Smith machines are very popular and can be found in any gym large or small. There are a lot of people who really enjoy the Smith machine and there are those who do not approach them. There are some good uses for the Smith machine but personally I believe much more in the negatives than the positives. So What are the positives and negatives of the Smith machine?
Positive aspects of using the Smith machine
- The Smith machine is definitely safer than free weights. You have a bit of help without having to worry about stabilizing the weight during the up and down movement, plus if you hit failure unexpectedly and can’t push any further you can bend your wrists a bit and put the bar in place. Also, in many cases you will not need someone to help you perform the exercises on the Smith machine.
- Another benefit of the Smith machine that I would like to point out is that you can usually lift a little more weight with the Smith machine as there is no waste of energy used to stabilize the weight. I’ll explain why this is actually a Smith machine minus a bit later in the article …
- Personally what is strange to me about the use of the Smith machine is the following: 2 years ago I only trained on a regular flat bench and due to a move I had to change gym. When I signed up for a new one, they only had the smith machines. What’s funny is that when I started to bench press the Smith machine I did fewer reps with the same amount of weight as I would on a regular flat bench (it had only been a week since my last workout). So, forget about stereotypes that are not always true regarding the Smith machine. I initially thought I was going to be stronger on the Smith machine but actually I was weaker.
But over time I became more used to the Smith machine and my strength increased dramatically. However, when I switched gym and went back to the free bar again, thinking that I was going to be able to lift the same weight as on the Smith machine and I couldn’t and almost got injured. What I realized when I made the switch is that I had lost muscle strength from stabilizing the free bar on the flat bench. The reason is that the up and down movement with the Smith machine is not the natural movement of most lifters in the free bench press. But it’s safe to say that you can lift a bit more with the Smith machine as there is no need to use the stabilizing muscles during use.
Negative aspects of using the Smith machine:
- When using the Smith machine you are not using your stabilizer muscles, which is safer but you will not get the best out of each particular exercise. There is no need to balance the bar with the Smith machine and this will lead to underdevelopment in the muscles or underdevelopment of the stabilizer muscles.
- Using the Smith machine will make you more prone to injury as you are not working and strengthening the muscles responsible for stabilization. The Smith machine will take advantage of muscle imbalances that will make you more prone to injury when doing any type of physical activity.
- It is a master of the lack of form for any exercise. There really isn’t a wide variety of free weight exercises that use a 100% up and down motion, most have a slight arch or slight curvature. If the bar has to move horizontally for whatever reason and the Smith machine forces the bar to move only vertically and does not allow it to move horizontally, we are doing something wrong. This is very dangerous for the joints, tendons and ligaments.
Let’s take an example: When we are doing the traditional bench press with the free bar, it moves back a little then forward as it travels up. When doing the bench press on the Smith machine, the weight moves upward only, no curvature or anything. Over time, great stress is placed on the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints. At the very least, you’re going to end up with nagging pain like I did in your shoulders. I can validate that once I stopped using the Smith machine 3-4 weeks later, all my shoulder pain was gone.
Another example is the squat , an exercise frequently performed on the Smith machine. When most people squat on the Smith machine they place their feet a bit on the back of the torso, or directly in front of the bar, so the back is straight allowing free movement from top to bottom… This is! evil! The correct form is the feet placed shoulder width apart, with a slight arch in the back, so you can then move up and down.
One last thing to keep in mind is that you won’t be able to build muscle and strength as fast as you would with free weights compared to the Smith machine . It all leads back to stabilizing the muscles and using them to help balance the weight and perform the exercise. In fact, a study in the “Journal of Strength” (research in December 2009) compared the free squat with the Smith machine squat in six healthy individuals. Researchers used electromyography to measure muscle activation and found that free weights activated an average muscle rate 43% more than those performed on the Smith machine!
With that said, if you’re looking to build muscle it’s best to stay away from the Smith machine. I personally will never use the Smith machine again and will not recommend it to anyone.