Smith Machine vs Squat Rack: Which One’s Better for You?

 by Dr. Steve Hruby, D.C.

I’m a fitness advocate with a holistic approach to health, wellness, and longevity. I’ve walked the walk since 2009 - using my personal development methods to unleash the fitness champ within you.

  Fact Checked
 by Rhealyn Celestial
Reviewed by Rhealyn Celestial

I’m a researcher, and I’m also a full-time mom. I spend my weekdays crafting thoughtful articles for small businesses, and my weekends with my son learning about the world together

Are you a gym rat? Well, in that case you find yourself in the gym daily, working on your mental and physical physique. You might love to use different exercise machines like smith machine and squat rack.

Unfortunately, gyms and fitness studios have been among the first few places to be shut down during the whole pandemic. This has been a turn off for most gym enthusiasts. What could be more important than keeping ourselves safe from COVID?

If this ongoing pandemic situation has gotten you used to working out at home and encouraged you to build your home gym. Then, here we have got you a detailed comparison of smith machine vs squat rack to help you do so. 

Yes, both of these machines are used for doing squats, bench presses, deadlift, shoulder presses and other exercises. It’s crucial to differentiate between the machines and their subsequent pros and cons in order to know which one best fits your exercising needs and make a well-informed decision. 

Let’s first understand both of the machines individually and then we’ll look into differences between a smith machine and a squat rack to help you make a good decision.

What Is a Smith Machine?

Smith machine consists of a barbell which is fixed within two vertical steel rails. The barbell, which is an integrated part of the machine, has two hooks. It can be rotated to lock the bar in place. You just need to twist the barbell and it can be racked at any height.

There are several weight posts on the frame of the machine and a shock-absorbing mechanical spotter at the base. A smith machine can be used for weight training and there is no risk of falling free weights and getting injured.

Types of Smith Machines

  • Smith Machine for Home: As the name suggests, smith machine for home is a cheaper version of the commercial one and effectively helps you squat at home without the need of a spotter.
  • Commercial Smith Machine: The machines used in commercial setups with counterweight functionality are commercial smith machines.
  • All-in-one Smith Machine: When we say all-in-one smith machine, we are truly talking about a compact gym in itself which helps to train full body.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Smith Machine?

woman lifting weights on a smith machine


  • Safety: The barbell can be hooked into several slots on the frame which stops the weights from dropping. This self-stopping mechanism makes smith machine the safest option for weight training. Safety is not a concern while performing squats on smith machine vs free weights.
  • Promoting and Maintaining Good Posture: The rails along with the weights securing the machine in place helps to promote and improve good posture and move properly with ease.
  • Self-balancing Barbells: The machine is equipped with guide rods, so you don’t need to worry about balancing the barbells while focusing on lifting the weight.
  • Usability: Smith machine is the most stable and safest gym machine to perform weight lifting moves without needing a spotter.
  • Versatility: This machine can be used to perform a wide range of exercises benefiting all major muscle groups.
  • Space Saving: If you are looking for a machine to set in your home gym or a place with space constraints, then smith machine is the right choice to make.


  • The same fixed bar which provides safety for beginners can be a discomforting design element for experienced lifters.
  • The barbells are difficult to remove.
  • Some exercises cannot be done effectively on the machine which could be a turn off for some users.
  • Because of the limited movement of the machine, you cannot activate additional stabilizer muscles during lifts and perform exercises such as jerks, snatches, cleans curls etc.

What is a Squat Rack?

A squat rack is a solid single piece open cage like steel structure which is typically used to perform squats with free weights, bench presses, deadlift and other exercises. In simple terms, we can say that a squat rack is a more versatile and functional version of smith machine with less limitations.

Basically a squat rack is used to perform a wide variety of barbell exercises allowing you to target every single muscle on your body. What gives the squat rack an upper hand over the smith machine is the unrestricted movement of the barbell which offers more versatility to the machine.

Types of Squat Racks

  • Full Power Rack: The racks found in commercial gyms with added attachments having more functionality and versatility are called full power racks.
  • Squat Rack Stands: These are a simpler and outdated version of power racks which were designed to rack and de-rack the barbell while squatting.
  • Half Power Rack: It is a smaller version of “full power racks” and designed for home gyms keeping the limitations of space in mind.
  • Multifunctional Power Rack: Just as the name suggests, these are equipped with additional pulley systems and a good multifunctional alternative for home gyms.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Squat Rack?

woman doing squats in the gym


  • Functionality: The free barbell gives way to limitless exercising possibilities in comparison with smith machines. Squat racks are considered as a more versatile and functional substitute of the smith machines.
  • Price: Squat racks are cheaper than smith machines.
  • Variety: Squat racks come in different shapes and sizes for different uses, so you can buy one from a wide range of options to best fit your specific needs.
  • Customization: By buying additional attachments such as cables, land mines and dip bars, you can add more functionality to the machine.
  • The squat rack has hooks on the angled vertical member, so it is easier to rack and unrack the barbell.
  • Squat rack is a sturdy commercial grade structure with strong weight catcher arms and wear guard lining to protect the barbell.


