2:23 PM on September 5, 2017

The calories burned calculators on exercise equipment are notoriously inaccurate. They are just very simple approximations. I can tell you that my treadmill considers all speeds <>= 3.8 to be "running". As such, walking at 3.8 MPH "burns" way more calories than walking at 3.7 even though as a participant you can't tell the difference between 3.7 and 3.8.

So with that said it is super easy to overestimate the calories that you burn from exercise and I think we can all agree it is super easy to underestimate the calories that we consume.
posted by mmascolino at 2:35 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers/comments! I think Im going to assume this gadget falls in the 'its better than nothing, but not much' category. Not in the 'omygod, i have found the holy grail of exercising' I did feel like Im not that far from this guy
posted by edman at 3:55 PM on September 5, 2017

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