Thing-a-day 10: The Smith Machine

I don’t have much use for the Smith Machine. I pretty much only do triathlon sports, rowing, and big compound movements, and the Smith Machine doesn’t permit the appropriate ranges of motion for bench press, deadlift, squats, or overhead press. I’m always a little puzzled when I see one in a gym, because they are expensive, they take up a LOT of space, and the terrible experience they offer for big compound movements is not even close to justified by ‘safety’ claims.

At the end of the day, the Smith Machine is a resistance machine, and that’s why it doesn’t have much to offer people who are mainly interested in strength in context of balance and stabilization (including outdoor athletes such as myself). But there’s a whole world of people who love isolation and carefully controlled ranges of motion: bodybuilders.

Advanced and intermediate trainees only. You need to understand how to use the Smith machine correctly to derive the maximum benefit. Beginners should focus on learning basic barbell and dumbbell movement patterns and developing a strong base.

No feelers. For those who can’t “feel” a muscle working, the Smith machine is an excellent way to overcome that. The fixed plan[e] of motion allows you to really focus on the intended muscle without having to worry about balance and others factors.

From Why I Love the Smith Machine, by John Meadows.

He gives examples and sample workouts for ways to work the Smith Machine into a hypertrophy routine. Jack LaLanne invented it to be used within a regimen that included free weights (which Meadows also recommends), as a training device for novice lifters and not, it is said, with the intent of emphasizing focused mass gain. I don’t really know the merits of his argument, but my gut comes down with Meadows on this one – not for new lifters, and valuable mainly to a fairly narrow niche. If you are new to lifting, you are far better off grooving movements and dialing in form with weight as light as it takes for you to handle the safety aspect with balance and stabilization working in concert.

I belonged to a climbing gym that had a Smith Machine, and it was used regularly – people tested bench weights on it (I’ve done that myself), but mostly it was used as a rack for various kind of pullups, chinups, rows, and hanging abs work. A pretty good intersection with the (surprisingly sensible) advice in the last minute of this foul-mouthed video:

So there you have it – two carefully thought out (that video is better thought out than you think, I promise) approaches to getting value out of a Smith Machine. Something to arm yourself with in case – may it never happen – you are trapped in a gym with nothing else.

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