T Nation

Smith Machine --- a villan??

Hi again.
I started out doing parallel squats w/ free weights, until I reached 175 lbs (I’m a female that weighs 135 at 5’7). After seeing a friend of mine literally drop the weight bar, and having to work alone on leg days, I decided to change my free weights for the smith machine, where I increased the weight to 200 lbs.
Reading thru the off-topic forum, I saw a commentary on the ineffectiveness of smith machine squatting (dangerous, etc.) – is it Bull s*#t or true? Thanx.

Because your back is stabilized (the bar can’t move forward/back), you don’t end up using your hamstrings during a smith machine squat. Becasue the hamstrings help stabilze the knee joint and are not recruited for a smith machine squat, the knee gets hit with a lot of sheer force. If you sum up the force vectors, there is a big vector pushing from behind the knee through the front of the knee rather than down through the joint like a barbell squat. Try dumbell squats or barbell hack squats (do a search with the T-mag search engine for info about these movements) if your looking for a quad dominant movement.

I read that too Jason N but I question its validity. The smith squat permits a lot of pathomechanics that can result in overuse injuries at the knee (jumpers knee etc…). This is largely due to the fact that the smith machine takes balance out of the equation thus people start working in ways their bodies are not designed to. The most common error I observe (especially with females)is an anterior foot placement in relation to the c.o.g. pressumably so they can hit their glutes more. This increases shear forces about the knee tremendously and most will feel this as knee flexion increases. Ironically, this error is often seen in rehab clinics with physioball squats against a wall! Despite the potential for error I think the smith squat is a suitable alternative if done correctly. The hamstrings still contribute to the lift as they are hip extensors! Sorry Jason N but how does a fixed bar path limit hamstring involvement if the feet are placed corectly? What about leg presses where there is even greater stability?..


Ian King recently addressed this question on this site and I think Poliquin mentioned it here too (his book definitely slam the Smith). I’m sure a search would locate it. A few more points: The Smith is far less metabolically & neurologically taxing. Balance, core strength and proper neurologic patterning are also compromised for the security of a smith machine. Find a good trainer who can teach how to squat and don’t be afraid! :slight_smile:

I’m gonna have to cast my vote against the smith machine for squatting, at least for heavy weights. I injured myself (knee) rather badly doing this. In truth the injury was my fault as I failed to utilize proper foot positioning (my foot/heel was too far back, and therefore my kneecap extended too far forward. Makes me question whether there can even be a proper foot positioning) but this seems to be a common error people make. Its too bad your gym doesn’t have a safety squat available.

I agree with Jason. Smith squats always bothered my knees. Jade- you should stick with free weight squats. If you find that the weight feels too much to handle- it probably is. How far do you squat down? I see alot of guys “squatting” big weights, but I don’t consider a six inch range of motion a squat. I’m not saying that this is what you do, but just something to think about. Alternatively, you could try pre-exhausting the quads with a single joint movement such as extensions or sissy squats prior to squatting. Or you could simply place squats later in your leg workout after performing other exercises. Both ways will cause you to use less weight as your quads will be fatigued,

Okay. I’m convinced to change back 2 free weights:)
BUTTTTTTTT 90 degrees vs. full range of motion??? Trainers tend to argue on this matter wo/ reaching a decision… What should I do???
p.s. I use to have very weak knees and squatting actually improved my condition… I can go 4 MILES NOW … :wink:

(Jade…still up for that dinner with the Lion;)? Marinated Salmon or Chicken…your choice :)!!!)


Jade…it depends on goals (to a degree). Full Squats place more emphasis on the Glutes and Hips (The key word is EMPHAHSIS). 90 degrees more on quads. You also need to be a LITTLE more careful with Full Squats; they TEND to flex the spine a little more…I tend to go Full because “Baby Want Mo’ Back”…;)–!!!

Thanx guys.

I think I’ll alternate between the two, and make sure full range is only performed when I am PROPERLY SPOTTED… U’d think after training 4 two yrs I’d know this by now –

MUFASA: I don't think u can handle this wild cat... Especially since it's only 16 :)

The smith machine is not bad. If used improperly like anything else you will have problems otherwise its fine.

Mark - Excellent comments. I agree that with proper foot spacing Smith Machine Squats can fit into anyone’s routine and are not a real problem. My reasoning is based on the anterior foot position that I have seen at least 90% of people who do Smith Machine Squats use. They place their feet 1-2 ft in front of the bar and sit (can’t really say squat) down. To make the bar rise up, people push back into the bar and almost use a leg extension motion in the legs to activate the ascent. If it was not for rubber soles and good matting the feet would slide forward. This motion minimally activates the hamstrings and glutes and relies primarily on the quads (most people’s stronger side anyway). This creates a large shearing force at the knee. This reasoning comes both from Poliquin’s book and from my own personal experience of working through Smith Machine Squats to figure out what Poloquin was saying. You see the same thing with Hack Squat machines also. I too questioned the validity of Poloquin’s writing and only agree with them if the person is using the anterior foot position. I also think that DB Squats or Barbell Hacks can be great alternatives for newbies if for some reason they don’t want to squat or have access to a good rack.

