Are Smith Machines Bad?

The Smith Machine helps with strength training. It’s not effective, though. Using it should condition the body. You might think the free weight movements do that for your body. Read on to find out why that’s not always so.

What makes it bad is that the machine use a fixed position during the workout. When you work out, the muscles used count. The Smith Machine uses the wrong muscles. It can even harm them. This unnatural movement doesn’t work. Free weights are far better for the body. They also build the muscles as conditioning requires.

More Thoughts and Solutions

Free weights fix the issue. You can get the conditioning that the Smith Machine provides by using free weights instead. You don’t want a fixed position for your conditioning.

Some Traditional Workouts

Some traditional workouts used with the Smith Machine rate for beginner to advanced lifters. It does add size, but won’t condition as you might expect. As we said before, it can damage the muscles. When using the machine, follow these steps.

• Bench Press on a low bench.
• Use Deadlifts for hamstring development.
• Adjust the elevation for inverted rows.

A trainer in Scottsdale, Arizona said: “if you have problems with squats, lower the box of the body to give better stability.” That seems like solid advice to avoid a sports injury. The low bench allows an expansion of this idea. It gives the solid base to get a better workout. When you reach the top of the rep, do a full extension. This allows the muscles to do two things. Number one, you are extending the muscle for a greater stretch. Two, you’re giving greater conditioning to the tone of the muscle for your girth.

Deadlifts develop the hamstring. It’s important to use caution for this part of your work-out. If you’re not careful, you can cause damage using the Smith Machine with this part of your workout. Proceed with caution, and make sure you don’t over-extend the muscles. When it’s done right, it does provide definition to the back. The muscles give more strength to the work-out.

The elevation is important for all experience levels. When you’re under the bar for your workout, the inverted rows require the correct elevation to strengthen and protect your muscles from damage. If you already do these, make sure you adapt from now on, making sure the balance isn’t harming your back. You also want to be careful of torn ligaments. It can happen before you realize.

Proper Form

Position is the name of the game here. When you have the correct position with your stance, you will get a better work-out over time. If you do use a Smith Machine, use these as a very basic guide to help your work-out.

• Both your feet must be square under you. Place them at a shoulder’s width. Toes should position out. Think slight duck feet. You don’t want the turn too far out. It’s a slight turn. This gives greater stability to the lift.
• Also, you shouldn’t place your feet behind the barbell. Instead, they should be under the barbell for proper balance and positioning. It also prevents loosing balance.
• Spin the bar as you release and un-rack the weight. This helps your wrists. Be careful they don’t roll back on the hook.
• Maintain a braced core, with an arch that is natural in your back. Maintain a balance with your chest up, and your head angled down. This protects your work-out. Other-wise, you can harm your back and your neck muscles.
• Bend at the hip, using your knees for stability. Drop the glutes like you’re about to sit. This posture ensures that you aren’t messing up your back.
• The squad should lower only until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
• Make sure the weight is over the heels and then the entirety of your foot. Your heels never leave the ground.

Other Opinions

Smith Machines are easier to use. Free weights require more training to ensure the distribution and balance of weight on the body. When you have a trainer, you can do the work-out with free weights. You have someone there to correct your body position, so you don’t get hurt. That’s where a Smith Machine helps. It acts as the position for reference for each repetition. You get used to a position for the work-put, based on the Smith Machine.

Remember, though, it uses a fixed path for the work-out. That means the work-out can strain muscles. You’ll have to be sure that your form matches the above recommendation points. If you ever begin to use free weights, the first thing you’ll notice is your balance. You’ll have a struggle because the fixed work-out of the Smith Machine created a handicap. That’s why many coaches and trainers recommend free weights from day one. Other-wise, you’ll have a handicap.

The Smith Machine does eliminate the need for a spotter. That’s why so many use it. Research from Drake University sates that most experienced lifters do better on the Smith Machine when they trained on free weights. It makes the work-out far easier. Still, most trainers say that a good lifter can do the work-out with free weights. It’s a flex move for some.

