Front Drive VS Rear Drive Ellipticals: Does It Even Matter?

There are two types of ellipticals that frequently appear in commercial gyms, a front drive elliptical and a rear drive elliptical. Whilst the construction of both are very similar, the one thing that differentiates them is the location of the flywheel on the design.

If you’re really into your gym equipment, then in your time you may have come across both the front drive and rear drive ellipticals, or maybe you haven’t even noticed the difference between them at all and you simply hop on and work away.

If you’re looking to buy a new elliptical then you may have already come across both a front drive and rear drive elliptical in your search. Apart from their difference in designs, you may be questioning if they are that different from one another and presuming that they both do the same job and work the same areas of your body.

Through this article, we’ll be discussing the key factors that differentiate the front drive and rear drive ellipticals and whether these factors truly make that much of a difference to the performance of your workout or your comfort when you’re working out.

Front Drive VS Rear Drive Ellipticals

As we previously touched upon, elliptical machines are a common piece of equipment found in both gyms and people’s homes. 

Over time, as the piece of equipment has grown in popularity, units have become more affordable and people have sought to acquire one to keep in their own homes in replacement for running outside in the rain or paying for a gym membership.

Ellipticals are low impact and won’t cause joint discomfort like running on hard surfaces does but they’ll still be able to provide you with an efficient workout. 

Elliptical machines are also great for anyone who is recovering from injuries as they’ll allow you to strengthen your muscles and build your stamina without putting too much strain or stress on areas of your body.

An elliptical machine can also offer a total body workout if you choose to use the handles on the machine correctly, so you’ll be able to strengthen and work both your lower body but also areas of your arms, back, and chest.

Some of the top fitness equipment brands offer both a front drive and rear drive elliptical, with some designs and settings differing between them, so if you’re considering buying one of these but you’re undecided of which type of elliptical to go for, then hopefully our overviews and comparisons of both types will help you to come to a decision.

Front Drive Elliptical

A front drive elliptical features the flywheel at the front of the machine and the user will experience a vertical motion range that almost mimics the motion of walking of a stair climber. 

The front drive name refers to the location of the flywheel and not the direction you can move in on the machine. You’ll be able to pedal both forwards and backward on a front drive elliptical.

Front drive ellipticals are usually a lot more compact than other elliptical machines because the flywheel is incorporated into the design underneath the handlebars and the display screen. 

This is why they’re popular with at-home gyms because they don’t take up much space. They’re also a lot cheaper than rear drive elliptical models which makes them preferred by general consumers.

On a front drive elliptical, the design almost makes the user feel like they are walking uphill, similar to the motion you experience when using the stairmaster or climber machine.

Due to their design, front drive ellipticals tend to have more inclined possibilities, so great if you’re looking for something that’ll test your fitness levels.

However, the fact that a front drive elliptical is slightly inclined is yet to be decided whether it’s a positive or a negative thing. 

The inclined design means users are more prone to leaning forward or leaning on the handlebars when using the machine, this may not be a negative thing to some people, but it could disrupt the natural posture of some users and can backache.

Front drive ellipticals also have a lot of parts to them to create the elliptical motion, which means there is a higher chance of the unit breaking down in comparison to other units, however, this will be due to chance and is not common with every front drive elliptical. As these units have more parts, they will be more likely to create noise when in use.

The consensus with gym fanatics and gym owners is that front drive ellipticals have more breakdowns than other elliptical machines. This is why you’ll mostly find front drive ellipticals in people’s homes and not in commercial gyms where they’ll receive extensive use all day every day.

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • More compact design
  • More incline settings

Cons

  • More parts so may require more maintenance
  • A lot noisier than rear drive ellipticals
  • May cause posture problems

Rear Drive Elliptical

A rear drive elliptical features the motor/flywheel at the back or rear of the unit and the pedal movement is very natural and mimics the smooth motion of walking or running normally. 

The rear drive elliptical is one of the oldest designs and was hugely popular when it emerged on the scene in the 90s.

The design of a rear drive elliptical is pretty simple and requires fewer parts than a front drive unit, therefore, being less prone to breakdown and incurring fewer costs to repair these problems. 

As there are fewer moving parts, it also means that the elliptical is less noisy, but this isn’t a huge factor as ellipticals don’t tend to be the noisiest of machines especially because they’re low impact.

A rear drive elliptical mimics the natural motion of walking or running as the design offers a flat surface level for the user to move with their legs. 

However, despite the flatter surface that rear drive ellipticals commonly have, some models still offer incline settings but they will not be as testing as those featured on front drive models.

Those who struggle with back problems or issues with their posture prefer to use rear drive ellipticals as they don’t have to lean forward as much on the handlebars as they would with a front drive elliptical. 

The design of a rear drive encourages the user to stand more upright whilst working out and makes them feel more natural doing the motions of the elliptical.

Rear drive ellipticals do tend to offer larger stride lengths than front drive designs, however, this is not subject to every rear drive elliptical. 

You should check product descriptions for each elliptical to see the stride length of them, those taller than 5 foot 3 inches should seek a stride length larger than 16 inches to ensure good workout performance and comfortability.

Typically, rear drive ellipticals are significantly bigger than other models which makes them less suitable to be used in small at-home gyms but preferred for commercial-sized gyms. 

They’re also more expensive than front drive ellipticals hence why they’re more commonly found in public gyms instead of in the home.

Pros

  • Promotes better posture
  • Mimics motion of walking or running
  • Less maintenance required
  • Smoother feeling when working out
  • Not very noisy

Cons

  • More expensive than front drive ellipticals

What’s the Difference and Does it Even Matter?

So we’ve given an overview of each type of elliptical and highlighted some of the pros and cons of each, but now it’s time to properly compare them and decide which one is better.

Incline

If you love hiking or you’re also a big fan of the stair climber in the gym, then you’ll probably want an elliptical trainer that also offers some decent incline settings. If this is the case, then a front drive elliptical would be better suited for you.

As a front rear drive elliptical offers more incline settings, you’ll burn more calories, however, the more natural flat movement of a rear drive elliptical will reduce the risk of injuries or discomfort and therefore enable you to burn lots of calories if you’re working hard enough.

Size

Front drive models are a lot smaller and more compact than rear drive models, so if you are looking to buy one for your home but you’re restricted on space then a front drive model would be recommended.

Price

If you’re a beginner or you’re looking to stay on a budget, then front drive elliptical models tend to be a lot cheaper than rear drive models which is great if you’re looking to buy one for your home or to buy in bulk to fill out your commercial gym.

Breakdowns

As front drive ellipticals have more parts, they are more prone to breaking down in comparison or rear drive ellipticals. 

These repairs can get costly if they become a frequent problem, so if you’re looking for a fuss-free unit then a rear drive design would be better suited for you.

Rear drive ellipticals are also referred for commercial gym use for this reason as it means the owners have to spend less time maintaining their machines.

However, when it comes down to it, it’ll come down to personal preference. Some front drive and rear drive elliptical units will offer different stride lengths, which is one of the major factors you need to consider when buying a unit like this. 

If you buy a model with a stride length too small then this can cause serious discomfort for you and not provide an efficient workout.

If you’re a general gym go-er, then the position of the flywheel shouldn’t make much difference to you and in reality, the quality of the models will depend on the brand you choose and not on the type of elliptical you buy.

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Article by:

Daniel DeMoss

I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.  

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