Front Drive or Rear Drive Elliptical Machine? Should You Care?

You’re doing research to buy an elliptical trainer and you stumbled on the term front drive or rear drive. Now you’re wondering, what does that actually mean? And why should you care? I’ve got the answers you’re looking for.

Front or rear drive refers to the location of the flywheel in an elliptical trainer. Front drive models tend to be cheaper and smaller but don’t provide a motion that is as natural as rear drive ellipticals. There are excellent elliptical trainers in both categories.

Keep reading to find out more details about both types.

What’s the difference between front and rear drive ellipticals?

First off, let’s take a look of what the difference between front drive and rear drive actually looks like.

It’s pretty simple really, elliptical machines have a flywheel. This is a big disc that spins when you move the pedals and levers. You can’t put that disc in the middle of the machine because that’s where the exerciser is standing.

That leaves the front and the rear. Front or rear drive just refers to the location of the flywheel. If the flywheel is located in the front, it’s called front drive and if the flywheel is in the rear, it’s called rear drive.

On some of the low end model, you can see the actual flywheel because it’s exposed to see. On higher end models the disc might be contained in a plastic shroud so you can’t actually see it. However, usually you’ll only have one side with plastic shrouds so you can still easily see where the flywheel is.

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Another way to see if it’s a front or rear drive model is the place where the pedals are connected to the machine. Just check where the pedals are connected to the inside of the machine. If it’s the rear, it’s rear drive, if it’s in the front, it’s obviously front drive.

You might think that that difference shouldn’t really matter. However, there are a surprising amount of differences between the two designs.

Looking for a good elliptical trainer for a good price? Click here to find my recommendation for a home gym elliptical trainer.

Check out what the pros and cons of front and rear drive are;

What are the pros and cons of front drive ellipticals?

So a front drive elliptical trainer has the flywheel in the front. What are the pros and cons of this design?


  • Usually smaller dimensions
  • Usually cheaper
  • Higher possible incline settings (if applicable)


  • Has more moving parts
  • Noisier
  • More maintenance
  • Movement pattern doesn’t feel as natural

Especially the cheaper models don’t feel as smooth as they should

There is a wide range of front drive models and they look and feel quite a bit different. The cheapest models are pretty much exclusively front drive. They’re cheaper to produce and are smaller so this makes them cheaper to produce.

How big is an elliptical trainer?

Those ellipticals have a set of drawbacks that are more a result of them being low end models than being front drive. The smoothness of motion, motion pattern and noise production are some of those things.

However, there are also more and more high end models that are front wheel drive. Those models have much fewer of the drawbacks named above. The feel of these models will be much closer to rear drive units although there are still some differences.

Many front drive ellipticals have some kind of slide rail. This requires more maintenance to keep the motion smooth. It also means that there is much more up and down movement in every stride. This makes it feel more like walking upstairs or uphill. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This will work the back of your legs a little bit more which can result in more muscle growth in the glutes, hamstrings and calves.

Which muscles does an elliptical trainer target?

If you’re not looking for a realistic running workout, this is actually a benefit. Another thing is the incline. Not all ellipticals have incline but there are ones that do. If you’ve got a front drive model with incline settings, it tends to incline more than a rear drive model. That’s mainly because they are shorter.

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Front drive elliptical trainers are best for people who want a good cardio workout, train their leg muscles and are looking for a smaller and/or cheaper elliptical machine. Their smaller size makes front drive ellipticals especially suitable for home gyms.

What are the pros and cons of rear drive cross trainers?

Now let’s look at the pros and cons of a rear drive elliptical trainer.


  • Closer to running outside
  • Fewer moving parts than front drive
  • Less noise
  • Less maintenance


  • Usually in higher price ranges
  • Longer so take up more space

If incline is available, it’s generally not as steep as front drive

This setup tends to make machines significantly bigger than front drive ones. Many of them are also more expensive than front drive models. On the plus side, the movement of these machines is flatter/more natural. It feels more like running outside or on a treadmill. That is a big benefit for many people.

These machines also tend to feel a bit smoother but that is partly also a result of these trainers being more expensive.

Many people also feel they are a bit more upright on rear drive models. Finally, rear drive models tend to have longer stride lengths. Stride length is quite important and has to be suitable for your height. Read here which stride length is right for you.

In general, rear drive models are for more advanced exercisers who want the best experience they can get and have plenty of space in their home gym.

Is a front or rear drive crosstrainer best for you?

Now you know the differences, but maybe you still aren’t sure what’s best for you.

What’s best for you depends on your goals and expectations. You can see the pros and cons of both types above so if there is something specific you’re looking for, it’ll be clear to you which type you should look for.

If you’re still not sure, let’s look at two examples to make it a bit clearer.

  • A: Beginner, casual exerciser, looking for a good cardio workout, doesn’t want to spend a lot of money.
  • B: Intermediate/advanced exerciser, works out almost every day, is willing to spend some money.

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Person A would be best served by a cheaper front drive model. Front drive models are a bit cheaper to produce so you’re better off getting one of those. Spending the same amount of money on a front drive model as on a rear one, especially in the lower budget range will likely get you a better machine.

For person B it’s a bit more complicated. There are good models in both categories, especially if you’re willing to spend a bit more money. The biggest difference this person has to consider is the movement pattern. A front drive unit often has more vertical movement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It depends on what your goals are.

A rear drive unit will give you a more natural running feel and motion pattern but a front drive unit is still great cardio and also targets the back of your legs slightly more. Front drive units can also provide more incline if you want this.

Looking for a good elliptical trainer for a good price? Click here to find my recommendation for a home gym elliptical trainer.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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