What Are METs on a Treadmill?

Treadmills offer a versatile way to boost heart health and endurance. 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 on the treadmill, which stands for metabolic equivalents.

METs on your treadmill are one indicator of how intensely you are exercising. (Image: Supawat Punnanon / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)


METs on your treadmill are one indicator of how intensely you are exercising.

What are METs?

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.

Knowing that METs stands for metabolic equivalents is helpful but what does that actually mean? According to Harvard School of Public Health, humans burn one calorie for every 2.2 pounds 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.

According to a July 2018 study published by PLOS One, METs are also used to help classify physical activity as light (<3.0 METs), moderate (3.0-5.9 METs) and vigorous (>6.0 METs).

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 or incline 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.

Is It Accurate?

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 nine 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 nine METs, in a number of weeks you'll find that the same nine METs is not quite so hard. As your fitness level increases so will the METs on the treadmill readout.

Exercise Common Sense

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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