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Screw the Smith Machine

Join a real gym. I was a bit pissed when I discovered my gym doesn’t have a single olympic barbell (had no hopes for an olympic platform), but that’s the standard here so I sucked it up.
But to have no squat rack, no barbells and no bench press benches is ridicolous.

The Smith Machine gets a lot of hate mostly due to how people use it, than due to its effective limitations. It’s a good assistance tool that allows you to take off the stabilizing portion of a lift and really isolate the muscles involved.
This means that you can do stuff like seated shoulder presses, front squats and rows to maximize muscle gains - which is not something you do for the sake of it, it makes you stronger on the free weight lifts too. Many powerlifters do high reps at the Smith Machine of the same main lifts they train with barbells for example.
Also, it’s useful as a pull up bar for pullups of various kinds (the pins also allow you to set up resistance bands if you’re into it) and other bodyweight exercises like leg raises, front levers and such.

Screw violins and roller blades too!

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Excellent answer.

OP, the Smith Machine has its limitations, to be sure. However, if I belonged to a gym that only had a Smith Machine with no squat racks or benches or barbells, it’s certainly a viable way to get yourself stronger at something resembling the major barbell lifts. You have a couple choices:

  1. Join a new gym that has barbells

  2. Remain at your current gym, and just complain

  3. Remain at your current gym, learn how to utilize the Smith machine as best as possible for the time being, and make some gains

EDIT: I should have added a little disclaimer here. John Meadows’ article is oriented much more towards advanced lifters than beginners. The point of posting it is to illustrate that even some very big, very advanced lifters don’t think the Smith machine is useless. Just have to open your mind a little.

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To add to this 4x World’s Strongest Man and one of the best overhead pressers in the world, Zydrunas Savickas, says incline press on the Smith machine is his favourite shoulder exercise.

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I hate the smith machine. But, judging from your other post, I don’t think it matters wether you have a barbell, dumbbell, or all the machines in the world… your clueless and don’t listen to any advice. so keep reading your magizines and thinking your a S&C guru, but most readers here no your a short timer. You got too many excuses and not enough lifting. Good luck.

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This is my favorite also , at the highest incline with weight going away from body slightly, then i lower bench and do inclines and flat bench i have recently included bands.

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Hmmm i will try front squatting on the smith.
Anyone tried different deadlifts variations on it?

Jun '09
I read and follow a lot of what Charles Poliquin writes. Here’s what he has to say:

Q: I use the Smith machine extensively in my training, but I’ve been hearing that it’s not the greatest piece of equipment ever invented. What’s your take?

A: To be frank, I don’t think much of the Smith machine. In fact, when I design a weight room for a client, I never ever buy a Smith machine. In fact, if a dork asks me a question about chest training during one of my workouts, I quickly prescribe him ten sets of 20 on the Smith machine as my way of getting revenge. One of the reasons that the Smith machine has so much publicity in the magazines is because it makes a great visual picture but, as far as functional transfer, it scores a big zero. It was probably invented by a physical therapist who wanted more business for himself.

What you might perceive as positives with the device are in fact strong negatives. The perceived positives are only short-lived because, in a Smith machine, the weight is stabilized for you. However, the shoulder really operates in three planes. But if you do exercises in a Smith machine, none of the shoulder stabilizers need to be recruited maximally. For example, the rotator cuff muscles don’t have to fire as much because the bar’s pathway is fixed. That creates a problem when the trainee returns to free-weight training. When that happens, the trainee is exposed to the three-dimensional environment called real life. Since the Smith machine has allowed him to develop strength only in one dimension, it predisposes him or her to injury in the undeveloped planes of movement.

Exercise prescription specialist Paul Chek of San Diego has identified what he calls pattern overload syndrome. In his seminar and videos, he stresses that the Smith machine bench press is one of the most common sources of shoulder injuries:

“People get a pattern overload from using the Smith machine. The more fixed the object, the more likely you are to develop a pattern overload. This is due to the fact that training in a fixed pathway repetitively loads the same muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints in the same pattern, encouraging micro-trauma that eventually leads to injury. If Johnny Lunchpail always uses a Smith machine for his bench presses, he ends up working the same fibers of the prime movers in the bench press all of the time: triceps brachii, pectoralis major, long-head of the biceps, anterior deltoids, and serratus anterior. But he can’t change the pathway â?? the bar will always be in the same position.”

