smith machine good or bad

The smith machine is a very commonly used piece of equipment in gyms across the country and is regularly utilized for compound chest pressing, overhead presses, squats and other movements.

But is the smith machine good for stimulating muscle size and strength gains?

At the end of the day, any machine or cable system that moves the muscles through a full range of motion and allows for progressive overload is going to produce results. In that sense, the smith machine can certainly be used as a tool for building muscle and strength.

However, if you are going to include smith machine movements in your workout plan, I would recommend using them sparingly.

There are 2 main reasons for this…

Problem #1: Fixed Plane Of Movement

smith machine press

The first problem with the smith machine is the fact that the bar is stuck on a fixed plane of movement. Because of this, your body is always forced to comply with the range of motion of the machine rather than following its own natural path of movement.

As a result, you’ll always be training on the same pathway with a static pattern of movement and stimulating the exact same joint angles, tendons, ligaments and muscle fibers.

Since your joints will be forced to exert force in the direction that the machine is stuck on rather than moving naturally, you’ll be increasing your chances of injury.

Performing a lot of heavy presses on the smith machine could easily damage those all-too-delicate shoulder joints, and squatting on the machine could cause you lower back or knee problems in the long run.

If you’ve been training intensely for any length of time then you probably understand just how detrimental an injury can really be.

Problem #2: Lack Of Stabilizer Muscle Recruitment

stabilizer muscles

The second problem with the smith machine is that it doesn’t allow for complete stimulation of your entire muscular system.

The most common movements performed on the smith machine are chest presses and overhead presses. These movements require heavy involvement from the shoulder joint, which operates using 3 different “planes”. The smith machine only functions on a single plane.

Normally when you are forced to press a freeweight bar in a single direction, you’ll be recruiting your major muscle groups, your rotator cuff (a group of 4 small muscles that keep the shoulder joint in place) and an array of smaller stabilizer muscles.

On the smith machine, the smaller stabilizer muscles are not recruited to a significant degree since the weight is already balanced for you.

After a long period of time training solely on the smith machine, you’ll have a very hard time returning back to regular free weight movements since your muscles will only have been conditioned on that one plane of movement.

Is The Smith Machine Good? The Bottom Line

A few smith machine movements are fine as part of your overall workout plan, but again, use them sparingly.

For example, a set or two of smith machine shrugs is fine as part of your back workout, or including it as just one of your chest or shoulder pressing exercises would be okay as well.

The take-home point here is that the smith machine should never be used as a sole piece of training equipment. There are too many short-comings and drawbacks that make it a less than ideal choice for serious trainees.

A couple sets here and there is fine, but basic free weights will always be king.

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