Front-Wheel vs. Back-Wheel Drive on Ellipticals

When you're looking to purchase an elliptical machine, you can choose from two basic styles: front-wheel drive or back-wheel drive. Each type of elliptical machine includes a flywheel, which is the wheel that helps create the elliptical motion while you exercise. The flywheel is in the front of the machine on a front-wheel drive elliptical and in the back of the machine on a back-wheel drive elliptical. In most ways, the back-wheel drive model is a better choice than the front-wheel drive model.

Test how comfortable the machine feels before buying it. (Image: Nick Free/iStock/Getty Images)

The Way It Moves

The American College of Sports Medicine explains that rear-wheel drive elliptical machines provide a more natural movement that tends to feel better on your body. Some front-wheel drive models include articulating pedals, which change the foot's angle during pedaling to mimic this smooth movement. Other front-wheel drive models do not have articulating pedals, so they do not generally feel as natural or comfortable.

Design and Maintenance

In general, you will have to perform more maintenance on a front-wheel drive machine. Front-wheel drive machines include tracks and rollers that the rear-wheel drive machines do not have. These parts easily become dirty, which impedes their ability to move smoothly. Therefore, you ideally should clean them on a weekly basis.

Workout Options

Many back-wheel drive elliptical machines include an adjustable ramp, which the front-wheel models do not have. When you adjust the ramp, you can target different muscles during your workout. A more level position works your calves and quadriceps more; an incline works the hamstring and gluteal muscles more.

Price Considerations

Price is the main advantage of a front-wheel drive model, which is typically less expensive than a rear-wheel drive model. The front-wheel drive models without the articulating pedals are generally the least expensive, but the American College of Sports Medicine does not recommend making price your first priority since this type gives an awkward stride. The rear-wheel drive models with the most natural, comfortable movements generally cost the most, and the front-wheel drive ones with articulating pedals provide a cheaper alternative that comes close to a natural stride.

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