Smith Machine is the most controversial piece of gym equipment in the history of bodybuilding. The machine has garnered plenty of supporters as well as critics over the past few years.
We agree that the Smith machines have got both advantages and disadvantages.
The fixed movement of the barbell makes it a bad choice for many. Contrary to that, for many others it’s the safety tool having the barbell attached to that rail.
There are a lot of opinions and a lot of confusion regarding this gym equipment. In the blog, we are going to ask the question “are Smith machines bad?’ and would try to get the answer for the same.
What Is a Smith Machine?
Let’s start by understanding ‘what are smith machines’ and how they work.
A Smith machine is a common piece of equipment in commercial and home gyms. To be more precise, the steel frame you might have seen with a barbell attached to it is basically called a Smith machine.
The whole design and purpose of this machine is to act as a self-spotting device, so that the lifter can work independently, eradicating the need of a personal spotter. This is the biggest advantage for which Smith machines are hailed by many.
This makes Smith machines a great choice for home gyms and garage gyms, where you can workout by yourself. Along with a bar attached to the rail system, these machines come with pegs provided every couple of inches. This makes it safer and easier for the lifter to lock the bar at any given point.
If you have ever wondered ‘how much easier is a smith machine’, then the answer is, the easier of any of the machines you might have ever used. Unlike any other machines like squat rack, power cage or barbell, there are no adjustments to make, you just add load to this machine and you are good to go.
But a bar that is mounted on a fixed rail, moving in a fixed track to perform exercising moves is also considered the greatest drawback by many in the industry.
Yes, most of the Smith machines only allow vertical motion of the bar and not forwards and backwards. But some advanced designs have a double rail system and allow forward and backward movement as well.
Myths and Facts About Smith Machines
If we want to understand ‘why are smith machines bad’ or are they? Then, we need to do a fair fact check.
Here we are going to talk about all the facts as well as myths relating to Smith machines so that we can answer the question genuinely.
- Smith machines aren’t effective:
There are many people who claim that Smith machines are not effective due to the determined movement of the barbell. But if you think about it, then you could yourself deem that there isn’t much distinction between a shoulder press and chest press and Smith machine.
All these machines control movement to some extent but aren’t under the heat for the same like Smith machines.
Some research also supports that there is no distinction between machines and free weights in terms of muscle growth and strength improvement viewpoint. A research shows that muscle, strength and mass increased the same using both methods.
Some lifters also explain that because of better targeting of individual muscles, Smith machines have a particular benefit of maximizing muscular development.
- Smith machine is dangerous for squatting
In case you have also been wondering, ‘is smith machine good for squats’ then we have to first compare free weights vs smith machine squats.
Most people believe that Smith machine squats is not natural because the muscles that provide stability are not activated effectively as compared to free-weights. This isn’t a complete myth to be frank.
This comparison study of smith machine squats vs free-weight squats was conducted over six healthy participants to find out whether Smith machine squats or free weight were optimal to activate the prime movers of the legs and stabilizers of the legs and the trunk.
This concluded that stabilizing muscle activation is 43% less on Smith machine in comparison to free-weight squats.
This doesn’t mean squatting on Smith machines is useless. If you move your feet slightly forward, then you can put more stress on your quads. In this manner, you can use the Smith machine squat as a hack squat machine and focus on isolating quad muscles as well.
- Smith machines do nothing about stabilization
Another myth about the Smith machines is that they do nothing to stabilize muscles.
For instance, if a beginner would ask ‘how to bench on smith machine’ and would it be any easier? Then to simply put it, we would say yes it would be easier than free weights. But they would face difficulty as they haven’t yet developed the appropriate stabilizer muscles.
If they keep on using a Smith machine for the majority of sets, then it will lead to more difficulty of muscle stabilization in the future.
For a wholesome approach you must not perform all exercises on the Smith machine but should combine both machines and free weights to get optimal results. Machines are proven to better target individual muscles, so they are beneficial for maximizing muscular development.
- Smith machines can’t isolate specific muscles
This is one of the major misconceptions spread about Smith machines that they can’t isolate specific muscles. But it has already been proven that a Smith machine is great for effectively isolating specific muscle groups.
By eradicating the need to stabilize a bar, Smith machines help you change the mechanics of certain movements which can further be beneficial in training specific muscles.
