What Is A Smith Machine Good For?

You might be new to the gym and want to try the smith machine, or you have been using it and heard rumors about it not being great. It is there for a reason, and you might wonder what is a smith machine good for?

A Smith Machine is good for prepping your body for heavy weight training or giving extra assistance when you have a weaker side or muscle. You can implement it into squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench presses, and bicep curls. It limits your range of motion and shouldn’t be the only machine you use.

Smith machines make life easier, especially if you are a woman, and you shouldn’t write it off just because some people do not like it.

If you know what it is suitable for, you will learn how to implement it into your workout regime to reap the benefits it can provide.

What To Do With A Smith Machine?

What is a smith machine good for?

There are many opinions on the smith machine and whether it is good to use or not. The smith machine can benefit you if you use it the way Jack LaLanne initially invented it.

Releasing the smith machine in the 2000s created a craze where gym-goers wanted to do anything and everything on it.

In the 2000s, the smith machine introduced itself, with a barbell supported on each side and a pulley system moving the weights. Because the bar is moving on a track, it can only move up and down. Safety bars restrict the bar from moving further than you would like, and springs absorb some impacts when dropped, keeping you from getting injured.

Even though you can do almost a full body workout on the smith machine, experts do not recommend it, and you should instead use it for specific weightlifting purposes and not do all your training on it.

You can use a smith machine for the following reasons:

  • To get familiar with a specific exercise and its form thereof before trying it with free weights
  • To isolate a particular group of muscles for strength purposes or because of muscle imbalances
  • To prepare you for an exercise that you are unable to do

Familiarize Yourself With An Exercise On The Smith Machine

One of the reasons to go ahead and jump into the smith machine is to get rid of the jitters you might have about trying a free weight movement. Squat, deadlifts, or hip thrusts can be very intimidating, especially if you have never done it before.

Using the smith machine will help you to identify the movement pattern and the placement of your feet and get the feel of the bar without having to manage a standard barbell of 45 pounds on your shoulders or in your hands.

How To Use Smith Machine For Squats

Squats on the smith machine can help you get a feel for the movement, and without the stabilizers activated like a barbell squat, you can understand the exercise. For some beginners, a barbell is still too heavy, which is where the smith machine will help.

The way to position yourself when squatting in a smith machine:

1. Set your boundaries with the safety bars, and set the weight you want to lift.

2. Step into the smith machine and place the bar on your upper traps, not your neck.

3. Give a slight step forward, so you are leaning back into the bar a little.

4. Lower your body to at least bring your quad parallel to the floor.

5. Your shin and back should be perpendicular to the ground.

5. Squeeze your glutes when coming back up, driving through your heels.

Be sure to not stay in the smith machine too long before moving to barbell squats. You can also superset it with dumbbell squats or bodyweight squats to ensure your body learns that a squat movement in natural form isn’t up and down like a smith machine squat but needs to move forward and back at some stages.

How To Use Smith Machine For Bench Press

The bench press can be scary if you haven’t done it before. The idea of a 45-pound bar above your face and your arms giving in is not an event you would like to endure. The best way would be to go to the smith machine and get the hang of it first. As soon as you are comfortable, move out to the real deal.

Positioning yourself when bench pressing in the smith machine:

1. Set your bench inside the smith machine at either flat or inclined.

2. Set up the safety bars to ensure you do not lower them too far.

3. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, just closer than shoulder-width apart.

4. Lower the bar to your chest, keeping your arms 45 degrees from your side, and press back up.

How To Use Smith Machine For Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is one of the exercises that are difficult at first. You must press the weight over your head, bring it down and press it up again. To control the weight above your head is a challenge, and you might have to hop into the smith machine first to get the hang of it and to practice which muscles to use for stabilizing before you attempt it with a free bar.

