Why Does The Smith Machine Have A Bad Reputation?

smith machine
April 28, 2023 0 Comments

Table of Contents


In this article I will be answering the question “why does the smith machine have a bad reputation?”. The smith machine is a common piece of equipment that is in every commercial gym.

It has its positives and negatives just like any other piece of equipment. However, there are many lifters who simply detest the smith machine and believe that it is not meant for serious lifters.

This article will explore this topic in detail and provide some very useful insights. 

Why Does The Smith Machine Have A Bad Reputation?

The smith machine has a bad reputation for various reasons. Firstly, barbell purists believe that the smith machine is an abomination.

They believe that training with free weights is the only right way to train and realise the best gains in strength and size.

The smith machine also locks you into a fixed plane of motion. Barbells accommodate for individual differences in body mechanics and allow for a natural bar path.

The smith machine also doesn’t strengthen the stabiliser muscles and fix weak links in the body. Over reliance on the smith machine can actually increase the risks of injury when you use your muscles day to day in functional ways.
smith machine

Fixed And Unnatural Movement Pattern

One of the big criticisms of the smith machine is that it forces you to perform exercises where you are locked into a rigid plane of motion.

The smith machine doesn’t accommodate your individual body mechanics. Certain exercises like the squat can be uncomfortable for some people when they use the smith machine.

The same is true with the smith machine bench press. I find that the smith bench press forces you into a very strange range of motion and feels quite awkward.

For this reason I actually prefer dumbbells for the bench press over performing a smith machine bench press. It takes some time to get used to the rigid plane of motion that you will experience with the smith machine.

Smith Machine Recruits Fewer Stabiliser Muscles

One of the big benefits of free weight barbell exercises like the squat and deadlift is that they recruit more stabiliser muscles.

You have to keep the weight balanced over the middle of the foot on the squat, and you have to work hard on the bench and deadlift to stabilise the weight.

This is something that is missing with the smith machine. The smaller muscles in the body are not being strengthened by the smith machine.

This will result in some weak links developing if you rely too much on the smith machine. A good example of this is a story that is recounted by strongman Elliot Hulse.

He knows someone who was incredibly muscular and overused the smith machine in his training. When he tried doing a tyre flip with moderate weight he tore his bicep. 

This shows that the smith machine can make you look very big and powerful, but the reality is if you use it too much you can increase the risks of injury in functional activities.

This is why bodybuilders should be careful not to overuse the smith machine. The smith is more commonly used by bodybuilders to work various muscles more safely and put more tension on the muscle.

If you don’t already have a good base and experience with free weights, you will put yourself in more danger in terms of building up weak links and muscle imbalances.

Marc Lobliner’s Views On The Smith Machine

Marc Lobliner of Tiger Fitness has some interesting views about the smith machine. Much of what he says echo my own views and are similar.

He explains that the smith machine does have its benefits in that it is self spotting. It can be convenient if you are training by yourself and don’t have a spotter. 

Some gyms don’t have a squat rack for example. This is rare but there are incidences of this. In this case the smith machine would have to be used for squatting movements.

Marc also says that if you are doing smith machine squats you should ensure that you do a free weight squatting exercise like the goblet squat. This would help to improve your core strength and reduce weak links.

He echoes my point about the barbell purists. Powerlifters are the biggest barbell purists as they compete in the squat, bench and deadlift. These are the biggest barbell movements and their training is focused on improving these lifts.

They will be the biggest critics of the smith machine and believe it to be a worthless piece of equipment.

 Bodybuilders on the other hand can overuse the smith and they need to be careful to ensure that they work on any weak links and muscle imbalances stemming from this machine.

The Smith Machine Does Have Its Place

Whilst I agree that the smith machine has its drawbacks, it is also a very useful piece of kit. 

You should build a good base of strength first from free weight training and then diversify later into doing machine exercises. The smith machine is very useful for exercises like the shoulder press.

The smith shoulder press is fantastic for shoulder size and strength. It can be done very safely and you can put a lot of tension on the deltoids, I prefer doing it the way that John Meadows advocates.

Bring the bar down to your chin and then back up. This way you will keep your shoulders healthy in the process and get good tension on the muscles. The smith machine row and shrug are also fantastic exercises.

You can row very safely using the smith machine and hit the back from various angles. The JM press is also an exercise that is best done in the smith machine. Eric Spoto also advocates people do the JM press in this manner.

By doing JM presses in the smith machine, you will remove the instability and allow your triceps to do all the work. You can build some incredibly strong and thick triceps with this exercise!

Previously I have discussed in detail how to use the smith machine.

meadows smith press

Final Thoughts

 Why does the smith machine have a bad reputation. The answer is simple – it is frowned upon by barbell purists and it doesn’t work the stabiliser muscles effectively like free weight exercises do.

Over reliance on the smith machine can also lead to lots of weak links in the body. The body is designed to work as an entire unit, this is why free weight barbell exercises are so effective.

Having said this, the smith machine is a useful bit of kit and should be used in conjunction with some free weight exercises. You can target muscles from different angles in the smith machine and do so in a safe manner. 

This is one of the reasons why bodybuilders tend to love the smith machine and incorporate it heavily into their training.

If you have any comments on the smith machine please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

>> Is The Smith Machine Bench The Best Way To Incline Press?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.