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What Are METs on a Treadmill?

by
author image Dr. Kyle P. May
Dr. Kyle May holds a B.A. in biology from CU Boulder, M.S. in exercise physiology from UNT Health Science Center, and Ph.D. in science and technology policy from George Mason University. He led human health research efforts for the leading institutions in the nation: UT Southwestern Medical Center, Johns Hopkins, NIH, CDC, EPA, and the FDA.
What Are METs on a Treadmill?
Exercising on a treadmill Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Luis Markovic

Modern treadmills provide a variety of information to users. Along with speed, percent grade, heart rate and distance, you will also see a display for METs. METs stands for metabolic equivalents. It is a measure of how much oxygen you are burning during treadmill use. By monitoring METs, as well as heart rate, speed and the other treadmill-provided information, you can determine how much harder you are working compared to rest.

What are METs?

What Are METs on a Treadmill?
Treadmill display showing METs Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of George Kelly

Knowing that METs stands for metabolic equivalents is helpful but what does that actually mean? According to Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, humans burn 3.5ml of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute at rest. That equates to 1.0 MET. So while you are catching up with your DVR on the couch you are at around 1.0 MET. When you get on the treadmill, you will see the METs display increase as you increase your effort.

How METs are Calculated

Before starting a treadmill workout, you will be asked to enter age and weight. This data is used in conjunction with speed and percent grade to calculate METs. This simple formula incorporating age, weight, speed, and percent grade allows the treadmill to provide the user with real-time METs data. Consequently it is important for you to input the correct age and weight information at the start of a workout to get an accurate MET reading.

METs Accuracy

Because the treadmill uses a relatively simple formula to calculate METs, it is not the actual milliliters of oxygen being burned by an athlete. To get a truly accurate measurement, you need to use an oxygen mask with sensors, monitors and a team of scientists. This is probably not offered at your gym or something you would want to undergo for each treadmill session. Consequently, for the non-elite athlete, METs information provided by your treadmill is a good estimate of your exertion during that exercise session.

METs During a Treadmill Session

While puffing along watching the latest newscast, the treadmill reads 9 METs. Congratulations, you are working nine times harder than you are at rest. With a consistent cardiovascular exercise routine, your fitness level will increase. You’ll notice that while you were winded at 9 METs, in a number of weeks you’ll find that the same 9 METs is not quite so hard. As your fitness level increases so will the METs readout.

Considerations

Bear in mind that you must know and pay attention to your physical limitations. Monitor your heart rate and pay attention to your perceived exertion whenever you exercise. If you are starting a new exercise program, visit your physician first and discuss your intent to make sure you are healthy enough for your proposed activity. Don’t rely on your gym’s equipment to tell you when you need to slow down. When concerns arise before, during or after your training, consult your physician.

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