Man doing split squats in a Smith machine Smith

Photo: FabrikaSimf (Shutterstock)

The Smith machine is probably the most polarizing fitness machine. Every cheap commercial gym has one, and it’s the introduction of many people to squats and other barbell exercises. But it’s not a barbell or anything like that, and hardcore gymnastics brothers scoff at it.

To make sure we’re on the same page here This is what a Smith machine looks like. It may or may not have a bench in it, but the main feature of the machine is that it has a bar on a rail.

The difference between a Smith machine and a barbell

The bar on a Smith machine is horizontal and you can load plates on it like a barbell. But thanks to the rail, the bar can only move up and down, not in any other direction. Adjusting the stops correctly can also ensure that you never drop the bar or get caught under it. That arguably makes it safer and more accessible than a real barbell, and that’s why it’s so popular.

But these advantages are also its disadvantages. Because the bar is attached to its rail, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to stabilize it. A barbell, on the other hand, only stays on your back because you hold it there. The straight up and down movement of the bar also does not correspond to the actual movement of many barbell lifters. A bench press should actually bend in a J shape, for example hitting towards the bottom of your rib cage when the bar is at its lowest point, and ending somewhere above your neck or upper chest when it is up. The Smith machine is not designed to emulate that.

And that brings us to our dead end: The machine is practical and beginner-friendly, but restricts freedom of movement. Which of these factors trumps the other? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

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The risk of injury is greatly exaggerated

One of the most common arguments against the Smith machine is fear of injury. But as we discussed earlier the idea that certain exercises will harm you is usually unfounded.

If people routinely ruined themselves on Smith machines, capitalism dictated that gym manufacturers, gym owners, and (most importantly) gym insurance companies would simply cease to tolerate their existence. That is clearly not the case. Nor is there any scientific data I could find linking injuries to Smith machine use. That’s not to say that people can’t get hurt using them, but the people who claim the machines are dangerous should really be the ones to back up their claims.

But let’s take the downside: do the safety features of Smith machines make them safer than barbells? While it’s true that Smith machines make it difficult to drop the bar on yourself, the same goes for any suitable barbell setup. If you’re squat in a squat rack, you should know how to set the security. If you bench press without backups, you should have a person sighted They. Barbells and Smith machines are both safe when used correctly.

Barbells give you a better workout, kind of

When training for a barbell sport like powerlifting, you need to learn how to lift and stabilize a barbell. A Smith machine is not going to teach you the skills necessary to be successful. And if you’re training with barbells to get better at another sport, the barbell lifting may be a better option.

But does everyone need dumbbells? That boils down to that Argument machines vs. dumbbells all over again. Free weights (including barbells and dumbbells) require slightly more skill and coordination than machines, and also activate more stabilizing muscles. If you value these things, you will be better off using free weights than any machine.

But not everyone can choose between the two. Some gyms only have a Smith machine and no barbell, so you have to work with what you have. And some people like to train with both free weights and Smith machines so that their stabilizers aren’t neglected.

Lots of people get strong and jacked up with Smith machines

Look, I’m into barbells. I enjoy Weightlifting and Powerlifting and strongman, and I’ll be doing a barbell over a machine every day. I think I last used a Smith machine in the 20’s and that was just because I was fed up multi-step process of setting up a hip push station with a barbell. But I also realize that not everyone is like me.

Professional bodybuilder John Meadows, for example, has a YouTube channel that is full of tips on using Smith machines to build muscle. For example, Here’s one about leg exercises This includes a crucial tip on how not to put weight on your knees: Stand with your feet in front of the bar instead of directly below it, as with a barbell squat.

He has similar tips for bench press and other exercises, and after watching a few videos it is clear that the Smith machine is a perfect tool for someone who is just trying to build muscle and not train for a specific sport . It has its pros and cons, but many people find it useful and effective.

This is how you can tell if the Smith machine is right for you

Personally, I don’t love Smith machines, even though I know they have their uses. If you’re looking for my advice on whether to use the one in your gym, I recommend you think about it.

If you are training for a sport, especially weight training, Barbells are the most efficient way to train strength, stabilization, and coordination. Other free weights like dumbbells and kettlebells can also be good options. If you use Smith machines at all, they should only be part of your workout, and not the main method that you use to lift heavy loads.

If you are afraid of dumbbells, I recommend getting over them and learning how to use them. Just because you can get stronger on a Smith machine doesn’t mean you should let fear rule how you exercise.

When your gym doesn’t have dumbbells, a Smith machine is much better than nothing. Complement your Smith machine training with anything else the gym has to offer, such as heavy dumbbells.

If you’re trying to avoid the Smith machine at all costs, Be aware of the compromises you are making. For example, if your gym has a limited selection of dumbbells, you can reach a point where you can no longer do it progressive overload while sticking to dumbbell exercises. Better to do a challenging weight Smith machine exercise than spinning your wheels with light dumbbells just because you feel the machine.

So there you have it: Smith machines are a tool with some serious drawbacks, but if you consider them totally unacceptable, you may be unnecessarily limiting yourself. Make smart decisions based on your goals and don’t be afraid to lift heavy.