Is the Smyth Machine a Bodybuilders Best Friend or His Worst Enemy?
A few years back I joined a new gym that had just opened, it was closer to my residence which was the main reason for joining, it did have new equipment but it also had some old antiquated stuff, a few weeks after joining the gym the owner decided that since no one was using the squat rack the best thing to do would be to sell it, and he did just that, leaving the gym with a smith machine as the only means to perform squats, “what a bummer”.
In any case, after a few weeks of getting familiar with the Smith machine, I learned several things about it. One thing I did not know about the smith machine was that its origin goes back to 1950 when Jack Lalanne rigged up a sliding apparatus which was later spotted by a men’s bathhouse manager by the name of Rudy Smith who then began manufacturing it and selling it, you can read more about it here on the Wikipedia page.
Some have compared using a Smith machine to riding a bicycle with training wheels, which, for the most part, is not far from the truth. The smith machine is not all bad and it actually has a few benefits that will be described below along with all the negative remarks surrounding it.
Let’s start off with all the positives that the smith machine possesses, first of all, and like it was just stated above, the smith machine is often described as a great piece of equipment for beginner bodybuilders not only because it’s easier to use in comparison to free weights but also because it creates a very particular sense of security.
Beginners tend to use the smith for squats, deadlifts, shrugs, and even presses in order to get their form straightened out, and because of the way the machine works they are typically able to handle more weight compared to the same exercise in free weight form.
Even though a lot of people like to think that the smith machine is a piece of equipment sent from heaven, they should think twice. The smith machine can be bad for a wide variety of reasons, the first one being that it’s not nearly as effective as free weight training, in order for a muscle group to be fully developed it needs to be under the greatest amount of stress and tension (weight) possible, this can’t happen if a machine is assisting the human body while it’s trying to perform a certain movement.
The smith machine, if correctly used, can be good for a variety of movements in order to pre-exhaust the muscle fibers before a workout or to finish them off at the end. Due to the way the smith machine works your range of motion will be highly limited, this will not only mean that the exercise won’t be as effective as it should but it also means that it can and will place your body in a compromised position. A popular exercise that is always performed on the smith are squats, squatting heavy weight on a smith will place great amounts of stress on your lower back, legs, knees, and shoulders that can eventually lead to a serious injury, with the free weight you can simply drop the bar and be worry-free.
The smith machine not only limits the range of motion while it’s being used, it also takes the balance factor out of the movement and, therefore, creates a false sense of security. Squatting in a smith machine is a completely different movement than squatting on a power rack, the smith machine will limit your body’s movement and put pressure on your shoulders, lower back, and knees, your foot placement will be forced and you won’t be able to squat as deep as you would on the power rack.
By using free weights and avoiding the smith you will be in a natural state for lifting, using free weight is much harder than the smith because not only will the weights feel heavier but also because you will need to learn how to use your entire body and stabilize the weight and lift it at the same time.
It’s no secret that the smith machine is way more harmful than it is productive, but it still has its place inside the gym. This particular piece of equipment is great for pre exhausting the muscles before starting a workout or it can also be used at the end of a workout to burn out the already exercised muscle fibers and take them to failure.
I invite anyone to look up any professional bodybuilder’s training blueprint and you will be surprised about how they rarely use the smith machine in their training split. The smith machine has its own place and time and while a lot of people like to look at it as a tool for beginners, it’s actually the total opposite, the best thing a serious beginner bodybuilder can do is learn the ropes and stick to the basics.
James passion is fitness and everything related to optimizing your health and wellness. He utilizes progressive overload and macro calculations and mental techniques like mind-muscle connection in his training. He shares his teachings as a senior coach.