For example, while performing bench press on the machines, you can possibly isolate your chest muscles more in comparison to free-weights.
- Smith machines increase the risk of injury
You might have heard us saying that Smith machines are very safe to use for the availability of spotters. Then why this question of injury?
Well, there are many out there who believe that Smith machines can cause injuries because of muscle weakness and imbalance after prolonged usage. But, if you see it logically, any weight training equipment if not used properly would lead to muscle weakness, imbalance and injury.
You need to incorporate a Smith machine into your workout routine as per understanding of your body shape and needs.
- Smith machines don’t allow muscles to perform real range of motion
The bar in the Smith machine, as we know, moves vertically across a fixed range of motion. Some people perceive that the Smith machine’s movement is more unnatural than leg extension, leg press and preacher curl, seated calf raise, lying leg curl and other machines.
But, there hasn’t been any study done yet to support that Smith machines don’t allow the muscles to perform in a real range of motion and movement is unnatural. We would say that this should be qualified and quantified through only scientific studies before deeming it as a fair criticism.
Not the Right Choice for Athletes?
Now let’s talk about this con of Smith machines which is like an elephant in the room and couldn’t be sidestepped.
Smith machines are considered a bad choice for athletic training or sports-specific training and there is a valid reason behind it. In athletic training, movement pattern practice is considered as a key element of skill acquisition which isn’t a help with Smith machine’s fixed movement.
Are Smith Machines As Useless as Claimed?
Well, above we have discussed all the valid and invalid points to know ‘are smith machines bad’ or not. And to be frank, we beg to differ with claims trying to prove the Smith machine a useless piece of fitness equipment.
On the contrary, we believe that Smith machines are a great tool if used properly like any other workout equipment. One should know the correct form and technique of ‘how to use smith machine’ and incorporate it into their workout program.
Smith machines are proven to be a great gym equipment to build muscle and strength and also offer a wide variety of exercises. Starting from bench press, inverted rows, split squats, incline and decline push ups and many more.
Here is a YouTube link of a popular online Physique & Lifestyle Coach, talking about why aren’t Smith machines a bad choice as deemed.
Have Further Questions? Here Are More Answers…
Why You Shouldn’t Use Smith Machines?
If you are an athlete or a very experienced lifter, then it makes sense for you to not use a Smith machine as it might not be very helpful for you or serve the purpose.
But it doesn’t make sense to say that this machine is a total waste for anyone and everyone. If you are a beginner or looking to isolate and work on any specific muscle group, then Smith machine is a good option to opt for.
Are Smith Machines Bad for Form?
Smith machines aren’t bad for form to start with. But if you fail to use strict form while squatting or performing any exercise on the machine, then it may result in injury.
There is this misconception relating to Smith machines because of the fixed vertical movement of the barbell which is often considered unnatural. But there isn’t any evidence to back this claim. So, using a bad form on the Smith machine is a problem rather than the machine being bad for form.
Is It Bad To Squat on a Smith Machine?
Yes, Smith machine squats have some disadvantages. It is believed that machines generally reduce the involvement of stabilizer muscle due to which free-weight squats are considered better. But Smith machine squats, if performed with good form, work all the same muscles as barbell squat.
To perform Smith machine squats correctly, you should place your feet a little forward in front of your body, not leaning your upper body too far forward. The weight shouldn’t be distributed to knees and lower back instead of hips and thighs.
Is the Smith Machine Good for Anything?
Smith machine is a good gym equipment for beginners or anyone planning to set a home gym to work on their own. It is a versatile tool which can be used for a variety of exercises, along with a provided spotter that reduces the risk of injury.
Smith machines can be used for deadlifts, squats, shrugs, bicep curls, bench press, triceps extensions and more. Along with a few disadvantages, smith machine benefits are plenty as well.
Overall, we would say that it doesn’t make any sense to write off a machine based on some cons. There are surely many pros of using a Smith machine as well. Understanding a Smith machine would help you a lot to use it to your advantage in your journey to fitness.
We hope that the above information would certainly have helped you understand Smith machines better over and above the controversial claims.
I’m a triathlete and life coach, with a focus on holistic health, fitness & women’s issues.
I also write about my gastronomic adventures and my love for the outdoors.