Because of the mechanics of the human shoulder joint, the body will alter the natural bar pathway during a free-weight bench press to accommodate efficient movement at the shoulder. A fixed bar pathway doesn’t allow alteration of this pathway for efficient movement of the joint, thereby predisposing the shoulder to harmful overload via lack of accommodation.

All in all, the Smith machine is a training piece for dorks. If you’re interested in training longevity, you’re far better off sticking to the standard barbell and dumbbell exercises or try the newer chest machines from Magnum and Flex.

In another article he explains why smith machine SQUATS especially are bad:

because the bar is fixed, a person doing Smith machine squats is able to lean against the bar, which is a natural response. This minimizes hip extension, thus allowing the hamstrings to take a siesta during the movement. Trouble is, the hamstrings help to stabilize the knee during squats, and the result of taking them out of the picture is to induce a shearing force on the joint. This might ultimately lead to a blown anterior cruciate ligament. Using the Smith machine for all your squatting definitely leads to you being a big fat dork

So i saw this thread about the smith machine.
This guy responded with this.
Honestly I thinkthis sums it up tbh some people like the smith machine and some dont

But with my experiences with it it sucks for squatting.

Does your gym have dumbbells? Because those are probably the best tool along with barbells.
Now, I’ve got the feeling you’re NOT training for strength or performance but you’re looking at generically getting in shape, put on some mass and such, correct me if I’m wrong.
If that’s the case, I strongly suggest you look into using dumbbells as your primary tool (free weights) and then smith machine as a secondary tool (for muscle exhaustion). If you’re worried about learning wrong patterns and motions, this sounds like the most sensible plan, so you can get the right patterns with dumbbells and then just reinforce muscles with the Smith.

Some examples of stuff you can do:

-chest: for aesthetics/mass, dumbbells are the way to go anyway. Presses variations at various angles of the bench, if your pseudo-gym has parallel bars, dips are more than a valid option. Also, look into pushups variations - some of the most effective are the plyo pushups and the hand release pushups (there’s an article by CT about those here on T Nation). Honestly don’t think Smith is necessary here, you can probably reap more benefits by doing plate raises variation and squeeze the plate as hard as you can during the reps, it tends to give chest a great pump.

-shoulders: shoulder press, push press and clean and press. Rear raises, plus possibly lateral raises (if you learn how to do them properly without butchering your shoulders). I suggest you buy an elastic band and do bands pull aparts and/or face pulls between sets of pushing exercises.
At the Smith: seated shoulder press.

-traps: one arm dumbbells snatch (that’s a GREAT exercise all around), shrugs
At the smith: shrugs, but do them unilateral, one side at a time

-biceps: chinups have to be your base for biceps. Then the usual curls. Just focus on a very slow eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift and on keeping your body braced, don’t use youre body to lift the weight on arms stuff.
Smith: nothing here

-triceps: dips are, again, your best bet if your gym has parallel bars. Various presses (shoulders and chest) will give you the necessary base. Triceps extensions or whatever they’re called. Kickbacks are good too - just do them laying with your abs and chest against an inclined bench, and use both arms at the same time. This will prevent shoulders from rolling forward
Smith: nothing here too

-abs: hanging leg raises & variations, also take a look at Meadows’ abs pulldown
Smith: nope

-lats: Kroc rows, chinups/pullups
Smith: check Meadow’s smith row

-legs (front): goblet squats, or you can clean two dumbbells from the ground to your shoulders and squat. Walking lunges with dumbbells, too
Smith: squats, front squats

-hamstrings/posterior chain: this is tricky, i don’t think you can have a decent substitution to deadlifts (& variations) without a barbell, at least not directly.
What you CAN do, here, is to use the leg press machine and set your feet high on the platform so that the your toes are OUTSIDE of the platform, and keep your feet width a bit narrower than usual. Then, push with your HEELS. This stance will focus the movement on your hamstrings.
As for the posterior chain, enter the loaded carries. Farmer walks, suitcase walks, overhead carries, bag walks… do them. Depending on your schedule you might do one of them every workout, just rotate between the various types of carries. They’ll help your posterior chain A LOT, keep your posture in check and strengthen your whole body while helping you burn fat, you just can’t go wrong with them and really they’re your best bet to have a decent posterior chain with your current equipment.
Smith: no clue

