Rear Drive vs Front Drive Elliptical: 7 Key Differences

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Rear Drive vs Front Drive Elliptical

Have you been shopping around for an elliptical machine, but can’t decide for the life of you which drive system will better suit your body type and goals?

If so, you’re not alone and I don’t blame you.

Making such an expensive purchase shouldn’t be taken lightly.

That’s why I am about to uncover 7 of the main differences when comparing rear drive vs front drive elliptical trainers to help you choose the best option for your needs.

Let’s dig in!

Key Takeaways:

  • Front drive ellipticals have the flywheel located in the front, while rear drives have it positioned in the back.
  • Front drives are better for users with limited space available and offer more incline levels.
  • Rear drive models tend to provide a less restrictive range of motion, that’s similar to walking.
  • The flywheel is what gives the machine resistance and provides smooth, consistent movements.

An Elliptical Machines Drive System Explained

Before differentiating between the locations of an ellipticals drive system (DS) it’s important to know what it is exactly.

Simply put, the DS is comprised of an essential component called a flywheel.

It attaches to the foot pedals and handles through a series of belts and magnets.

It is responsible for providing the resistance and motion of an elliptical machine as you exercise.

The flywheel weight is a good way to grade the quality of a machine.

For instance, the heavier it is the more stable and fluid your strides will feel.

Although the weights will vary, it is best to find one that’s at least 20 LBs.

Furthermore, a flywheel located in the front or rear is the most common.

However, some newer models have it positioned in the middle too.

These are called center-drive ellipticals.

Front Drive vs Rear Drive Elliptical: 7 Differences

The differences between a front-drive and a rear-drive model will vary from machine to machine.

But in general, the following are common among a vast majority of elliptical brands.

1. Location of the Flywheel

As I mentioned previously the location of the flywheel is the main distinguishing factor that gives these two models their semi-separate names.

Rear-drive models have a rear flywheel, while front-drive models have them located (yep you guessed it) in the front.

This causes rear-drive units to have a more circular, natural stride.

While front-drive units have a more up-and-down motion that resembles a stair-climber.

This will also require you to lean forward slightly, which could put a bit of an uncomfortable strain on your knee joints.

However, they are easier to mount and dismount since the components of the flywheel are not in the back.

Meaning you won’t have to step over them every time you get on and off.

2. Stride Length

The stride lengths are what determine the maximum distance that the pedals can revolve in opposition to each other during motion.

This is the most crucial performance factor when comparing the two systems.

Because if the strides are too long you will begin to overreach, which could lead to a torn muscle.

However, if they’re too short, your legs will begin to feel cramped up.

Rear drive machines tend to have a longer stride length, making it easier to maintain an upright posture with the feeling of walking on a flat surface.

Conversely, front-drive machines are typically designed to take up less space.

This usually means they’ll have smaller strides too, possibly leading to a restriction in mobility for you long-legged users.

Also, you’ll get the feeling of walking uphill, leading to a more intense workout if you’re looking to engage your beast mode.

3. Size

More commonly than not front-wheel machines have a smaller footprint than their rear-drive counterparts.

This is because the longer stride lengths on a rear-drive design require the overall construction of the machine to be bulkier for stability purposes.

However, if your main concern is low-hanging ceilings then a rear-drive elliptical could be better since it doesn’t have as much of an up-and-down motion.

4. Maintenance

Rear-drive ellipticals tend to have fewer parts than front drives.

In turn, making them less susceptible to internal issues while requiring less maintenance.

This also adds to their durability and efficiency.

Front drive ellipticals usually have a lot of smaller parts, which will need more maintenance checks and possibly require rather frequent replacing.

5. Price

The upfront cost for a front-drive elliptical is typically cheaper.

But because there are added parts to replace, more maintenance requirements, and a cheaper quality build, you may find yourself spending more money in the long run.

6. Adjustability

In terms of adjustability, front-drive ellipticals have better consistency when it comes to the intensity of resistance and incline settings.

Again, this provides a similar feeling to climbing stairs to quickly and efficiently burn calories.

Although rear drives tend to have an adjustable incline as well, it’s usually not as steep or precise.

