Many people have seen a Smith Machine at the gym, or have seen someone using this piece of mysterious equipment and have felt totally overwhelmed or intimidated at the thought of using it themselves.
If that’s you, be comforted by the fact that you’re not alone! Even people who have been going to the gym for years can feel uncertain when it comes to new equipment, especially if it looks complicated.
Let’s break down the Smith Machine: what it is, the benefits of using one, and how to use it so you can feel more confident in giving it a try the next time you set foot in the gym.
What is a Smith Machine?
A Smith Machine is a weight-training machine with a barbell placed in between steel bars. The bar’s position within the machine allows it to move up and down within a fixed track, and in many models, the weight is counterbalanced to reduce the effort needed to balance the weight while you are lifting it. There are also a series of slots/posts allowing the barbell to be placed while you are working out.
A Smith Machine can be combined with other equipment, increasing the workouts you can do. For example, the Marcy All-in-One Smith Cage Workout Gym Station MD 9010G also contains a pulley cable system, and both upper and lower body developers.
First, load the weight you plan to lift onto the ends of the barbell and secure in place. The barbell has two small hooks on either side of the bar. The hooks fit over pins in the posts to hold the barbell in place. To remove the bar from the machine, lift the barbell, and rotate the hook away from the pin.
Once you are done with your set, set the hooks back on the pins to lock the barbell in place.
Benefits Of Using A Smith Machine
There are many benefits for using a Smith Machine:
- Variety in your workout. Using the same barbells or dumbbells for workout after workout can cause your muscles to adapt to the exercises. Using different equipment and shaking things up a bit can stimulate your muscles in different ways. It also keeps you from getting bored of the same exercises all the time.
- Rest your stabilizer muscles. Having an injury of the muscles needed to stabilize the weight they are lifting, it may decrease what they are able to perform safely. Using a Smith Machine helps to relieve the pressure on those smaller muscles and focus on the ones you are targeting.
- Increased power and ballistics. There is a lot of energy used in stabilizing and balancing the weight you lift when using free weights. When you take the need to balance the weight out of the equation, more energy can be directed at creating and sustaining a powerful movement. Many lifters find themselves able to lift heavier weight than they might be able to when using free weights.
- Growth. This combination of lifting heavier weights and changing up your workout can lead to increased muscle development and growth. There are also many ways to use a Smith Machine that are much easier to do than with free weights, such as partial reps (using a smaller range of motion) and reverse movements (starting an exercise at the bottom of a rep, without the benefit of negative energy that builds up as you start the exercise, like a deadlift).
- Safety. A huge benefit of using a Smith Machine is the ability to lift heavy weights without a spotter. Because the barbell runs along a designated track with safety catches along the way, you don’t need to worry about all the weight crashing down on top of you if you overestimate how much weight you can lift. This is especially when working out in a home gym or when alone.
- Confidence. Weight training and lifting is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. It is not uncommon for someone to have difficulty lifting a heavy weight because they are worried about safety or balance issues. Using a Smith Machine eliminates risk and increases your confidence as a lifter.
Exercises Using A Smith Machine
While most people think of using a Smith Machine to do a traditional squat, there are numerous of additional exercises you can do with it.
Squats are the most basic and most often performed exercise using the Smith machine. There are a few different variations that you can do:
- Front squats (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes): Stand inside the Smith Machine with the bar across your upper chest and delts. Keep your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing out. Cross your arms in front of you to help balance the bar and unlock it from the safety bar. Slowly sit back into a squat position with your thighs parallel to the floor and knees over your ankles. Slowly stand back up and return to your starting position.
- Back squats (quadriceps, glutes, core): Stand inside the Smith Machine, about 3 to 4 inches in front of the bar, so the bar is resting on your back and shoulders. Keep your feet hip width apart and the toes turned out slightly. Slowly go down into a squat, keeping your thighs parallel to the floor and knees over the ankles. Push through your heels to stand back up and return to your starting position.
- Bulgarian split squats (quadriceps, glutes): Place a weight bench behind the Smith Machine. Stand inside the machine with your back to the bar and bench, and place the barbell so it is resting on your back and shoulders. Lift one foot behind you so the top of your foot is resting on the bench. Slowly lower the back knee towards the floor and use the front knee to squat lower. Once the front knee reaches around 90 degrees, or as far as you are able to go, use the front knee to push back up into a standing position. Once you’ve completed your set, switch legs and repeat on the other side.
You can even pull a weight bench close to or into a Smith Machine to add in seated exercises like a press. Here are two varieties that are particularly effective using a Smith Machine:
- Close grip bench press (chest and triceps): Lie down so that you are flat on the weight bench with the bar above your chest. Grip the bar with your hands 6 to 8 inches apart. Unlock the bar from the safety and slowly lower the bar down to about an inch above your chest. Pause for a moment and press the bar back up to your starting position.
- Seated overhead press (shoulders): Place a low back weight bench inside the Smith Machine. Sit on the bench with the bar a few inches in front of you. Keep your feet flat on the floor and about shoulder width apart. Grab the bar with your palms facing forward. Unlock the bar from the safety and hold it against your shoulders. Use your shoulders to press the bar above your head and then slowly lower back down to the starting position.
Rows are another great upper body exercise to do with a Smith Machine. Give these variations a try.
- Barbell rows (latissimus dorsi, traps and biceps): Stand inside the machine facing the bar, and make sure your feet are around hip width apart. Place the bar where your arms will be fully extended towards the floor as you get into position. Grab the bar with an overhand grip at shoulder width apart. Sit back while lowering your chest towards the floor and pushing your hips slightly behind you. Keep your knees slightly bent. Using only your arms and upper body, pull the bar up towards your abdomen and slowly lower the bar back down to the starting position.
- Upright rows (shoulders and trap): Stand inside the machine facing the bar, and place the bar at waist height. Place your feet shoulder width apart and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Bend your elbows and pull the bar up towards your chin and upper chest. Pause and then lower back down to your starting position.
A Smith Machine can be a very useful and helpful piece of home gym equipment, especially for someone working with heavy weights, or working out alone. If you’re ready to make a purchase, check out the selection of Smith Machines at MarcyPro, where you’ll find a large variety of machines to meet every budget, and workout needs!