Front Drive vs. Rear Drive Elliptical

Whether you’re looking for your first workout machine or you want to expand your home gym, ellipticals offer an excellent workout. However, it’s easy to get confused by elliptical lingo when determining which style is best for you.

If you are shopping around for the best ellipticals, check out our comparison article to help make a decision.

We’ll compare these two elliptical models here, along with a third alternative, to help you with your decision. 

Difference Between Front and Rear Drive Elliptical

When comparing a front vs. rear drive elliptical, the difference comes down to the flywheel. The flywheel is the drive system of the machine that moves when you apply pressure to the foot pedals.

The flywheel also controls the resistance levels of the elliptical. The difference between a front drive and rear drive is simply the flywheel placement.

The flywheel’s location significantly impacts user experience, and both options have their advantages and downsides. Let’s dive into each to compare the differences

Front Drive Elliptical example. front drive vs rear drive elliptical

Front Drive Ellipticals

As its name implies, front drive ellipticals have a flywheel at the front of the machine. Because of the flywheel’s location, these ellipticals will make you feel like you’re climbing uphill. Our thighs are burning just thinking about it!

That’s not to say you always have to exercise in an uphill position, though. Although one of the most significant differences between a front vs. rear drive elliptical is that front drive machines aren’t as flat, they offer several incline options. Therefore, you can choose less steep settings.

If posture is important to you when exercising, you might find front drive ellipticals challenging. That’s because due to the nature of the incline, many users feel like they have to lean forward to propel themselves forward.

front drive elliptical

One of the biggest advantages of front drive ellipticals (aside from toning your thighs) is that it’s a compact machine. Therefore, you can set it up in the corner of the room without it taking up as much space as rear drive ellipticals.

Despite the many advantages of front drive ellipticals, you might end up having to repair your elliptical more frequently as it ages compared to if you had purchased a rear drive model. The reason for this is that front drive ellipticals have more parts, meaning there’s more that could go wrong.

Of course, rear drive ellipticals aren’t immune from mechanical issues such as replacing the drive belt. Therefore, we recommend reading through any warranties that may come with your elliptical before you purchase it.

Follow the basics by unplugging your elliptical when not in use. It would be a shame to let too much time pass between workouts because of a mechanical error, reversing all your hard work on keeping your legs toned!

Pros:

  • Offers lots of resistance with multiple incline levels
  • Doesn’t take up as much space
  • An overall more economical option

Cons:

  • Tends to need more frequent maintenance
  • Pushes you into a forward-leaning posture

Rear Drive Ellipticals

When you first glance at a rear drive elliptical, you might mistake it for being the same as a front drive model—until you notice that the flywheel sits at the back of the machine instead of the front.

Rear drive ellipticals are an excellent option for people wanting lower intensity exercise. Because of the flywheel’s rear location, it creates a flatter surface. As a result, you’ll feel like you’re going for a walk or jog along a flat road instead of up a hill.

That’s not to say you won’t have access to any incline, though. On the contrary, many of these machines offer several inclines at lower angles than front wheel ellipticals.  

When comparing a front vs. rear flywheel elliptical, the amount of space it takes up is a consideration for many people. Rear drive ellipticals almost always take up more space than front rears. It may seem counterintuitive, given we just told you that the front drive models contain more parts. 

However, think about your stride walking uphill versus on a flat surface. Since you won’t be on as much of an incline with rear drive ellipticals, most of these machines need more space so you can take those long, less intense strides.

rear drive elliptical

Your family or roommates will love to hear this one; rear drive ellipticals are almost always quieter than their front drive counterparts. The reason? It mostly comes down to them having fewer parts.

All things considered, rear drive ellipticals are an attractive option for many consumers. Nevertheless, their usually higher cost can be an inhibiting factor.

Therefore, if you’re on the fence about which elliptical style to purchase and are working with a tighter budget, a front drive elliptical might be a better fit for you.

Pros:

  • Better for less intense exercise
  • Typically requires less maintenance
  • Not as noisy

Cons:

  • Uses more space in your home
  • Usually more expensive

Center Drive Ellipticals

center drive elliptical example, front drive vs rear drive elliptical

You guessed it—the flywheel of center drive ellipticals sits in the center of the machine. Center drive ellipticals are the least common choice among consumers, but it wouldn’t be right to compare a front vs. rear drive elliptical without mentioning them.

Center Drive Elliptical vs Rear Drive

When you see a center drive elliptical, you might not immediately associate it with an elliptical. That’s because the center-sitting flywheel straddles the pedals on either side. As a result, you’ll receive a machine so compact that it makes rear drive ellipticals seem massive.

These ellipticals have a quiet, smooth operation. Furthermore, because they keep you centered, you’ll be able to maintain optimal posture. In fact, many users comment that they love center drive ellipticals because they’re the closest model that mimics walking or jogging.

centre drive elliptical

Although center drive ellipticals have their place on the market, they’re often the most expensive option. Furthermore, you won’t have as many opportunities to adjust the incline for a more intense workout. 

Pros:

  • Adaptable stride lengths
  • The most compact elliptical design
  • Encourages an upright posture

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Not as many incline options

Rear Drive Elliptical vs Front

Which Elliptical Is Best?

The “best” elliptical comes down to personal preference. However, these models undoubtedly have features that make them more suitable for some people over others.

Front drive ellipticals are a good option for people who:

  • Want an intense workout
  • Don’t want to spend as much money
  • Have a limited amount of space

Rear drive ellipticals are a good option for people who:

  • Want to exercise on a mostly flat surface
  • Prefer a quieter machine
  • Invest less in maintenance 

Regardless of the elliptical you choose, all of these machines offer a joint-friendly solution for getting in a good workout.

Can’t Decide? Here’s a useful video comparing the differences to help make a decision:

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An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!