What Is a Smith Rack?

Dan Cavallari

A Smith rack is a type of weight lifting machine that is helpful for weight lifters who do not use human spotters during a workout. The rack consists of a stable base and two vertically oriented slots through which a barbell can be placed, keeping the barbell in position throughout the lifting motion. The Smith rack allows the lifter to rack the weights at several different positions throughout the vertical motion, so if a lifter feels as though he can no longer hold the weight, he can simply twist his wrists on the barbell and the bar will lock into place at that position on the rack.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Most gyms and fitness centers have a Smith rack available for use, though there is controversy regarding the effectiveness of the unit. Some people believe the Smith rack is an effective and safe tool that allows weight lifters to improve their form, lift more weight safely, and continue workouts despite the lack of a traditional spotter. Detractors note that the form of some lifters can be negatively affected by the Smith rack's limitations, and some argue that lifters cannot lift as much weight within the rack as they could lifting free weights.

Many exercises can be performed using the Smith rack, and the resistance level of the exercises can be easily adjusted by adding or subtracting weights from either end of the barbell. Many Smith racks even include weight stack bars on the sides of the rack for easy storage and access to weight plates. The unused plates can even add extra stability to the rack unit. Squats are the most common exercises to be done with the rack, though bench presses can be done as well if a bench is positioned properly in the rack unit.

The vertical runners that guide the barbell through the lifting motion will restrict forward and backward movement to prevent instability. This is advantageous because it is safer than the same exercises performed with free weights, but the restricted movement also means the lifter generally will not be able to lift as much weight because his or her normal motion may be altered by the limitations of movement. The machine can also be set so the weight does not dip below a certain point, thereby enhancing the safety of the device even further. A lifter can set the minimum height for a starting position or simply for safety in case he or she loses control of the weight.

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