What Are The Different Types of Elliptical Machines?


Running is great exercise, but you need to cross train for the best fitness. There are many options out there, and elliptical machines are one of the most popular for getting in a good workout. Not all ellipticals are the same, though. In fact, there are a few common varieties.

If you already have one, you might be interested to find out which category yours falls into. If you’re considering getting one, it would be good to know the difference so you can make sure you’re getting the one that would be most effective for you. We should also point out that there is an outdoor elliptical bike called the ElliptiGO, which is like an elliptical machine combined with a bike. We’re focusing on indoor machines for this article, so we won’t cover that here.

All elliptical machines are good at getting your heart rate up and your muscles moving. Here are the different types we’ll be talking about:

  • Standard Elliptical Trainers
  • Elliptical Cross-Trainers
  • Elliptical Gliders

Read on to see what the differences are between these types of machines…

Different Types of Elliptical Machines

1. Standard Elliptical Trainers

Standard elliptical trainers are the most basic of the types, and the closest to the original version of this piece of equipment. They’re also the most commonly seen types of ellipticals, both in stores and in gyms.

When you look at the standard elliptical trainer, you’ll see that it has large foot pedals and a stationary bar or immovable handles for you to stabilize yourself with. You do all the work with your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, pushing down on the pedals to create an “elliptical” or round motion.

They focus mainly on cardiovascular stimulation and lower body workouts. These types of ellipticals are designed to be very low-impact, so your ankle and knee joints will appreciate this type of machine. It’s a great option for those who may have weak knees or ankles and want a low-impact supplemental exercise.

The standard elliptical is a fantastic alternative to a treadmill. You’ll get much less impact but can adjust it to the same amount of intensity. You’ll get the same benefits as you would on the treadmill, just with less chance of injury or shin splints.

Most models have a digital console where you will be able to keep an eye on your heart rate, measure your distance and speed, and adjust resistance levels to make the workout harder or easier.

Other things you may find on these machines include a water bottle holder, adjustable fan, and an input function for music players. It just depends on the brand of machine you choose.


  • Lower impact than others
  • Reduce strain on knees and ankles
  • Less chance of shin splints or other injury
  • Generally the most affordable option


  • Works lower body only, so the comprehensiveness of the workout is a little compromised

Flywheel Location – Impact on Workout

One thing to note is that a large part of the effectiveness of an elliptical machine depends on where the flywheel and motor are situated. Each different position leads to a slightly different position up top when you’re actively exercising on the elliptical.

You can find these different types of machines across the board, whether you’re looking at a standard elliptical or something more specialized.

There are three different types within this category:

  • Rear-drive ellipticals
  • Front-drive ellipticals
  • Center drive ellipticals

Rear-drives are the most commonly used and the oldest. They’re very effective, so the design has stuck around for years. This is the original design that was patented in 1995 by Precor, and as its name suggests, its flywheel is located on the back of the machine.

The position of the driver allows for a very stable machine with a great range of motion. The machine’s center of balance creates a very solid and safe experience. This allows the user to be more natural and replicate their normal movements of walking or running without feeling unstable on the elliptical.


Front-drive ellipticals, as you might imagine, have their flywheel placed in the front of the machine. Due to this positioning, the pedals have a slightly more vertical motion than those of a rear-drive models.

Depending on the particular brand, this could add a bit more resistance and create an effect a little like a stairclimber. These types of elliptical machines are often a bit lower to the ground than the others. This means they could be a great option for users who are more limited in their own range of motion and may have trouble getting on and off a machine. It’s easy to get on without lifting your feet too much.

Center Drive

The center drive is the latest in elliptical technology. In the case of these types, the flywheel is located on the outside of each of the pedals. It may look a little different to what you’re used to seeing, and tend to be a little more compact than the others.

Similar to the front-drive machines, these types of ellipticals allow for slightly more range of motion, which equates to a more comfortable and better workout. It also has a little bit more of a vertical movement, so the stairclimber effect still comes into play.

Because they’re more compact, this type of elliptical is a good choice for somebody who is looking to add to their home gym setup. They also usually place the pedals a little closer together than the others, so the movement may be slightly more similar to a natural gait.

2. Elliptical Cross-Trainer

An elliptical cross-trainer is noticeably different than the standard elliptical because it looks more like a stationary bicycle. It allows you to exercise from a reclined or seated position.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an elliptical for lazier people! Although the seated position takes more strain off the lower body and joints, this type of elliptical actually offers a decent full-body workout.

Like a hybrid of a bike and an elliptical, this machine has the wide pedals and moving handlebars of an elliptical but a stable, immovable seat like a stationary bicycle. When you exercise on this, you aren’t placing any pressure or impact on your lower body, so it’s a great idea for those who may have trouble with knee or ankle joints.

You’ll work your upper and lower body just like you would on an elliptical machine. The handlebars move from front to back as you pedal, giving your arms, shoulders, and chest a bit of a muscular workout. The pedals still need to be pushed, so your glutes and quads will still be worked.

The seated position also provides a bit more stability. For those who wish to get in some more exercise but aren’t steady on their feet, or if you’re recovering from injury or illness and need to ease back in slowly, this type of elliptical machine is a really good idea.


  • More stable than a standard elliptical
  • Very easy on the joints
  • Full-body workout
  • Great for those recovering from injury


  • May not be able to increase the intensity as much as on a standard-type elliptical machine

3. Elliptical Glider

An elliptical glider is the simplest of all the elliptical designs. There is no motor or flywheel on this type of elliptical. You push it entirely with your own power. This design may seem a little sleeker than others, but it’s because the frame is more lightweight minus the flywheel.

The pedals use a swinging glider in order to move through their range of motion. That means they move in less of an elliptical shape and more on a horizontal plane, back and forth instead of up and down.

These gliders will have stationary arms to provide a bit of stability. The one thing that elliptical gliders provide that the others don’t really is more stretch, so you’ll get great hip and knee extension. You can shake things up a bit by pedaling either forward or backward on these machines, although you’ll find there’s only resistance when going forward.

Elliptical gliders are also fairly compact and lightweight, since there’s no motor on them. This makes them the ideal choice for those who are limited in terms of space, or might need to be moving the elliptical around by themselves. It’s quite lightweight and easy to move.


  • Very low impact
  • Provide a great stretch and hip and knee extension
  • Compact because there’s no flywheel
  • Lightweight and easy to move around


  • Might be slightly more limited in terms of resistance

Which One Is Right For You?

The elliptical machine you choose will depend on what your needs are. They are all low impact, and provide a good cardiovascular workout. If you only want a lower body workout, the standard elliptical would be perfectly adequate.

If you want something that includes the upper body, look for one with movable arms. An elliptical cross-trainer could be the best choice for those who need extra support and less strain on their joints.

Whatever you choose, the elliptical provides a great workout that will keep you fit, or get you fit.

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Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.