T Nation

Want to Do Starting Strength but Gym Only Has Smith Machine

Hi, I’m a 25 y/o male with low athleticism level. My body weight is 86 kg (190 lbs) and my height 175 cm (5’ 9"). Skinny fat, i know.

So, currently I work at a construction site in a small city. I plan to do Starting Strength for 3-6 months then move on to 5/3/1. My goal is physique building, though. But, as you see in the title, there is no power rack in my gym, only smith machine. I cannot find another gym close to my dorm, so I must work with what I have now. Deadlift and Bench Press are not problems to me, because it has Olympic bar and bench. Maybe I can do barbell shoulder press too by starting it from the floor, then I lift it to starting position. However, squat is still the problem. Should I use Smith Squat instead of squat, or is there any squat alternative to do Starting Strength? I do understand that work out program shouldn’t be changed, but this is what I have now. I don’t want to postpone what i want to do.

Good thinking not wanting to change the program, but if your goals are physique oriented, Starting Strength isn’t a great program choice anyway.

Squats are great, but they aren’t necessary for physique building purposes. Check out this article by Paul Carter: https://www.t-nation.com/training/leg-day-in-the-smith-machine

1 Like

Could you get through a workday without using any hammers? There are probably a few halfway-decent alternatives you’d come up with and you could probably make do for a while, but it’d be a hassle, it’d take longer, and you might break a tool (or a finger) figuring out a work-around. Starting Strength with a Smith machine is like that.

For your situation, consider the Southwood Program. Power cleans, overhead press, front squat, flat bench.

1 Like

Do what I did and squat out of the bench, and have a spotter close by



My gym doesn’t have a regular squat rack either, only a bench press. What I do is Walk up to the bench press facing the bar and wedge myself under the bar as if I am beginning a box squat from pins, stand, walk back a couple of paces and then just start squatting from there.

But yeah if your goals are for physique oriented, why starting strength?

I personally see nothing wrong with smith machine squats if that’s your only option.

Starting strength is less than ideal for physique, but if you’re brand new to lifting this can’t be bad. If your plan is to do 5/3/1, why not just jump into that?

I see the issue being more about heavy sets of 5 on the Smith rather than the Smith itself.

Depending on the actual form used (kicking the feet out in front and staying upright vs. setting up more like a standard back squat), you’re either increasing stress on the joints with less support from the target muscles or locking the body into a fixed plane where you’re stuck using weird leverages (with increased joint stress) to move the weight.

1 Like

Yeah… I’d rather do 20rep super squats on a smith machine in that case

Or at least sets of 8-12

I get your point. I will switch my program to Southwood Program. I just start Starting Strength for 2 days, anyway.

Because I’m weak. Really, really weak. Do you remember that kid in your high school class that always ranked in the bottom of PE class? That’s me. So, I figured out that to be able to do wide selection of physique building programs, I must improve my strength first. Hence, Starting Strength.

1 Like

Not trying to sway you too much here, but keep in mind that strength isn’t exclusive to lower rep ranges. The program I tend to recommend to beginners is the below as it’s pretty well-rounded.

1 Like


I’m sure many, if not most, members would ignore it and ask their questions anyway, but I feel like having some type of “orientation” for members posting in the beginners section would be cool. Seems like Southwood, the Ben Bruno college program @TX_iron posted, 5/3/1, and few others are pretty commonly referenced. Would there be some type of way to just immediately point newbs in that direction?

1 Like

Haven’t seen it mentioned here, so I’ll do it - Greyskull LP is great for any beginner with a basic grasp on technique in a couple main lifts. And it’s a much better entry to 5/3/1 than Starting Strength or Stronglifts and such, because AMRAP sets.
With the equipment you have available, I’d go for bench, deads and press (clean the weight from the floor or from hang, shouldn’t be an issue for the press as the weight is relatively light for a clean).
For squats, I’d do front squats cleaning the barbell for as long as you manage to do it, the clean is not exactly a simple lift, especially for someone non athletic.
Once you can’t clean the weight anymore, I’d opt for smith machine front squats, makes the whole fixed plane thing more acceptable since front squats as a general rule have a more standardized mechanic across people than squats.

If you really are as unathletic as you say, you might even start off with goblet squats, actually.

1 Like