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What is a Smith Machine?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Smith machine is a relatively new kind of weight training machine. Most weight machines found in gyms are either “fixed weight” machines or “free weight” machines. The Smith weight training machine is actually a little of both.

The Smith machine consists of a kind of metal open-frame box and a barbell. The user stands with the barbell adjacent to the frame, where a series of hooks or attachments can be used to secure the barbell. Some think of this machine as a kind of accessorized weight rack. Some Smith machine models also have a bench attached to accommodate seated exercises.

The barbell portion of the Smith machine is a free weight when it is not attached to the frame, but when the user attaches it to the specialized pegs or hooks in the frame, the result is a fixed weight. One of the main advantages of this kind of weight machine is safety. It helps weight lifters train without a spotter, because when the weight gets too heavy, they can simply attach the barbell to the fixtures of the machine.

One down side of using this kind of machine instead of a simple free weight method is that the Smith machine controls the trajectory of the barbell. This means that some muscle groups, like the lats, are less targeted with a weight lifting machine. This method may also work the core muscles less than a simple free weight routine. That’s because doing exercises like deadlifts with a free barbell requires the body to balance the weight load on its own. Another issue that some users report with the Smith machine is that it can be difficult to use the right form, especially without proper setup or when the user is not experienced.

Though it has only been around for a little more than half a century, according to industry reports, the Smith machine is quite popular with some weight lifters. Its solid frame provides additional safety for lifting heavy barbells. Another option is a “power cage” where a barbell is less restricted, while still receiving some structural assistance.

Lots of gyms have included Smith machines in their common weight training areas, often to help beginners learn how to lift. It’s always important to consider proper progressive weight lifting guidelines, even with assistance from a piece of equipment like a Smith machine. Professional trainers can counsel clients on the right way to lift weights in general, and the right way to use innovative weight machine models for assisted weight lifting.

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