How To Use The Smith Machine

December 8, 2021 0 Comments


In this article I will be explaining how to use the smith machine. The smith machine is a controversial piece of equipment that you will find in every commercial gym. It divides opinion massively – some believe exclusively in free weights and think the smith is surplus to requirements. Others use the smith machine regularly in their training to isolate the muscles better. I personally believe in free weight training but I also think that the smith machine has its place in your training routine. I use the smith machine every week for a few exercises, I will discuss how this piece of equipment should be used.

Mechanics Of The Smith Machine

First I will briefly go over the basic mechanics of how you should use the smith machine. It is a simple machine which essentially controls the bar path for you so you don’t need to worry about stabilising the weight. The motion is straight up and down in a fixed plane. The smith machine has various steel rails that allow you to adjust the position of the bar wherever you want. It also has spotter catches that you can set up at any rail you wish. This is a very useful feature of the smith machine as it ensures you can execute your exercises with safety and without the need for a spotter. This is obviously one of the benefits of this machine when compared to free weights. 

smith machine

Exercises That I Use It For

As I said at the start, I use the smith machine myself every week at the gym. The exercises that I use the smith machine for are the shoulder press and the JM press. I like using it for these exercises as I find you can really isolate the muscles well. In the case of the JM press, it keeps all the tension on your triceps without the recruitment of stabiliser muscles. I have covered the JM press already in a previous article I wrote on tricep training. The smith machine shoulder press is one of the most popular smith exercises amongst bodybuilders. In fact there are many really well known professional bodybuilders who swear by this movement. One of them is Markus Ruhl who is well known for performing 6 reps with a whopping 500lb on the smith machine shoulder press! He also happens to have the most monstrous shoulders in bodybuilding. Is this a coincidence – I think not!

I really enjoy the smith shoulder press but I would advise wearing elbow sleeves when performing heavy weights. This is because this movement can put some stress on the elbows when done heavy. But it will definitely make your shoulders grow. I personally like to perform a top set in the 7-8 rep range and then multiple backdown sets with lighter weights afterwards to pump up the shoulders fully.


markus ruhl


The Other Exercises You Can Use It For

The smith machine can be used for literally any exercise you can think of. From shoulder presses, bench presses, rows, upright rows, shrugs, standing calf raises, etc. You can even do a lying leg press using the smith machine! The only thing stopping you is your imagination.

Would I recommend the smith machine for flat bench presses or rows? in my view I wouldn’t use it for those exercises. I believe that the flat barbell bench press is far superior. Plate loaded machine rows and dumbbell rows are better as well than smith rows. Especially if you have access to a really good hammer strength machine. Smith machine shrugs can be very good though for high rep work and can give you an insane pump in your traps and upper back complex. So I would definitely be in favour of those. 

As for leg presses, I feel you are better served doing proper leg presses using a leg press machine. Also a lot of gyms may not have a dedicated free weight incline bench station for bench presses. You may have to move a bench into a power rack to perform incline bench presses. I actually think using the smith machine for incline benching can serve a good purpose. I have a friend who is an amateur bodybuilder and has a great physique, he swears by incline smith benching. In fact, he doesn’t do any dedicated shoulder presses. He says that he gets all the shoulder activation he needs from the smith machine incline presses.

A picture of my friend is below, whilst he does take steroids he works very hard in the gym and has a great work ethic. He works in construction so is always using his muscles in his day to day life. 




Don’t Rely On The Smith Machine

What I would say is not to rely on the smith machine exclusively. Doing so can be bad as you will not build up all the stabiliser muscles that are used in free weight exercises. Also you will be lacking functional strength. You may look monstrous with gigantic muscles from all the dedicated isolation of the muscles, but those muscles won’t be too functional. Therefore, I would recommend prioritising free weight training but also using the smith machine sparingly every week for a few movements of your choice. It is up to you which exercises you choose – I would definitely recommend the smith shoulder press and the JM press though! 

>>Learn why the smith machine has a bad reputation



To conclude, in this article I have detailed how to use the smith machine. I have gone over the mechanics of the machine and how it works, exercises I use it for and also other exercises that can be performed. I hope this article has been very informative for you and that you have gleaned some ideas for your own training. If you have any questions about anything that I have written please feel free to leave me a comment below. I love interacting with you and answering your questions. In addition, if you have any other exercises that you use the smith machine for please tell me. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!


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