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I bet you’ve used or seen an elliptical trainer in your local gym, or maybe you have one that you want to replace, but did you know that there are at least three types of elliptical machines? Yes, and while they’re basically the same, they differ mainly in where the flywheel is located.
The stride of front-drive ellipticals feels more like walking uphill or climbing a hill. Users feel that they need to lean forward because of this design. On the other hand, rear-drive ellipticals have a flatter, more natural stride, with the user in upright position.
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If the wheel of an elliptical is in front, it is front-drive, and if you find the wheel in the back, it’s rear-drive. There is a third type of elliptical called center drive (you guessed it, the wheel is in the center), but we’re not talking about that type today.
If you’re planning to buy an elliptical machine, does it matter if it’s front or rear-drive? Other than the position of the flywheel, what are other differences between the two types and how will they affect you? Of course, the more important question is which between the two will be more suitable for you?
Each type has its own set of features, and yes, I’m sure the differences will matter to you, so keep reading!
Front Drive and Rear Drive Ellipticals – A Bit of History
Elliptical machines have become increasingly popular for home use in recent years because they are affordable, effective, and easy to use. The exercise it provides replicates running without the impact that comes with actual running outdoors or on a treadmill.
The elliptical cross trainer was invented by Larry Miller and manufactured by Precor. Their first elliptical featured a rear-drive system, which Precor patented. This meant that other firms would have to come up with something completely different if they wanted to include elliptical machines in their product offerings. That, or pay Precor the rights to use a rear-drive system.
This pushed many manufacturers to develop differently-driven elliptical machines, and so, front wheel or front drive ellipticals were born.
Center-drive ellipticals came out so much later, but they’re more costly than either of the two. They are also more compact and generally have longer stride lengths.
These days, you’ll find a great range of elliptical machines to choose from in various categories and price points. Naturally, you will want to narrow down your options, that’s the reason you’re here today.
So let’s get kicking! First, we’ll talk about how front-drive and rear-drive ellipticals differ in features, and finally we’ll check their pros and cons.
Key Differences Between Front Drive & Rear Drive
Let’s look at how the most common types (front-drive and rear-drive) of elliptical machines differ from each other.
Why is the location of the flywheel important?
The flywheel is the component that creates resistance and steady motion to your workout. In terms of overall size and look, front-drive ellipticals are more compact, while rear-drive models tend to be bulkier.
Since the flywheels in front-drives are situated directly in front of your feet, the stride feels more like walking uphill or climbing a hill. Users feel that they need to lean forward because of this design.
In comparison, rear-wheel types feature a flatter stride, which most people find more natural and their posture more upright. This is not to say that this type is better. It’s a matter of user preference.
The stride length in front-drive ellipticals is generally shorter than in rear-drive models, but you can always check the stride length when choosing a particular model just to be sure.
Ease & Cost of Maintenance
Generally speaking, front-drive ellipticals have more moving components than their rear-drive counterparts. From the maintenance point of view, more moving parts means higher chance that a part will fail. Repairing and/or replacing parts means more expense in the long run.
Also, having more moving pieces means that the elliptical will be much louder than its rear-drive counterpart. It is exactly for this reason that rear-drive elliptical machines are noticeably quieter than their front-drive equivalents.
Front-drive ellipticals have more inclination adjustments than rear-drive ellipticals, so they are more adaptable to different users’ needs.
A front-drive car may allow you to get in a more intense exercise than you would with a rear-drive, helping you burn more calories and lose more weight faster.
Many people, on the other hand, prefer rear-wheel-drive ellipticals because of the comparatively smooth incline they can get. It also offers a natural movement pattern while you work out.
A front-drive elliptical is generally cheaper than a rear-drive model with more-or-less similar features and weight capacity due to their compact design.
As we’ve mentioned, the tradeoff for this lower upfront cost is regular maintenance.
While it’s more expensive to buyrear-drive elliptical machines, they have fewer moving parts and are less likely to break down. Since there’s low demand for replacement parts, the price of spare parts are also low.
Pros and Cons of Front Drive Vs Rear Drive Ellipticals
As you’ve seen in the sections above, you need to know which feature or aspect is more important to you because both types are good at one thing and not so good at another. Before you leave us today, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each machine type.
Front Drive Pros
- Cheaper – if you want an elliptical machine for your home, this will be the less expensive option
- Compact – compared to rear drives, models of this type are smaller so may fit better in your home
- Average stride lengths – works for most people
Front Drive Cons
- Requires More Maintenance – since it has more moving parts and uses more complex designs, there’s a higher chance that parts will wear out or something inside will stop working and require repair
- Loud – more moving parts also means more noise
Rear Drive Pros
- Simple and cheap to maintain – a machine with fewer moving parts is more durable and less likely to break down on you
- Feels more like natural walking/running – rear drives have a flatter, more natural stride than the uphill-like nature of front drives. You also get to work out with a straight back, unlike in front-drives where you feel the need to lean forward
Rear Drive Cons
- Bulky – most rear-drive types are heavier and heftier. If your space is limited, make sure to take note of the dimensions of the elliptical you’re buying, especially if it’s a rear drive
- Long strides – good for tall people but can be difficult to use for short people
- Pricier – generally more expensive than front drives
Summary – Which Type of Elliptical Is Better?
There is no real winner between these two ellipticals, as they are essentially the same in how you use them and the benefits they provide.
If you want to buy an inexpensive elliptical that provides the feel of uphill walking/running, then front-wheel elliptical should fill the bill. There are many options from which you could choose, and you’ll likely have no issues fitting this type of elliptical in your home.
If you want the feel of natural walking that gives you a good workout and prefer something that does not require too much maintenance, then the rear-drive elliptical is right up your alley.
Written by Kathleen Langdon – TheHealthPot.com Founder
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES)
Kathleen, a mother of two, struggled with ongoing weight and health issues. She created this website after she turned her life around. She built Thehealthpot.com to help inspire and motivate others with their fitness goals. Read more about Kathleen here.