Smith Machine VS Free Weights

The smith machine vs free weights debate has gone on for quite some time now and there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding it. Of course, it all boils down to what your goals are and what you want most out of your workouts. In this article, I’ll go over the three big exercises. 1. Squats 2. Bench Press & 3. Deadlift.
I’ll go over how each of these popular exercises effect the body differently when trained on different equipment. And with this case, it’s the smith machine vs free weights. I’ll not only go over which is better for specific goals, but also the reason why.

So, let the battle begin…

Smith machine VS Free weights: Squats

Let’s take a quick look at one of the most popular and well know exercises ever: the squat. Given its popularity and importance for overall stronger legs and bone density, there is much controversy surrounding it as far as what the proper form is. But we will leave that for another segment.

The debate here is whether the smith machine is better or worse than free weights. By better or worse I mean effective in its ability to provide results, safety, caloric expenditure, and some other unique factors that may come up that would benefits any gym goer or athlete.

smith machine vs free weights
smith machine vs free weights

As far as providing better results, I feel as though they are pretty much the same. However, I have always favored smith machine squats over its free weight variation for these reasons…

My main reason for this decision is the fact that I don’t NEED a spotter like you do if you squat heavy with free weights. It can get pretty dangerous as you can imagine if you’re free weight squatting with very heavy weights.

Free weight squatting allows for much more core activation due to you having to balance the weight with each repetition. This not only strengthens your core, but also makes you burn much more calories due to the increase in work performed.

As you would probably imagine, smith machine squatting allows for much more isolation type training. It allows you to easily manipulate the muscles being stimulated by switching up your foot positions.

For example, if you wanted to put more stress on the inner or outer quads for development purposes, smith machine squats would easily allow you to do so.

Smith machine VS Free weights: Bench Press

When someone says the word “bench press” 99/100 people instantly think of of the original free weighted barbell version. It’s a great exercise to build power and size and very popular.

But is it better than the smith machine alternate? As with virtually all free weight exercises you will always have to deal with the extra muscle’s engaging due to the balancing factor. With the smith machine, it is just that: A machine. You just push up and control it down in a very linear fashion (usually). You have no choice because you’re locked into the smith machine, obviously. But using it is an incredible way to isolate specific areas of the chest with more precision.

How can anyone possibly talk down to the classic barbell bench press exercise? It’s a vintage exercise that’s been around forever. Well, to answer that last question, it’s me… I’m going to talk down to it.

I personal was never a fan of this exercise because you almost always need someone to help you or spot you and you have to waste energy balancing the weight. Of course, if you are a powerlifter, then this is a staple movement for you and is essential. If this is the case then I wouldn’t even waste my time with the smith machine.

But if you’re lifting to build mass, I would recommend the smith machine because the only thing you have to worry about is getting the weight up and back down.

I honestly think that the barbell bench press exercise is one of the most overrated exercises ever and don’t see what the big deal is about it in terms of bodybuilding and attaining size. I would much rather use dumbbells. Dumbbells allow you to get a great stretch at the bottom of the movement, which I feel is essential for building a larger chest. But, as I said before, it all depends on your individual goals.

smith machine vs free weights
smith machine vs free weights

Smith machine VS Free weights: Deadlift

Similar with the squat exercise, there are many different variations to it that can alter your development, strength, and/or leanness. Even though it may be somewhat difficult to perform a traditional deadlift on a smith machine, it is actually perfect for stiff-legged deadlifts.

Each version is very effective, however the free weight version, as with nearly all free weight exercises will incorporate different muscles during the lift. If your goal is to lose weight, then this would be great for you due the increase in caloric expenditure, but if your goal is to hone in and build your hamstrings and lower back muscles specifically, then the smith machine is the way to go.

In addition, if you’re wanting to build mass, I would rather the smith machine. Using this machine would ensure that you would have a much smaller chance of over-training a different body part that you never even intended on training in the first place, like what can happen with free weight deadlifting for instance.

I understand that the smith machine vs free weights debate can go on forever, but this is just my preference when it comes to deadlifting.

As you can see, I really like the smith machine. I just like isolation exercises more. Your decision will depend greatly upon your goals and individual preferences.

Here’s the verdict on the smith machine VS free weights debate…

The verdict is that neither one is better than the other. It truly depends on what your goals are and what you want most out of the exercise. From my bodybuilding background, along with my personal preference to train using isolation movements, I always leaned toward smith machine exercises. It would probably be blasphemous for a powerlifter to favor the smith machine vs free weights or even for someone wanting to slim down for that matter, given the fact that free weights tend to force you to burn more calories.  Nevertheless, you should make up your own decision based on what YOU desire the end result of your training to be.

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