To Smith or Not To Smith

Cavino Johnson April 22, 2014 Training Articles

I do squats.

I do squats on the Smith Machine.

Tell me, how do they NOT count as squats?

The Smith Machine Has Zero Facebook Friends

We’ve all seen the junk people say about the Smith Machine.  The poor thing has been degraded and hated on for quite some time, now.  What I never understand is- why?  It’s almost as if it’s the worst machine in the gym… well, besides that little ab crunch thingy. Y’all know what I’m talking about. But why do people curse the Smith?  Some of my best training days happened right there in the Smith machine.  Let’s see if I can break this down…

What’s the difference?

Let’s Start with squats.  We’ve all been victim to some meathead teasing you about squatting with the Smith Machine, saying that they aren’t real squats and that they don’t count.  But, what’s the difference in 405 pounds on a free barbell and 405 pounds on a Smith Machine barbell.  Nothing.  They weigh the same.  The only difference is the mechanics.  With a free barbell squat, whether it be back or front squats, a person will utilize more stabilizer muscles, as well as recruit more muscle fibers to assist in the lift and in balancing.  Think about it, all that weight sitting on your traps and there is nothing there between that bar and the floor- well, except you.  The motion of the body in squatting accommodates moving the weight up and then down and then up again, repeatedly.  A more natural movement occurs.


With a Smith Machine, 405 pounds feels no lighter or any heavier than a free barbell.  It’s still heavy.  But the Smith adds a bit of “assistance” in itself.  The lineage of the Smith (and there are different types of Smiths that have different angulations) goes up and down.  Wait, do you guys even know what a machine is or what it looks like?  Here… here’s a picture of one

Muscle Recruitment

Ok, now that we’re on the same page.  So, you see the way the Smith Machine is designed?  The barbell is “fixed” onto the machine itself and can only go in 2 directions- up and down.  I have used this machine for squats, bent over rows, upright rows, drag curls, lunges, chest press and shoulder presses and so many other exercises.  No shame in my game.  But, look at it.  Because the barbell is in a fixed range of motion, it makes for a bit of an easier way to balance weight, for instance, during squats.  Wait a minute… before you anti-Smith Machine ranters begin stoning me, know that your “Ass To Grass” mantra STILL applies in using the Smith.  Not just “ATG” but all ranges.  The difference maker, in my opinion, is muscle recruitment.  Now, hold on. Am I saying that your core muscles won’t be strengthened using a Smith Machine vs a free barbell?  Not exactly.  Unlike a lot of people, in all of my lifts, I keep my core tight.  It helps in my stability.  The Smith Machine may take away from that core strengthening a little, as well as the strengthening of the lower back.  But that’s not to say those muscle groups are not utilized.


When I use the Smith Machine, I am able to really put focus on the muscle groups I am targeting.  It takes away some of the thought of needing to balance so much, but never takes away the need for safety.  I’ve seen people completely wipeout using the Smith Machine.  In shoulder presses, I am able to use a bit more weight and still manage to focus solely on the delts.  With squats, I can ensure that my quads, glutes and hams get the contractions they need… and in the event that I am flying solo on heavier lifts, well… the barbell on the Smith Machine is equipped with a hook on either end, so that, if I find myself in a bit of a situation, I can roll the hooks and latch them to the rungs. With a free barbell, I tend to find myself more nervous if I know the weight I’m about to lift may require a spotter (just in case).  Unfortunately, my trust in the gym for a good spotter is very thin… almost non-existent.  This limits me.  So, I do what I can on the free bar, then finish on the Smith.  

There are dozens of variations a person can use with the Smith Machine.  They all are very effective.  Later this week, I will film a video of a couple of training sessions where the Smith Machine will be the main machine used.

So, Smith on, my friends.  Using variations in the gym ALWAYS promotes growth.  Four hundred and five pounds is always 405 pounds.

Oh, and by the way… I curl in the squat rack, too. Skadoosh!

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About The Author

A decade into the sport of natural bodybuilding, Cavino has won many competitions and currently holds a pro card. He also has personal training, group fitness and sports nutrition certifications that allows him to own his own private training service.

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