Archive for the tag - smith machine

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