What Are the Differences in Front & Back Pulleys on an Elliptical?

What Are the Differences in Front & Back Pulleys on an Elliptical?

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Ellipticals with rear-drives have a stable base.

Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Elliptical trainers offer a low-impact cardiovascular exercise that combines the motions of cross-country skiing, stair-climbing and walking. The machines are made with the pulleys either in the front or the back. The position of the pulleys distinguishes between a rear-drive and a front-drive elliptical. The differences between the two can make or break your workout.

The Bottom Line

If you are deciding between a front-drive or rear-drive elliptical, you may be tempted to focus on the cost of the equipment. Front-drive machines are usually less expensive because they are lighter in weight and easier to manufacture. A rear-drive machine costs more than a front-drive and are the type typically seen in community health clubs.

All Natural

The pulleys or rollers are housed in the drive systems, and they control the speed and resistance of your workout. A rear-drive elliptical tends to offer a more natural feeling to the movement, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. The stride length is comfortable, and you can pedal forward or backward. In contrast, the stride length on a front-drive unit may be shortened, which prevents your legs from exercising through a full range of motion.

A Little Higher

The drive units of the elliptical remain in place. A rear-drive unit may be more stable than a front-drive since your weight is forward toward the handles of the machine. Also, on a rear-drive machine, the incline is adjustable since the fronts of the rails rest on a ramp on the front. The opposite is true with a front-drive unit. The front cannot incline because the pulleys remain stationary in the drive unit.

Easy Off

The positioning of the pedals on the trainers may also influence your purchasing decision or direct you toward a comfortable machine at the gym. Rear-drive units are typically easier to enter and exit, as the railings aren't as cumbersome. If you find a front-drive trainer that feels comfortable and easy to use, check the number of rollers. According to the "Women's Home Workout Bible" a front-drive trainer with two rollers lasts longer than one with a single roller.