What Can The Modern Smith Machine Offer?
- Train safely on your own
- Perform strict movements for squats, pressing movements
- Some ranges include attachments such as lat pulldowns and base pulley movements
- Now available in inclined and angled versions
- Some can be attached to a functional training system
The Smith machine offers an expedient total body solutions for people who are time starved or have space restrictions at home. They take up very little space and fit in a standard basement or small room.
Standard Smith Machines can be purchased with the following features:
Counter weights: Counter weights mean that the weight of the bar is compensated for and hence exceptionally light poundage’s can be used. Normally the weight of an Olympic bar is in the region of 20kg and for some applications this is simply too heavy as a starting poundage.
Angled movement: An angled movement refers to the fact that the rails lean back an angle of approximately six degrees. This angle has been shown to be far more realistic and natural. In many movements such as squats and bench press the weight follows a bio mechanical arch rather than a straight forward up and down motion.
Smith Machines with Accessory Options.
You may be looking at getting fitted out with a smith machine at home as part of your home gym set up. In the old days this would have only been found in the very serious trainers home.
Nowadays manufacturers such as Powertec are making it increasingly attractive for value driven home gym owners to invest in the more serious equipment.
With the added possibilities of the following items, your home gym begins with the foundation of the new Roller Smith Machine
Smith Machine Optional Extras
- Lat Tower attachment
- Adjustable Utility Bench
- Leg Lift Accessory
- Preacher Curl Accessory
- Leg Press Accessory
- Pec Fly Attachment,
- Dip Machine Attachment,
- New Generation Jones Platinum Smith Machine
Smith Machines range from the simple old style gym squat rack to the cutting edge 3 dimensional smith machines
The movement on a Smith is a result of the bar being guided along the upright rods. The smoother this upward motion the more enjoyable the experience will be.
When you buy a Smith Machine features such as bearings and rollers become important.
Other gym machines in this category
Alternative machines to the Smith Machine are the power racks and squat racks. The main difference being that the power racks and squat racks need a separate Olympic barbell or standard barbell of at least 2.1m whereas the Smith Machine will have this built into it.
The other big difference is that the movement of the bar on the power racks and squat racks is no restricted and is therefore regarded as a “free weight” movement. The Smith Machine is governed by the guiding rods. This makes it a more restricted yet safer movement.
I am often asked to choose between a Smith Machine and a Power rack or Power Cage when I am designing a small gym such as a hotel gym, home gym or corporate gym. I generally choose the Smith because of the safety features.
Is a Smith Machine Better Than Squats?
Bear in mind that this is machine and is not an actual replacement for true squats. When you squat your body moves in an arc rather than a straight up and down movement. The Smith Machine makes you move in a different way, much like a hack squat. This is neither a better nor a worse movement. It depends on whether you want to focus on muscular strength or functional strength.
Personally I like to use both exercises; squats and Smith machine and I treat then as completely different movements.
We must not lose sight of why the majority of people exercise, that is to lose weight, increase strength and to improve the appearance of the body. There are many purists out there claiming that anything short of free weight training is somehow bad for you. This is simply not true there are many more recorded injuries incurred through hard core functional training than through the use of machines.
The advantages of a Smith Machine
When I first started training in a serious gym, (yes that was a while ago), the Smith Machine was an oily monstery machine in the back of the gym that only the very serious trainers used.
Over the years designs were updated, different lubrications used and the Smith Machine became a very popular piece of gym equipment in home gyms and commercial health clubs. Here are some of the advantages of the Smith Machine.
You Can Isolate Muscles Just Like Any Gym Machine
One of the main differences between all gym machines and free weights is that the machine forces a stricter plane of motion, hence isolating certain muscle groups.
Of course I am a fan of free weight training and functional training, yet when you look at some of the top bodybuilder workouts like Dexter Jackson will use machines and Smith Machines in their training program.
Functional training and free weights bench press movements are great but if you are interested in muscle growth as well as function there are times when you will want to go heavy without worrying about the stabiliser muscles.
The Smith Machine is Generally Safer
With a designed safety feature of stops and bail outs, catchers and safety stoppers. What this really means is that if you fail or can’t lift the weight then you can let then bar down onto the catch without fear of injury
No Spotter Needed
When I used to add some power lifting to my weight training routine I would use the Smith Machine for some super heavy lifts within partial ranges. Any power lifter will tell you that when you fail at a lift it will be in a very narrow range of motion. With a bench press my failure used to come about halfway up, so I would set the bar on the Smith Machine at that Level and work around that “sticking point”.
