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bn-fit thoughts on smith machines.

June 18, 2011
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Just wanna weigh in on a question I get from clients on why our routines don’t include Smith Machines, which are very popular and can be found in most gyms. In my opinion there are more cons than pros to using this machine. We’re hitting this quick.

PRO’s:

  • the Smith Machine is less intimidating then free weights, as you don’t have to stabilize weight during the up/down motion.
  • if you reach failure unexpectedly and can’t push anymore, you can turn your wrists and lock it in its place.
  • you don’t have the danger of pushing yourself too far and not being able to lift the weight back up.
  • you will not need a spotter such as when bench pressing.
  • you can lift heavier with the Smith Machine since there is no wasted energy used to stabilized the weight — but it’s actually a negative in my opinion. Continue reading.

CON’s:

  • with the Smith Machine one doesn’t actually use their stabilizing muscles — which seems safer, but it cuts into the process of building muscle, as there’s no need to balance the bar… so it under-develops the stabilizing muscles.
  • using the Smith Machine will make you prone to injury since you are not strengthening your stabilizing muscles.
  • using the Smith Machine will make you prone to muscle imbalance since you’re depending on even motion and you can’t direct either limb to lift its own share of the weight — which opens you up to injury.
  • It is a teacher of poor form for any exercise. The straight up-and-down motion isn’t the correct form for the majority of exercises because our bodies require a slight arc or bend to any movement. The Smith Machine forces unnatural “perfection” and the body isn’t allowed to make any adjustments — and our joints, tendons, ligaments and muscle pay for it dearly.
  • Example 1: Bench Pressing with a traditional barbell the bar moves slightly back then forward as it travels up. When you perform the same bench press in the Smith machine, the weight moves straight up the guide rods, so the joints must stretch to accommodate the forces placed on the bar. Over time, great stress is placed on the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. At the very least, you’ll end up with nagging pain. Personal experience.
  • Example 2: Squatting is an exercise commonly performed on the Smith Machine. When most people squat on the Smith machine they plant their feet slightly in front of the torso, or directly in front of the bar, so the back is straight allowing free up and down movement. That’s improper form.  The proper form is feet positioned under you about shoulder width apart, with a slight arc in your back so then you can move up and down.

One final thing to consider…  You actually build muscle and strength faster with free weights because your stabilizing muscles are used to help balance and perform the exercise.  In fact, The Journal of Strength Conditioning Research Dec 2009 compared the free weight squat with the Smith Machine squat in six healthy individuals. Researchers used electromyography to measure muscle activation and found the free weight squat activated muscles at an average rate of 43 percent more than those performed on the Smith machine.

Some may disagree and yes, it’s a personal matter, but I prefer to focus all my energy on designing the best and safest possible workout for each of my clients which gets RESULTS.  In the words of one of my favorite trainers, Come get some! YEAH YEAH!

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