Why I Am Not A Fan of The Smith Machine

The Smith Machine has been one of the biggest mistakes in strength training equipment. This may sound like a contradiction since almost every gym and even some rehabilitation facilities now have them for their people to use. 

My biggest problem with the Smith Machine is that people are convinced they are still doing free weight movements when they perform exercises on the Smith Machine. Have you ever tried to settle yourself under a smith machine bar and try to do squats with no weights on it? Because an Olympic bar is attached to the machine does not make this a free weight piece. The reason is this piece only allows movement in a fixed plane of motion. This is a major disadvantage since it does not allow you to use your core to stabilize your hips, lower back and spine to lift the weight.

Since a squatting movement is so complex due to the different lifts we can associate with them (i.e single leg squats, front squats, squat jumps and squat to press), this machine does not allow us to work the ROM and POM that are necessary to get a great workout. The Smith Machine locks into a very unnatural movement pattern which has the potential to stress inappropriate structures and not train the body in various planes.

( You fix this by doing regular squats, power rack dumbbells or kettle bells to work the different variables that you need. Only then can you see where you are making mistakes and where your weaknesses are (i.e. knees bending in, are my heels up off the ground, knees to far forward over the toes, to much rounding of the back. Also if I see another one of those pads wrapped around the bar again I’m really going to throw a fit. Also, many would benefit from not training to failure for the majority of their workouts.

If you have problems performing a traditional closer stance squat you also have many variations possible. You may perform a wider low bar squat, overhead squat, front , or use box squats. If you really want to see which leg is dominating and which one is week, try these same exercises doing the single leg variety.Sometimes finding a trainer with a great educational background can help you individual needs. 

In closing I see only 4 reasons to use the smith machine if you must.

1. Push-Ups – you will see clients, mostly women with weak upper body strength and refuse to do pushups on the ground because they say they are not strong enough. What I do is have them put the bar and about navel level and put their hands on the bar shoulder width apart and and lean in a 45 degree angle and work up their pushup strength that way. About every two weeks then we lower the bar until they can do pushups from the ground.

2. Inverted Row – This builds up the back for upper body strength and allows the client to throw their body weight around and become stronger. You can do different variations by raising and lowering the bar, straight leg, bent knees or knees elevated. This is a great superset to work in conjunction with the pushups.

3. Over/Unders – Since most gyms don’t have hurdles or for that matter anything you can step over to work on the hip flexors and fire up the glutes, this is a a great machine to be able to raise and lower after a client advances to raise the bar.

4. TRX – When people are hogging the huge cable machine, I like to hook my TRX Suspension trainer up to this. Sorry the gym I work at at this time isn’t that advanced yet, oops, I mean spend the money.