Variety of Exercises: Smith Machine Exercises
- Rear Squats
- Front Squats
- BOSU ball squats
- Dead lifts
- Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- Shoulder Press
- Press behind Neck, (quite an unsafe exercise and no longer recommended)
- Military press
- Triceps Extensions
- Bicep Curls
- Standing Calf Raises
- Hanging Leg Raise
Phew… Have I left anything out? That’s quite a workout!
For those of you just embarking on the gym routine at the home gym or the commercial gym, that list pretty much represents the whole body.
The only thing missing from the list is a lat exercise for people who are not strong enough to chine on their own. The good news is that companies like Force USA and Powertec offer an optional Lat Pull down cable system to attach to the Smith Machine Frame. This allows you to perform all of the cable based exercises such
Cable Machines Exercises
- Lat Pull downs
- V Bar Pull downs
- Seated rowing
- Base pulley rowing
- Cable curls
- Triceps extensions
- Tricep push downs
Summary of When to Use a Smith Machine
- Isolation of muscle groups
- Sticking point work for power lifters
- When you are experienced and know what you want
- When you are looking for some variety in your routine
- Sticking point and partial barbell movements, especially for power lifting. This included movements such as partial bench press and squats. This is to increase power within a limited range of motion.
- Perfect addition to an existing gym or as a replacement for a multi gym.
Disadvantages of The Smith Machine.
Now that I effectively convinced you of the advantages of the Smith Machine, let me unravel all of that by telling you the circumstances when you should not be using the Smith Machine
The Smith Machine Ignores the Stabiliser Muscles
What do You Mean By Stabilisers?
When you perform a big exercise using a number of different joints especially the hips and shoulder joints we call these compound movements.
Examples of compound movements are
- Bench Press
- Dead lift
This is as opposed to single joint movements which generally use a simple one joint one plan of motion movement
Examples of Simple Movements Include
- Leg Extensions
- Bicep curls
- Tricep Pushdowns
- There are a number of small muscles around the joints that stabilise the motion and allow the joint to move in a smooth path of motion. You are using stabilisers unconsciously all of the time.
- When someone needs to learn how to walk again after a car accident, or when you start a brand new exercise that requires you to balance the weight you will possibly notice shakiness and wobbling. This is weak and or uncoordinated stabiliser muscles.
- The Smith acts like a great big stabiliser muscle which can be good in certain circumstances, but bad in others.
Summary: When Not to Use or Buy a Smith Machine
- Primary machine for lifting or power lifting
- Undiagnosed back injuries, knee injuries and other niggles.
- Functional training
- A single item for weight loss or fat loss training. It is too specialised and you should rather look at a power rack or squat rack
- Working the stabilisers in the big joints. As mentioned before the Smith Machine is a machine and by definition is not very good at training the body in a functional way including strengthening the stabilisers.
The Smith Machine is not a replacement for squats and a Power rack
When to use a power rack and squat rack
The Smith Machine does not replace the squat. The squat is one of the best exercises in the gym. It builds stability, functional strength and balance.
- Use the squat in the following situations
- Weight Loss
- Power Lifting Training
- Beginning a training routine
- Heavy barbell training. Just as in any restricted machine movements I would recommend that you use a free weight and develop the balance needed.
What the Modern Smith Machine Can Offer
So as promised I have given you all of the pros and cons of the legendary Smith Machine.
If you are a beginner looking at toning and building muscle and not too concerned about functional strength the Smith Machine could be for you
If you are a lifter looking for your first piece of gym equipment, or if you are aiming at extreme fat loss, or functional workouts then this is not the machine for you. Contact m for more specific advice
Buy Right The First Time
Buying a piece of good quality is neither a cheap nor an easy decision. Get it right the first time around. If you have a question regarding the perfect item of gym equipment for your needs at the best possible price then you can call me or email me now
“Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research”; A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press; EE Schick; March 2010
“Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research”;Comparison of muscle force production using the Smith machine and free weights for bench press and squat exercises.;ML Cotterman; February 2005
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