Ellipticals Flywheel: Most Important Features Explained 👀

Elliptical Machine Flywheel Explained

The Importance of the Flywheel on Elliptical Trainers

The quality of a flywheel can make or break your workout experience. We have already written about the importance of the stride length in ellipticals. The flywheel is another one of the most important parts of an elliptical machine. But what is the flywheel? It is the piece that moves when you apply pressure to the pedals and move the hand grips and controls the degree of smoothness you feel.

The heavier an elliptical flywheel is, the smoother and quieter it operates because the extra weight helps it spin efficiently. Ellipticals trainers in general have flywheels ranging from as low as 10 pounds to 50 pounds, but most home ellipticals will have a flywheel that starts around 13 pounds.

The drive belt connects the flywheel to the pedals. Higher quality belts have grooves, so the energy transfer between the pedals and the flywheel remains steady and efficient. Drive belts with more grooves reduce the amount of slippage you feel while using the elliptical.

Resistance on an elliptical is controlled by a magnetic brake that applies pressure to the flywheel as they move closer to each other. The larger the magnetic brake, the more contact there is between it and the flywheel. The larger size provides a consistent rate of resistance and improves the lifespan of your elliptical.

There are three different types of ellipticals, depending on where the flywheel is placed. The location can impact functionality, durability, and other vital factors.

front drive elliptical

Front Drive Ellipticals

A front drive elliptical, also known as a front drive trainer, is when the flywheel or drive system is located in the elliptical front with the user’s weight placed directly behind it. 

With the flywheel placed in the front of an elliptical, the user tends to lean forward when using the machine, similar to their position when using a stair climber. Front drive ellipticals feel similar to walking or climbing uphill, which can be beneficial for someone looking to replicate a climbing sensation during their workout.

Front drive ellipticals are commonly found in most households as they are less expensive but still reliable for the price point. Since front drive ellipticals have more moving parts than the other models, they may require more maintenance.

Front drive ellipticals, as opposed to rear drive ellipticals, typically have articulating pedals that adapt to the user’s stride with a change in their angle. This is considerably more comfortable than rear drive ellipticals with static pedals that don’t provide an ergonomic benefit.

Front drive ellipticals also are more compact and tend to take up less space.

Take a moment to go through some front drive ellipticals that we have reviewed:

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BXE226 Elliptical from Bowflex
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Bowflex BXE226 Elliptical

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Bowflex LateralX LX3
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Bowflex LateralX LX3

rear drive elliptical

Rear Drive Ellipticals

The direct opposite of the front drive ellipticals, rear drive ellipticals have the flywheel or drive system located in the back of the trainer with the user’s weight placed in front of it.

With the elliptical flywheel located in the rear, the trainer is more level and feels flatter than a front drive elliptical. This feels more like traditional walking or jogging to the user. Many rear drive ellipticals offer incline options, but they don’t perform as well as the incline options provided with a front drive elliptical.

With the flywheel located in the elliptical back, there are fewer moving parts than other models and may require less maintenance. 

Take a moment to go through some rear drive ellipticals that we have reviewed:

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Nordictrack CX938 Elliptical Review (Manual, Parts & More)
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Nordictrack E10 Elliptical Trainer

center drive elliptical

Center Drive Ellipticals

Center drive ellipticals are still relatively new, so there aren’t many testimonials regarding their durability or maintenance needs. The flywheel, or drive system, is located on either side of the trainer instead of the front or back.

This design causes the elliptical to be more compact and popular for individuals working with small spaces. Since the elliptical is more compact, the user stands more upright. This may feel more natural and comfortable for many people than the leaning that occurs on a front or rear drive elliptical.

Center drive ellipticals are exceptionally quiet and perform smoothly. With center drive designs, the pedals tend to be closer together, mimicking a natural running stance and reducing strain in the hips. They also exert less pressure on the lower back and joints in the leg. 

Take a moment to go through some center drive ellipticals that we have reviewed:

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Bowflex Max Trainer M8
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Bowflex TreadClimber TC200
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Bowflex Max Trainer M6


Which is Best for Me?

The location of the flywheel – front drive, rear drive, or center drive – changes the benefits of the elliptical in regards to the user. When deciding on the best machine, considering the weight and where the flywheel is located as a vital part of making the decision.

A heavier flywheel will provide a more fluid performance. A heavier elliptical flywheel will also give your machine a longer life. 

Many home gyms have a front drive elliptical for a multitude of reasons besides the lower cost. With the flywheel located in the machine’s front, the user has full stride and experiences a smooth operation while exercising. 

Although, since front drive ellipticals can have steep incline and rise high in front of the user, they can put extensive force on the knees.

Rear drive elliptical systems with the flywheel located behind the user also have many essential features. They imitate a realistic heel to toe running motion which is beneficial during exercise. 

Rear drive ellipticals also cause the user to stand more upright than on a front drive elliptical, where they typically lean forward towards the handles much like a stair climber.

Lastly, while center drive ellipticals are still new and the most expensive of the three options, the flywheel location has many benefits. Despite their compact size, the pedals are closer together, allowing for a more natural running stance, and they allow for a full range of motion from heel to toe.


Final Words on the Flywheel

The flywheel is the critical component of an elliptical. If you stumbled upon an elliptical without a flywheel (easily identifiable as the large, round base on the machine), you would probably think it looks broken or incomplete.

For someone who wants more incline training in their workout, an elliptical flywheel located towards the front may be the best choice for you. Anyone looking for a compact machine with a broad range of motion would benefit from looking into a center drive elliptical. Lastly, a flywheel placed in the rear of the elliptical allows for better posture during exercise.


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