  • Given that squat racks does not have a built in spotter, it’s important to be extra careful
  • Squat racks are taller and consume more space, and not a good option for places with small or limited space
  • The massive structure is not as easy to assemble and not suitable for attaching cable pulleys or pull up bars.

Smith Machine vs Squat Rack: Key Differences

The aforementioned information must have helped you understand the basics of the smith machine and squat rack and how they work. Now let’s compare the machines side-by-side to understand- is a Squat Rack or a Smith Machine better for you?

Here are the 8 key differences:

1. Versatility

If we compare smith machine vs squat rack in terms of versatility, then squat or power racks have definitely got an upper hand. Smith machine for home gym couldn’t provide the needed versatility.

Its predefined or fixed motion makes its effectiveness limited to squats, overhead press, chess press and few other exercises. Squat rack’s unrestricted movement of the barbell gives way to limitless exercising possibilities.

2. Durability

When we talk about durability of the two machines, then squat racks are the ones that come out on top. Given that free weight racks have less moving parts and small parts are relatively prone to degrade in quality in comparison to big chunks of steel, squat racks are more durable than smith machines.

3. Convenience

A smith machine having limited scope of barbell movement and learning curve is a more convenient option for beginners focusing on building muscles. Coming with more functionality and versatility, providing limitless exercising options, squat rack is a more convenient choice for experienced lifters.

4. Safety

The ease of re-racking the bar with a simple wrist turn at any given point during the reps makes the smith machine a safer option over squat racks. In squat rack, you need to move the barbell a good 4-8” before re-racking it, which is a drawback in terms of safety.

5. Assembly

Though the setup job of none of the machines is as complicated as it might seem. If you go for a smith machine home gym with adjustable benches and cable attachments, then it might be a little time-consuming in comparison.

6. Cost

In terms of cost, a smith machine is almost double the price of a squat rack. In fact, you can purchase a commercial- grade squat rack in the budget of a mid-range smith machine.

7. Muscle Isolation

Muscle isolation would generally be a corner if you are a beginner as experienced lifters know how to isolate the muscles on both machines. With a smith machine, you can focus on stability and form more than the free weights on squat racks as it does the stabilization work effectively so that you can experience superior form.

smiling woman training on the smith machine

8. Maintenance

Both the equipment require maintenance to be done timely for ensuring the safety and security of the user. With a smith machine, the moving parts of the machine are required to be lubricated almost every month so that the guide rod doesn’t stick. Also, the bolt tightness should be checked from time to time to ensure the sturdiness of the frame.

The bolt tightness and construction of the squat rack should be scrutinized every month. To conclude we would say the more complicated the machine, the less glamorous the maintenance task. The maintenance of free weight racks is easier in comparison.


Smith MachineSquat Rack
Versatilityless versatilemore versatile
Durabilityless durablemore durable
Conveniencegood for beginnersnot so convenient for beginners
Safetyextremely safea little less safer, specially for beginners working without spotter
Assemblycomplicatedlittle less complicated
Costexpensivecomparatively cheaper
Muscle Isolationdoes the job effectivelymore effective for compound lifts
Maintenancerequires timely maintenancerequires a little less maintenance

Answering the Most Commonly Asked Questions

Can I Use a Smith Machine as a Squat Rack?

A squat rack is a more versatile and functional version of smith machine owing to the unrestricted movement of the barbell. You can do squats, bench presses, deadlift, shoulder presses and a few other exercises on the smith machine as a squat rack. You cannot opt for more compound lifts and a wide variety of barbell exercises.

Is Smith Machine Easier Than Squat Rack?

The answer is yes! Smith machine is an option which is considered to be the best choice for beginners for safety reasons because it is a self-spotting device.

Why You Shouldn’t Squat on a Smith Machine?

Squats of any sort can be dangerous if not performed correctly be it on a smith machine or using free weights.

If you are leaning your upper body too far forward while performing squats which shifts weight distribution from your hips and thighs to the knees and lower back, then you are more prone to get injured. This mistake can result in straining your back and knees. This little disadvantage of smith machine squat makes it a controversial debatable topic.


We hope this will help you make a right choice between smith machine vs squat rack. Smith machine and squat rack both have their own strengths and weaknesses in different criteria. It depends upon the users’ specific needs and goals.

In a nutshell, if you are looking for more safety and convenience, then go for a smith machine. (Check also our review of the Marcy 4033 here). And, if you would love to lift free heavy weights and target a wide variety of muscles, then go for a squat rack.

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