Front v. Rear Drive Elliptical Trainers

Elliptical trainers are either front drive or rear drive.  Most early elliptical trainer manufacturers built front-wheel drive models, due to a patent on the first rear drive model ever made.  Since then, several manufacturers figured out ways around the patent and created their own versions of the rear drive elliptical trainer.

Is there a big difference between front drive elliptical trainers and rear drive models?  Is one type better than the other?  Which style is more preferred by consumers?  For several years, there has been some controversy over which type of elliptical trainer provides the best workouts.

Front Drive Elliptical Trainers

Front drive elliptical trainers have typically been associated with cheaper, light-weight units, and for good reason: they are less expensive to manufacture.  Rear drives, on the other hand, have generally been found on the more expensive models. 

Exercising on a front drive elliptical trainer somewhat mimics working out on a stair climber.  The seat and pedals tend to be situated on this type of machine so that the user typically has to lean forward somewhat.  This position may feel comfortable to some athletes, but uncomfortable to others.

Articulating foot pedals are frequently recommended to buyers of front drive elliptical trainers.  Articulating pedals keep the feet better aligned with the motion, mimic a more natural stride, and reduce back strain, as well.  If you increase the resistance on a front drive model, you can get a really decent cardio workout.  Use the handlebars as you pedal to work the upper and lower body simultaneously.

The pedals on front drive machines run on rails in the rear of the elliptical trainer.  Some models have single wheels; others have double wheels.  Those with double wheels are usually more solid and stable.  The rollers on front drive units often wear out quickly…especially the single-wheel rollers.  Some cheaper front drive elliptical trainers have concave wheels that easily come off track.  Such models can become rough and noisy during operation and may require constant cleaning and maintenance.

Rear Drive Elliptical Trainers

Rear drive elliptical trainers, such as those sold by Smooth Fitness, are built to more accurately simulate the natural motion of walking or running.  The user is more centered on this type of machine during workouts, eliminating strain to the back.

The design of rear drive elliptical trainers greatly reduces the amount of necessary maintenance on the machines.  There are fewer parts to service and break down.  Having the drive in the back also adds to the stability of the unit. 

Mounting and exiting a rear drive elliptical should be easier than doing so on a front drive model.  The stride should feel more natural, and the ride should be smoother on a rear drive elliptical trainer.

Rear drive elliptical trainers that have incline ramps can really provide great workouts…sort of like jogging uphill without your feet ever leaving the pedals. 

Which Kind of Drive is Preferred on an Elliptical Trainer?

The most preferred elliptical trainer is the rear drive design.  Consumers who choose front drive models may do so mainly because such models are less expensive.  Sometimes, however, a consumer simply likes the feel and stride of one design over another. 

Experienced athletes may be more prone to choosing a rear-drive elliptical trainer, because rear drives are more apt to have the kinds of features (i.e. the incline ramp) that appeal to this population.  Rear drives are also better able to stand up to the type of workouts that experienced users may engage in on a regular basis.

There are other features to consider when shopping for an elliptical trainer.  It’s best to do your research to find a machine that feels right and meets your personal budget and needs.

Written by Cyndi Waters, Fitness Researcher and Writer

Smooth Fitness | Treadmills & Ellipticals

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