Positioning yourself when doing a shoulder press in the smith machine:

1. Set the safety bars at the level of your ribs; if you fail, you can let the bar fall.

2. Add the weight you want and grab the bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart.

3. Place your feet hip-width apart, one leg slightly forward to increase your base and make it more stable.

4. Press the bar over your head, keeping your core tight and not letting your lower back fall and be concave.

5. Don’t lock out your elbows at the top, and bring the bar back down to your clavicles (collar bone).

Military press (shoulder press with a bar) can be a challenging compound movement as you recruit small muscles to lift a heavy bar over your head. Add in other free-weight overhead presses to teach your stabilizers what they must do. You might spend more time in the smith machine before you can raise an Olympic bar.

Isolate A Specific Muscle Group On The Smith Machine

The smith machine is popular with bodybuilders for this reason. Compound movements like squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and military presses require you to use various muscles to act.

You can use the smith machine with its gliding mechanism and ability to slow the movement slightly at the bottom to place focus on a specific muscle. If you can enhance one muscle, you can increase the strength of that muscle, or in bodybuilding, work on muscle symmetry.

Isolation During Bench Press On A Smith Machine

When doing bench press on the smith machine, you can use the slowed-down momentum to engage the muscles. Stop the movement before you are entirely at the top. Stopping will allow the pectoralis (chest muscles) to stay under tension, working to increase strength and a greater pump.

Isolation During Bent-Over Row On A Smith Machine

The bent-over row is a compound movement that recruits the entire back’s muscles, arms, and core (including the lower back). The bar is sometimes too heavy, and you might start compensating with all the muscles except the rhomboid or trapezius muscles (back muscles). 

You can solve the problem by stepping into the smith machine and isolating only those muscles, mimicking the motion of a bent-over row, without the heaviness of the bar to move up and down—still, a more effortless movement to focus on isolating those back muscles.

Isolation During Romanian Deadlifts On A Smith Machine

The Romanian deadlift is a compound movement that mainly works on the back chain muscles such as hamstrings, glutes, and back. When you want to isolate the hamstring muscles, you can use the smith machine. 

Mimicking the Romanian deadlift motion in the smith machine will help you focus on the hamstrings, as you cannot complete the action to recruit the glutes the same as using a barbell. For this, you will have to bend a little backward, bringing the bar closer to you, and this is not possible with the smith machine. 

Deadlift in the smith machine

Preparing For An Exercise You Can’t Do

The smith machine is perfect for exercises you are struggling to do. The smith machine will help you modify the movement and slowly but surely increase the strength of your muscles to be able to do it with bodyweight.

Preparing For Push-Ups On The Smith Machine

One of the more difficult bodyweight exercises is push-ups. It requires you to balance your body on your toes and your hands while keeping your body straight and moving it up and down against gravity. 

The smith machine can help you to modify this movement. Begin by placing the bar higher and pushing up against it. Try to go lower and lower until you are on the lowest setting. Get your reps high on this level; this will lead to you doing a few bodyweight push-ups against gravity before you know it.

Preparing For Pull-Ups On The Smith Machine

You might agree that pull-ups are the most challenging bodyweight exercise to accomplish. Some people are blessed to develop the muscles needed for pull-ups quicker than others. It is safe to say that most people would love to say that they can do x amount of pull-ups.

Using the smith machine, you can develop the muscles necessary to reach that pull-up sooner rather than later. The exercise to do is inverted rows. You set the bar high and extend your legs past the bar. You then hang on the bar and pull yourself up, mimicking the pull-up motion. 

The further you drop the bar and your body comes close to parallel to the ground, the more complex the movement will get. The muscles you will need for a pull-up will develop at your pace and ability, leading to a successful pull-up one of these days.

Why You Should Give The Smith Machine A Try

The smith machine is a gem, whether others say so or not. If you use it for the purposes it is set out for, it can help all levels, from beginners to advanced athletes wanting to perform better.

Enjoy your next session at the smith bar, and don’t feel guilty for using it.

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Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

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