Smith Machine Essentials

Don’t underestimate the uses of this piece of gym equipment. The Smith machine is an essential tool for the hard-training bodybuilder.


[Q] What’s so special about the Smith machine? Shouldn’t free weights be the basis for muscle building?

[A] For beginners, the special aspect of the Smith machine is that it allows you to get the proper feel for an exercise before executing it with free weights. Training through the proper range of motion in the Smith is a good practice run before settling under a heavy barbell for squats, for example. Another positive factor associated with the Smith is increased safety: You can train heavy on your own without worrying about balancing the bar or having your spotter catch you at failure. 

[Q] If I don’t have a training partner and I want to go heavy, what’s better — the Smith or dumbbells?

[A] For me, the Smith is ideal to go heavy without a partner. At any given time, if the weight becomes too heavy or muscles become fatigued, you can secure the weight wherever you fail without having to rack the weight. You may decide to use dumbbells instead because they won’t restrict the range of motion for the bodypart being trained. Both are great choices with different benefits, but you can move max poundage on the Smith without worrying about dropping weights. 

Related:Machine Training 101

[Q] Is it possible to get a full-body workout using just a Smith machine and an adjustable bench?

[A] Sure, it’s possible to work the entire body using the Smith machine, but there are some limitations. So long as you understand that any complete bodypart workout will be restricted to the vertical plane, you can come up with a reasonable variety of exercises to get a full head-to-toe workout. The best way to learn is to just experiment. Get in there with your bench and use different angles on the bench press, for example. The locked range of motion and safety of the Smith will allow you to train in ways you normally can’t with a barbell. You can also get a good variety of rows for your back, presses and upright rows for shoulders, modified leg presses in which you lie on your back and press the barbell upward, partial range-of-motion deadlifts, curls — to name a few.

Smith Legs Smackdown

Attention, barbell lovers: For a change of pace, get a great leg workout with just the Smith. Here’s one IFBB pro Joel Stubbs favors. 

Smith-Machine Lunge 4 Sets x 15 Reps (each leg) 

Smith-Machine Squat (narrow stance) 3 Sets x 20 Reps 

Smith-Machine Squat (wide stance) 3 Sets x 20 Reps 

Smith-Machine Vertical Leg Press 4 Sets x 15 Reps 

Smith-Machine Romanian Deadlift 4 Sets x 15 Reps 

Smith-Machine Standing Calf Raise 4 Sets x 20 Reps