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Hammer Strength or Smith Machine Incline Press (Until I Find a Spotter)

I am back in the gym after a long health related break (and yes, I am in the clear by the docs to go full out on the training) and I have been running a split for maximum hypertrophy focusing on big compound lifts until I regain a lot (hopefully all or more) of my lost muscle mass. I have selected the incline bench press as my main horizontal heavy push (as I always have) yet, since I do not have a spotter and will likely not have one for a while, I am unable to go to full out failure on my sets. I have therefore decided my progress will be better if I temporarily opted for using a machine for this movement and I am interested for your opinion on wether the hammer strength or the smith machine would be more likely to help me replicate the results I would get from doing Incline bench with a spotter. Thank you very much.

Incline bench press in a power rack not a possibility?

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It is in one of the two gyms I use, and I have been doing that. My school gym however does not have a power rack despite having surprisingly decent equipment and It is much easier for me to train there + is free. Thats why I’m debating which machine to use cause I’d rather not skip an incline press too often within the week.

Hammer strength

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For what it’s worth, I will use a smith machine for incline press on occasions when I don’t have a rack to work in but still want to use a barbell. I think it can work well if you stay honest with yourself about not cheating the movement by purposely pushing the bar into the sliding rods to act as a brake of sorts… if it gets too heavy for you. However there is something to be said for sub-max training and avoiding failure. Also be aware that rolling your wrists to re-rack a heavy smith machine press is not ideal/annoying. Personally I would not max out or go really heavy in a smith machine as it may just be asking for trouble.

I typically try to maintain as close to the original movement as I can when subbing a movement and avoid machines if there is a more basic option available to me. That is just me; not right or wrong. I would throw out there that dumbbell incline press can be a good option. Heavy db can be every bit as challenging as a barbell and also give you a bit different range of motion that a barbell can’t achieve. Maybe just a pain to get in place on and off the bench.

Hopefully some of the other members will chime in with better advice for you.

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Thats the one I ended up using to simply avoid an uneven setup but I’m still skeptical. Any specific reason you think hammer strength? The only thing I don’t like about it is the slight horizontal adduction of the arm, resembling a small fly-like movement.

Coach Kas

Don’t be constrained by the tyranny of the “or”, but embrace the genius of the “and” (Built To Last by Collins and Porras)

Do both. Keep using free weight incline presses (barbell or dumbbells) along with machine inclines. IMO, don’t make every workout a “train to failure” routine. The incorporation of the balancing and stabilizing muscles of free weights is an important component of growth.

On failure days use the machines. On non-failure days use the free weights.

Or, you could do both on the same day, but I would not train to failure every workout, and thus, would not recommend that.


That is what makes it good for the chest.

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Thanks a lot for this. One thing I was wondering about is if I were to utilize the smith machine is whether I should use the completely vertical smith machine or the one that has a slight inclination so that when I press up the bar travels slightly towards my face during the top of the motion. I am aware that this is the path the bar follows on a flat bench but I am not sure if this movement is quite as exaggerated with the 30 degree incline press. Which setup would better mimic the free barbell movement the most?

Good question and I wish I had an answer to it. Maybe someone with an exercise science background will know more.

I would think whatever version of smith machine you have available to you ought to work and likely you won’t have access to both types anyway right?

Last thought would be that the angle you set your bench at probably makes more of a difference than the smith machine.

Free weight dumbbell presses allow the most freedom of movement because you can manipulate the position of your hands (pronated, between pronated and neutral or neutral) to get the best ROM for your structure.

Free barbell presses place your hands in a fixed (pronated) position which is not the most optimal for people who are prone to or are having joint problems/injuries. But it still allows some freedom of movement as you can manipulate the bar path.

Free weights and barbell presses are great teaching tools for beginners to gain inter- and intramuscular coordination. They’re also great for hypertrophy, power and strength development for all lifters, no matter their level of experience. However, they require more stabilization and bracing efforts than cable exercises with bench support or machines, especially when the weights get heavier. This means you have to put more neural effort into other muscle groups which can result in less force output from the targeted muscle group (experienced lifters with good inter- and intramuscular coordination have less issues with this however).

Cables and machines are also a great option for beginners to more easily learn a movement because it requires less stabilization and bracing efforts compared to doing movements with free weights. The big downside however is the lack of adjustability that some machines have (I won’t name any brands here but there are a lot of machines out there that aren’t well made to support anatomical differences). Also, it’s not recommended to only do machine work because you need to train bracing and stabilization to become efficient at all the basic movements done with free weights/barbells as well as decrease the risk of injury when you become strong on machines and make the transition to free weights/bb’s.

You can argue that cables and machines are less functional than free weights. In the world of bodybuilding though, where it’s all about contracting the targeted muscle/muscles, functional movements are not the priority. Exercise selection, especially exercises that are built around 3 main principles, becomes more important if your goal is MAXIMUM HYPERTROPHY. These principles are bracing, alignment and muscle profiles. Look up: hypertrophy coach - the perfect muscle building exercise. Explanation starts at around 6:22. Joe Bennet explains it beautifully so this way I need to type less words (I already do a bad job at that :slight_smile: )

So, if your goal atm is maximum hypertrophy, I would argue to pick exercises that tick off all these principles and that fit your individual body proportions. I would pick the smith machine for incline presses, unless you have an incline press machine from great brands like prime, atlantis or hammer strength. I’d also add resistance bands (unless you have plate loaded machines which are really nice) to overload the top of the movement where the joints are all stacked. This way you give the exercise a better muscle profile.