On top of that, their resistance levels sometimes don’t get very difficult, even when adjusted.

In terms of adjustable stride lengths and handlebars, you may find that rear drive machines are better suited for accommodating the specific range of motion for everyone in your household to exercise comfortably.

Just remember that this added comfort will come with more space requirements.

7. Noise Level

Typically, rear-drive ellipticals are quieter than front drives.

They’re less likely to develop a clunking or squeaking noise due to the fact they have fewer and larger parts.

This way you can save your hard-earned lubrication oil for more important matters.

How To Choose the Right One for You: Front Drive or Rear Drive

When it comes to deciding between a front drive and rear drive elliptical there are a few factors to consider for your specific circumstances such as your:

  • Height and Weight
  • Budget
  • Space Constraints
  • Current Fitness Level and Goals

This makes it super important to test out several pieces of home fitness equipment before making your final decision.

Height and Weight

It’s critical to find an elliptical that will be able to support your body weight and height requirements.

As a general rule of thumb, if your height is between 5’3″ and 6′ then a stride length of 20″ will be suitable.

With this in mind, you’ll still want to look at individual measurements such as the length of your arms and legs.

Also, don’t forget about the weight capacity, this will determine how stable your workouts will be and also impact the lifespan of the machine.

You’ll want to find something heavier than your current body weight.

As a reminder, rear-drive machines usually have better durability and range of motion.

But, this is not always a guarantee, these traits will vary with each individual product.


Prices vary drastically when it comes to ellipticals.

The question you should ask yourself is are you willing to spend more upfront with fewer maintenance costs?

Or would you prefer to spend less now, and POSSIBLY spend more in upkeep time and parts replacement later?

Space Constraints

I know this isn’t directly correlated to the focus of this article, but the most compact machine is going to be a center drive elliptical.

Unfortunately, they can be a bit pricy.

So, the best alternative is going to a front drive.

Either way, to ensure that your elliptical has enough clearance, find one that will have at least 20 inches of space on all sides from furniture or walls.

And to ensure that your head has enough clearance, make sure that there are about 5-20 inches of space between the top of your head and the ceiling.

Otherwise, you may be spending your next workout session half-concussed.

Fitness Level and Goals

Before choosing one over the other, you’ll want to consider your current fitness level, your goals, and how often you plan to use your elliptical.

Let’s say you’re suffering from a form of injury and want to rehab your muscles or you’re just looking to lose weight.

Then a rear-drive machine will be less impactful and be easier to use while providing plenty enough of a challenge to hit your goals and maintain.

However, if your goal is to build your cardiovascular fitness to a high level and build total-body strength you’re most likely going to benefit more from a front-drive elliptical trainer.

This is because the higher quality of incline settings will help you achieve progressive overload at an optimal frequency without the risk of plateauing as fast.

FAQ for Front Drive vs Rear Drive Ellipticals

Which Is Better a Front or Rear Drive Elliptical?

If you’re looking for a longer, more natural range of motion that’s easier on your joints rear-drive ellipticals tend to be better.

However, front-drive machines offer more incline and resistance to increase your workout intensity and target more muscle groups.

Are Sit Down Ellipticals Effective?

Yes, sit-down ellipticals are effective for several reasons, including:

– Minimal strain on your lower back and joints.
– Easily multitask while burning calories and exercising your leg muscles.
– More affordable than regular elliptical trainers.
– Portable and easy to store when not in use.

Which Type of Elliptical Is Best?

Each of the three types of elliptical has its own unique advantages and disadvantages:

– Front-drive elliptical machines are best for getting an intense workout with a more adjustable incline on a tight budget.

– Center drive machines are best for fitting into a home gym with limited space and for providing a natural running motion.

– Rear-drive elliptical trainers are best for users who need a longer stride length that mimics the feeling of walking on flat ground.

Final Verdict: Rear Drive vs Front Drive Ellipticals

I hope this article was useful in helping you decide whether a front or rear-drive elliptical is right for you.

Remember that front drives will allow you to work out at a higher intensity but require more maintenance.

Rear drives are the way to go if you’re a taller user looking for less impact on your joints.

Ultimately the choice is yours, best of luck with your elliptical fitness journey!


Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!