Now, how/when to fit the Smith Machine in all of this… simply do it AFTER free weight stuff. You won’t learn “wrong patterns”. If you goblet squat with proper technique (<<<relevant keywords here), you won’t mess up your squatting pattern if you do front squats at the smith machine to isolate the muscles after you have done the goblet squat. Keep the weights on the Smith low and try to hit lots of reps. Like 5x10.
So basically just start off your workout with dumbbells and focus on keeping a good technique, slow negative, controlled pace. After you’ve done your exercises with dumbbells, move to the Smith and finish off the muscles. Easy as that.
You can either do free weights-Smith back to back (i.e. DBs shoulder press followed by seated Smith shoulder press), or you can do all your free weights stuff first and then move on to the Smith (i.e. on your pushing day you could do flat bench DB press, DB shoulder press, plyo pushups, rear raises, then move to Smith and do seated Smith shoulder press and unilateral shrugs).

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Thats very useful information thank you :blush: i can do dumbell deadlift as well i supoose

Well, in theory, yes. But I’ve never seen DB Deadlifts as a significant alternative to the barbell version, for various reasons:
-you can’t start off the ground, DBs are just too small and low compared to the BB plates, so the mechanic of the lift is different
-DBs usually don’t reach a significative enough amount of weight for Deadlifts compared to the barbell
Paired together, it sounds to me like it would be a very short term solution with no real progression left after some time.

Some possibilities would be to use dumbbells in a romanian Deadlift fashion, so starting from a standing posture, hang placement of the dumbbells and sliding them down below knees, then come back up and push your hips through.
Or another variation could be trying suitcase Deads with a single dumbbell hold on one side per time. Never tried them tho, so no clue.
Avoid stiff legged stuff.
I’d still try to do the leg press (hamstring stance) and schedule some well programmed loaded carries even if you do some kind of dumbbells deads tho.

What about lunges?
Iv done lunges then had sore hamstrings the next day lol so are they any good

I used do deadlifts using the curl bar with around 160kg to 180kg . I even used to do zerchers with it. Not sure I would recommend it.Try and join a better equipped gym.

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I live in a small town. With one gym😅
Im afraid i have to stick with what i got.

When i get some money i think im definitely going to buy a barbell and some plates for the gym.

I’m not a lunges expert, I used to do walking lunges with dumbbells, about 8 steps per side, then superset it with farmer walks for 50-60 meters. Then rest, and again for 3 total sets. Used 30 pounds dumbbells for lunges and 75lbs dumbbells for farmer walks, it really finished my legs after squats/romanian deadlifts/leg press.

Not sure about lunges stance tho, you can manipulate the areas you hit depending on how low you go and how wide your steps are. I can go down a lot keeping the shins fairly straight so I took wide and low steps and I felt them a lot in my glutes, but with the fatigue I accumulated previously they blasted pretty much my whole lower body.
Just pay attention to keep the back/torso straight and don’t bend your front knee towards the inside

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Cheers will add the lunges/farmers walk to my routine

Thank You!!
The info about the dumbbell exercises is AWESOME for me.
My “gym” lacks benches and squat racks, but has a double set of dumbbells.

Since I am not interested in paying five times the price and driving 20 more minutes to go to a Gold’s gym, I’ve decided to make do with what’s available at this one (for now at least).

So yeah, the info you posted here on the dumbbell work will be very helpful to me.

Thanks again!!!

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I dunno, I think the jury is still out on the smith machine. There’s a case to be made that it allows you to beef up the prime movers of a particular exercise. I can’t afford one, so I don’t bother.

I’ve never used a smith machine before so I dunno, I’d imagine it would work really well for getting in some good extra quality sets of presses (when your stabilising muscles are pretty fried).

the smith machine is just another tool in the gym. It can be used both effectively and ineffectively. I wouldn’t want it to be my only option for squats, but if that’s all I had, it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing.

Outside of leg work, I’ve found 2 reasonably good uses for the smith machine. I’ve used it for some overhead press work. Meadows is a fan of it. I haven’t done this in awhile because I do so much overhead pressing with odd objects for strongman, but it would work. I still use it from time to time for bent over barbell rows. I do enough other stability work that when I do barbell rows, I usually just want to work the back, and the smith machine is good for that. The guided bar path is fine for that lift.