The problem with the smith machine is that it locks
the body into the machine’s groove, preventing the body from finding any semblance of a natural motion. Now, if you stand with your feet underneath the bar, the knee flexion will be too great, thus putting too much stress on the knees. And, If the feet are placed forward to normalize knee flexion, then the lower back is put into a compromised position and will be forced to round. (Not good!)

The reason the SM does not allow for adequate HAMSTRING stimulation is simple. The plane of the machine does not allow the body to "naturally" achieve correct "spinal angle" (which would be approaching 45%) in order to properly engage the hamstrings. Why do hack squats work the quads... and romanian deadlifts work the hams?... Again..."spinal angle!" And the SM makes it very difficult for the body to incorporate the most natural squatting position, which would be "the sitting-on-the-toilet motion," (though not achieved without some serious contortions of the body). However, it is this very motion which allows for the proper spinal angle, which then enables the hamstrings and the glutes to function efficiently.

Jade - Properly spotted = cage! No reason you can’t do this alone (as I always do). As for proper range of motion, you go as far down as you can without rounding the back, and DON’T BOUNCE at the bottom to start the ascent. This will keep both the knees and the back healthy.

Hmm, so I could really blame the hack squat (machine) for tendonites in both my knees? I’ve just been wondering what I did wrong. I remember that I put me feet so that my toes were little over the edge and I do recall that I felt little strange in my knees. I just thought that it was only because it was a new exercise for me.

Jade, a Smith Machine is no safer than a conventional power rack (or in this case a squat rack). Just set the safty pins as high as possible. They should be only slightly lower than the bar is at the lowest point of your squat. If you get stuck in the lower part of the squat or ‘loose the groove’ just go back down into a deep squat and the bar should be resting on the pins (don’t try to just ‘dump’ the bar). If your gym does not have a power rack your second best choice would be the leg press. Or better even, find a gym that has some cages.

If you look at most proficient squatters their ROM is actually very close to a perpendicular line as seen with smith machines. Since you say that the “groove” of a smith machine has no semblence to that of a barbell squat I would like to know how you think they differ?
Secondly, the “spinal angle” you are reffering to is actually termed “hip angle” as it refers to motion about the hip (flexion/extension). The hamstrings are hip extensors and they are indeed active in the SM squat assuming its performed correctly. The fact that you cannot achieve appropriate hip positioning on the smith machine is more likely a technical error on your part rather than a shortcoming of the machine. It sounds to me as if your trying to maintain a perpendicular torso with the floor throughout your ROM rather than letting it come forward into flexion as it should.

OK, here’s my two cents. I pretty much have to agree with Poloquin on this one. I think the Smith is one of the biggest wastes of space in any gym. Whatever exercise you can do on the smith, you can do with free weights, and it’ll do more for you. No, you won’t have the extra weight on the bar to boost your ego, but you will come out ahead in functional strength that will tranfer over to your other lifts.
That said, I have seen some people do SM squats with form almost identical to free weight, but that’s dependent more on body proportion(limb length:torso length) than any specific technique.

I agree that body segment ratios play a huge role in squatting however, my experience has been that most individuals (85%) have an acceptable ratio to maintain a perpendicular ROM to the horizontal. The high waisted individuals with the short torsos and long femurs are the ones who have trouble with knee dominant squatting. To be totally honest, I hate the smith machine for the same reasons you mentioned but I still think most of the problems that stem from this apparatus is its misapplication rather than the machine itself.

Jade, try box squats (see Dave Tate) with low weights in the squat rack and work your way up in weight. Set the safety bars so they are just below the squat bar when you are “sitting” on the box-by the way I use an adjustible aerobic step as my box. This way assures you are going deep enough, using good form and are safe. Also, when you use the Smith, the bar just floats, so you can’t really count its weight. You are only squatting the weight of the plates. Good Luck!

Yesterday I saw some guy blowout his patella while
doing smith squats. This guy was squatting fairly heavy,
(4 plates on each side) and was going SUPER DEEP!
Now the only problem I saw was that he bounced off the
bottom a little bit, but he also bounces off the bottom
during regular back squats (with less weight though
around, 275). Dude won’t be bouncing for a couple of
month at least! Smith machine villain ???

One point that I believe to be important that hasn’t yet been mentioned is that the SM, by virtue of being totally stable, allows you to perform movements that simply aren’t possible with a free bar. So Poliquin’s point, which is that the SM is bad because it locks you into one plane of motion exclusively, is correct IMHO…but ONLY if you’re doing something like an incline press and are not free to move your body around under the bar. With leg work, you can, for example, (a) take a front-squat grip, (b) go down as in a sissy squat until you reach the point where your hips are way out in front of you, © drop your hips under the bar, (d) go down into a fully squatted position, and then (e) reverse the whole procedure to come up again. People used to do this in Vince’s Gym, and believe me, it may look a little strange written down (and it looks a little strange in real life, too; you’ve got to be pretty confident to do the hip-thrust necessary to come back up in a crowded gym) but this motion will absolutely shred your quads. So my point is that yes, it’s bad if you’re locked into one plane of motion, but why not turn the fixedness of the machine into a plus by moving your body around underneath it through a rep? Finally, while Girlfriend’s SM may have a counterweight that let’s the bar float, this isn’t true of all Smith Machines. On most of the SMs I’ve seen, a SM bar will weigh MORE than a regular one.