Which is Better for You?
If you’re shopping for an elliptical trainer, you’ll probably notice that there are 2 main types of crosstrainers – front drive and rear drive
(there’s also center drive like the Freestrider – but those models are much less common).
Front drive trainers have the flywheel mechanism placed in front of the pedals as you can see here:
Rear drive crosstrainers place the flywheel behind the pedals:
What’s the difference and which is better?
Should you choose one over the other?
There are a lot of so called “expert” opinions out there who will argue that one is better than another. And frankly I think people get a little too heated about the debate (there are much bigger problems in the world guys).
Personally though, I don’t think one is necessarily better than another. There are a lot of other factors that play into whether one crosstrainer is better than another (like flywheel, construction quality, ergonomic design etc.)
But there are some differences. Here are 2 of the main ones (please note these are GENERAL differences):
#1 Type of Elliptical Slope
Rear drive trainers tend to give you less of a slope. So you get more of a flat running plane.
The motion feels a little more like running – vs climbing that you get with front drive machines.
So it really depends on what you want.
Keep in mind that once you add in ramp or incline – this “difference” between the two types of ellipticals kind of goes up in smoke (since ramp changes the slope of the elliptical anyway).
For example, I’ve tried front and rear drive machines that felt EXACTLY the same. So again, this is a general difference.
#2 Slightly Higher Stability? Maybe.
Some people argue that a front-drive elliptical feels more stable (again, all other things being equal). Why might this be?
Basically it’s because the flywheel is closer to the center of the machine – the console and your pedals. So the flywheel in the front (especially a heavy one) will tend to act as an anchor for the machine and give you a higher stability.
This is often why you see a lot of the machines at the gym with a front-drive design. It’s also interesting to note that Nordictrack makes their higher end trainers – like the Commercial 14.9 – with front-drive designs. So there may be something to this one.
However again – there are other things that can play into this like the design, quality of construction and weight of your flywheel.
What’s the Bottom Line?
While some people have a definite preference for a front or rear drive crosstrainer because of the two differences listed above, overall there are a lot of other factors that come into play.
So while you can consider these 2 differences when choosing your elliptical, don’t forget to look at other factors like the weight of the flywheel, pedal construction, console features etc (you can read a full article on what to look for here).