What Is a Smith Machine? – Benefits and Drawbacks

 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

Tired of always asking your gym buddy to spot you as you lift weights? Do you prefer to lift alone so you can focus on your own workout routine?

Fitness buffs who love to work out by themselves can find it difficult to lift weights properly and in good form if there is no one to spot them. But the Smith machine has made it easier! 

A lot of you may ask “What is a Smith machine?”. In this article, we will introduce you to what the machine is and how you can use the equipment for work out.

What Are Smith Machines?

So, what is the Smith machine? It is that barbell attached to a steel frame. It has pegs every few inches or so to hook the smith machine bar in place by twisting it forward.

You can commonly see this piece of equipment in commercial gyms and fitness centers. Even in home gyms! And for good reason.

The Smith machine provides benefits to new and seasoned fitness buffs alike. It is also one of the safest equipment to use when working out solo.

However, like all other pieces of gym equipment, use of the Smith machine has its pros and cons. We will help you explore all these in this article. And we will share how you can properly use the equipment to target specific muscle groups.

How Do You Use a Smith Machine?

The Smith machine is easy and simple to use. When you want to do a bench press, place a flat bench under the bar. Then perform the lift as you would in a normal bench press.

The same goes for the overhead press and for a squat. Just remove the bench under the bar, and perform the lift.  

Special Feature of the Smith Machine

The Smith machine has safety hooks on either side of the barbell. When your muscles get tired from lifting, you can easily flip the barbell and hook it into the frame’s pegs.

This safety feature will allow you to spot yourself during workout. It can significantly reduce the risk of the bar dropping on you.

This is very useful when you do not have a spotter. You can perform your reps without fearing that the bar will drop on you.  Check out this video to show you how to use the Smith machine. 

Pros and Cons of the Smith Machine

Is the Smith machine for you? Find out below as we list the benefits and drawbacks to using the machine. This should also guide you in deciding if you will say yay or nay to using it.


  • Zero Spotter Needed. One of the main benefits is that it allows you to lift weights safely without the need of a spotter. This is helpful very when it is your heavy lifting day and your gym buddy is on a day off.
  • Ideal For Beginners.  Newbies will love the Smith machine. It helps develop good form on the basic lifts when you are starting out. It helps develop strength on the primary target muscles before you move on to free weight squats and bench presses. 
  • Great Complement Workout Routine For Seasoned Lifters. This is very helpful if your goal is to isolate and hit specific muscle groups. Add a few more sets in the machine when your pecs are tired after your heavy bench presses. This will force the muscle to recruit and activate more fibers for a more effective workout. 
  • Allows For Easier Lifting If With Injury. The Smith machine is a good way to slowly work on muscle strengthening if you are recovering from an injury. Yes, you can look at it as “assisted workout”, but it will allow for greater stability while lifting weights.  


  • Restricts Range Of Motion. Ironically, the Smith machine’s main attribute is also its disadvantage. It does not really help you when you are doing exercises that require compound movement like bench presses or squats. The machine limits your movement to within the bar’s set of motion, and veteran lifters see this as a drawback.
  • Less Engagement And Feels Unnatural To The Body. The core and stabilizer muscles do not work as hard because the machine “assists” you while lifting weights. Some would say that the glide path of the bar is awkward. The movement may not feel natural using the Smith machine. 
  • Not Preferred By Seasoned Or Traditional Lifters. For these lifters, it would feel like they are doing a lot less work. Their core and stability muscles exert minimal effort versus when they use free weights. 

Are Smith Machines Bad? 

They are not bad per se. The machine is a simple and effective tool. Use it properly with coaching and a good workout program. Sure, it has its flaws, but it is a great machine to use for specific fitness goals.

You should not use the machine exclusively to do just one set of exercise. It was not designed to be used in that way. To get your desired result, you will have to use the machine in tandem with free weights.

More About The Smith Machine

What Is the Point of a Smith Machine?

The Smith machine is a very effective equipment. Use it when your safety is a priority when there is no spotter that can help you with your lifts. It is also a great machine to complement free weights exercises especially if you want to isolate specific muscle groups.

The Smith machine is beginner-friendly and easy to use. The bar attached to the frame makes it a more stable platform for beginners to learn the basic lifts.  

It is also versatile, allowing you to do a complete body workout without moving to other exercise stations. You will enjoy this convenience when the gym is full and you are unable to use other equipment in the area. 

How Can the Smith Machine Complement Free Weights Exercises?

On chest days for example, you can do the traditional bench press to activate both primary and secondary muscles. Then, you can move to the Smith machine in an inclined bench for a super set. This activity will target and isolate upper chest muscles for an added pump.

Your chest will be extra tired on the bench with these combined exercise sets. As a result, your body will be forced to recruit more fibers to do the lift in the Smith machine. This will provide an additional shock to the system to make the muscles grow bigger.

When Should You Not Use the Smith Machine?

If you find that using the Smith machine is awkward and uncomfortable, then we advise that you use other equipment. Also, it is best if you consult with a certified trainer.

woman using smith machine lifting weights in the gym

But give it a try first before you say nay to this machine. Who knows, you may come to like it, and it will give you the pump you are looking for. 

Why Is a Smith Machine Worse?

The machine has been getting bad rep but it is not really worse than other machines or free weights. Its design is for a specific purpose; and it works based on what it is designed to do. Gym rats who criticize the Smith Machine may just be using it the wrong way.  

Before using the machine, we would advise that you first consult with a certified trainer. Inquire on the proper use and form when using the machine.  There are also a lot of credible references online that can provide information on how to use it properly. 

Why Do People Call It A Smith Machine?

Jack Lallane, one of the pillars of the American fitness industry, invented the Smith Machine in the 1950’s. Lallane was on a quest for a machine that will allow him to safely lift heavy weights without needing a spotter. He was also looking for a machine that will retain most of the benefits of free weights.  

Because none of the machines that time fit the bill, he designed the prototype of the Smith Machine. However, it was his long-time friend, Rudy Smith, who built the prototype.

Smith then installed it in his own gym. This became the Smith Machine that the world now knows.

What Are the Difference Between a Squat Rack and a Smith Machine?

The squat rack is a free weights exercise station, not connected to vertical rails. You will have a fuller possible range of motion when you use the squat rack. This is because the squat rack does not move on a single plane during lifts.

The Smith Machine, on the other, moves on a vertical plane because it is attached to a frame perpendicular to the floor. This restricts the movement of the bar to a single axis. 

We have a separate article differentiating squat rack vs smith machine.

In Summary

The Smith machine is a great tool when used properly. And it is one of the safest machines out there. It is a good machine to do isolated exercises on. You can use it when you have no spotter and you want to do some heavy lifting.

But, word to the wise. Do not use the Smith machine solely for your workouts. The machine does not engage the core and stabilizers as much as free weights do. As a result, it can create imbalances on the body.

Rather, use the Smith machine to complement your free weights workouts. Integrate it into a weight training program that includes both free weights and machines. 

This is what the Smith machine is all about. It is a great piece of fitness equipment, whether it be on a commercial or home gym. The secret is to know your specific fitness goals and weigh the options. You can then decide what is best for you once you have better grasp of what you need.

Leave a Comment