One of the other things that is a real handicap with the Smith Machine. Lifters that work exclusively on the machine often lift with bad form. They’ve come to the point of feet placement in from of the bar. It isn’t balanced. Competition time isn’t going to go well that way. It’s something to definitely consider. On the Smith Machine, you can lift with all types of positions. Like playing the piano with bad form, though, it won’t win any competitions.

Some Real Advantages

Altering the work-out on the Smith Machine can help people with certain body issues. If the body can’t balance on free weights, then this is a perfect solution. In that case, the Smith Machine is the perfect solution for conditioning or physical therapy. It’s often used for rebuilding strength after an injury. The balance of the machine helps the patient remain stable.

It’s also great for new lifters that have a trainer present. The trainer can guide the student to stand as they should. The way to position the body parts is another important part of training. Using the Smith Machine for that type of training is. It’s used as a training tool. That’s one of the reasons it came to be in the first place. When it’s used as a tool, and not a crutch, it works well.

Sold on buying a smith machine? Check out our post on the top smith machine recommendations.


Bodybuilders use the machine for pure conditioning. Many trainers even recommend it. The belief comes from how easy it is to use. It’s easier to use. That means the powerlifters, who trained on free weights, can use it faster. They are able to build mass quickly. An electromyographical study discovered, some years ago, that when the Smith Machine is use for squats, the results are better for stability. That shouldn’t surprise at all. It’s always been more stable.

When you use variations for the body-building work-out, the Smith machine is perfect. For example, front squats work the quads. Adjusting the shape of the body on the Smith Machine allows the powerlifter to train on certain parts of the body. Muscle building works well for the machine. It’s easier. The important thing for professional powerlifters, is their form. When you know how to do it, you can use the machine for what it’s meant for. It’s a tool.

Training Tips

Placing feet forward during “Smith squats,” allows you to build the quads faster. Don’t overdo it. Alter your stance by placing your feet in a wider position. This can also enhance the workout. Placing the trunk forward more allows even greater demand on the muscles of the back. Do this slowly and only under the advice of a trainer. You don’t want to harm yourself.

While some people use the Smith Machine thinking it protects their back, it’s important to follow these tips. Too much pressure on the wrong places has been truly known to harm people’s backs permanently. You don’t want to harm the knees, either. Adding weight is a slow process. That allows your muscles to build mass and be able to adapt after each work-out. That prevents damage over the course of your career or life, if it’s a hobby.

Final Thoughts

Some trainers will tell you to start on the Smith Machine, then move on to free weights. It might work for initial body form training, but not forever. Use it to stabilize when first beginning the training. Other trainers won’t get near the machine until the student is ready and advanced enough to know the proper stance. It’s better to do squats with a simple dumbbell starting out. Rumors circulate in the fitness community about this very question. In the end it really is up to each individual to decide.

Balance is the single largest disadvantage to using the Smith Machine. It simply fails to teach balance. When a student goes to free weights, half of the training goes to unlearning the bad habits of the Smith Machine. Injuries are far more common with the machine as well. The largest issue is an overconfidence of ability. It leads to pulled or strained muscles. Muscles won’t develop properly either with the Smith machine. There’s simply too much dependence on the repetition of the movements.

Others believe the built-in safety features protect new lifters and those training on the machine. A study at the University of Saskatchewan showed that Smith Machine helped students with squats. That helped them to develop a stronger core over time. That same study goes on to say that the machine doesn’t balance isn’t required for lifters. The natural balance happens in spite of the limited motions.

The same study went on to say that injuries are normally preventable. They say that the machine shouldn’t take the blame for the issue. They consider it safe. Statements went on to say that the injuries that do occur, happen because of poor form. When you use proper techniques, they say, it works perfectly. Also, they said, when you add too much weight, too soon, that’s another way for injury to happen.

No matter who is right, the decision to use the machine, or not, is up to you. Consider what you need the Smith machine to do. Then use it with caution if needed. If you need free weights, it’s still important to take precautions. Misinformation comes from everywhere in the world of physiology. Take it slow, either way, and watch that form.

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