Is the Smith Machine Good?

Dear Davey,

I am new to working out and recently joined Planet Fitness, but the free weights are very limited. A majority of the exercises that I want to perform use barbells and the closest thing they have is a Smith Machine. How do you feel about the Smith Machine?

From,
Jason

Hey Jason,

Congratulations on joining a gym and prioritizing fitness. The first step is always the hardest – and so you’re well on your way to achieving your fitness goals!

As it turns out, the Smith Machine was invented by fitness guru Jack LaLanne – and then later improved by fitness executive Rudy Smith in the 1950s. Basically, the Smith Machine is an apparatus with a barbell that runs vertically along two guided rods. By twisting your wrists, you can rack the barbell on any of the many joints that run along the frame.

Because the barbell runs along rods for guidance, the idea is that it’s a safer alternative to typical squats which are often performed in a power cage. Because the Smith Machine helps stabilize the barbell, lifters can generally use heavier weights – and no spotter is required.

It sounds good on paper, but the reality is quite different.

Proper Form and Bar Movement

Whether you are using the Smith Machine for squats, bench pressing or shoulder lifts, one must consider that – in real life – barbells rarely follow a straight vertical path. Our bodies are all different and we all have varying flexibility, imbalances and bodily dimensions. As we squat, for example, there is constant shifting and balancing as we perform the exercise.

Because the Smith Machine takes a one-size-fits-all approach, there is additional strain placed on joints, tendons and ligaments to accommodate the straight vertical path. Over time, this can create discomfort or even injury.

Stabilizer Muscles

A friend of mine switched from the bench press to the Smith Machine. On the bench press, he could lift 200 pounds. Within a month or two, he was up to 240 pounds on the Smith Machine’s chest press. This seemed like great progress – until he went back to the bench press. He could only lift 180 pounds, meaning he had actually lost real-world strength.

The Smith Machine gives a false sense of progress because it does all the stabilizing work for you. The bench press, for example, doesn’t just involve your chest muscles. Smaller stabilizer muscles must also work to help balance the bar – and this is a good thing. For real world strength, those stabilizer muscles are absolutely necessary. When using a Smith Machine, you cut them out of the picture.

Conclusion

I’d keep my distance from the Smith Machine and stick with free weights whenever possible. Though your gym may not have barbells, there are many effective dumbbell exercises that you can use to train your muscles effectively. Down the road, if you find that the lack of equipment is limiting your results, it may be time to find a new gym.

Love,
Davey

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.

Comments

  1. Charley says:

    While I agree with all the limitations of the Smith machine you cite, I think for older lifters and most women it is preferable to a standard bench press. It is safer and much easier to control. Its more real than a Nautilaus-type chest press. I don’t like Smith for squats.

  2. smith machine and barbels are a evil duo.. I used to use them, and my both forearms got a tendinitis. A terrible pain until I went to do the same exercises with another machines. If you guys are still using barbell with smith machine MY ADVICE IS change barbel for dumbells.. muuuuuuch better, safier and [a little bit] less painful. I’m using dumbells with 4 series of 8 repetitions and 1 more with 12 reps [but I’ve workedout since last May, so be careful…].

    • charley says:

      No reason you should get tendinitis if using properly. All these things have their place. The continuum is from machines, the most controlled, to Smith, to free weights, including barbells and dumbbells.

  3. I stay away from this machine, when I do squats on it, my back will start to hurt, when I do chest presses on it my shoulders hurt, and I do have excellent form, it’s just not a good machine.

  4. Sorry dude but I disagree with ya on the smith machine it is a great all round machine good for a variety of exercises. I use it for 3 exercises on chest and my chest is hands down better than anyone’s I know. I also use it for decline close grip for tricep which hits all 3 heads dead on and it is also a great rear shrugs aid for shoulders

  5. Thank you so Davey. As, I have switched to smith machine recently and even I have started lifting 80 pounds in 5 days. Previously, I was only able to lift 50 pounds when I was not using smith machine. Though, smith machine is comfortable. But I think that I should come back to simple benchpress.
    Thanks for the review ๐Ÿ™‚

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