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Smith Machine

Smith Machine: Another name for a brand of Nautilus machines at the gym which are used to add variety to workouts. They offer many disadvantages, but normally, free weights are preferred.

Benefits of the Smith Machine

The Smith machine offers many benefits which you would not be able to get using conventional free weights. For one, Smith machines can be used for a high variety of exercises that any one regular machine would not be able to accomodate. Take for example the flat bench. A flat bench in itself can be used for flat dumbbell or barbell presses, but unless it is designed to also include the incline, the number of exercises you can perform will be severely restricted. A Smith machine, based on it's construction, can be used for so many different exercises that you will be able to do a full body workout using the machine alone! With an adjustable bench, you will be able to perform any of the following exercises using the Smith machine:

  • Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Decline Bench Press (with adjustable or decline bench)
  • Military Press
  • Behind the Neck Press
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts

Other than the machine itself, with the availability of a flat bench, you can add other exercises like dips or bench push-ups.

Of course, there are many criticisms against the Smith machine, and they do have merit. However, Smith machines are only lacking when compared to perfection; in this case perfection would be using convential free weights during workouts, ie, dumbbells and barbells. Of course, dumbbells and barbells are better, but Smith machines are still highly beneficial.

Muscle Fiber Recruitment

Barbells and dumbbells recruit additional muscle when training, because you need to stabilize the motion by yourself. When you use a Smith machine, the machine stabilizes the motion for you throughout the entire range. This makes it easier for you to perform the motion safely, but the problem is that you will not recruit muscle fibers used to stabilize the motion as you would using free weights. As a result, the level of development for both muscle mass and strength will be lower while using the Smith machine than while using free weights. But think about that closely - your workouts may lack in comparison to a workout using free weights, but that is not to say you will not gain both muscle mass and strength, as well as having satisfying workouts.

Variety is the Spice of Life

No exercise program should consist of machines alone, and no exercise program should consist of free weights alone. Variety in the type of exercises you incorporate is exactly what you need to develop your body. It is a way of keeping your muscles on their toes by changing things up every now and then, and if you are the type of person who only uses free weights, adding Smith machine exercises may be exactly what you need to get your body through a plateau. As with anything, keep the use of the Smith machine in moderation, and don't rely on it.


Smith machines are the perfect full body workout for people who are constantly on the run or unable to get a membership to a gym. They are not too big and can likely fit in your basement depending on how crowded or roomy it currently is. It is a great alternative to a full gym workout when you can't make it to the gym, and even though nothing beats getting a pump at the gym, the Smith machine is a good place for a workout if that is all your schedule allows.

Bottom line - Any exercise, whether free weights of a machine, which puts adequate amount of stress on the target muscle with enough intensity WILL help to develop that muscle. Sure, you might make smaller gains if your program consists more of Smith machine exercises than with free weights, but we are not all out to seek the perfect workout. If you have the opportunity to go to the gym and use more free weighs than Smith machine workouts, you should take that option. But if a Smith machine in your home is the only working out your schedule will allow, it is FAR better than doing nothing, and you will make gains. The main criticism occurs because Smith machines are constantly being compared to perfect workouts, in the hypothetical situation that every person has all have the time and resources to do so. The reality is, people are in a hurry in today's busy age, and Smith machines may be just the thing they are looking for!

Tips for Using the Smith Machine

Never use the Smith machine as a crutch - never use it to lift heavier weights than normal, push through a sticking point you couldn't get past before, or use it to cheat on exercises with the machine helping you through parts of the range of motion you couldn't do by yourself before. Use the Smith machine as it is meant to be used, with an amount of weight you can handle and with good form and intensity, and you will make good gains off it.

Take care,

Matt Canning

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